The world's first literary work, The Epic of Gilgamesh, is a story that dates back four millennia to the ancient Sumerian culture. The story centers on Gilgamesh, a man with superhuman qualities who struggles with the quest for immortality and knowledge. This story is important for understanding the ancient Sumerians because it portrays their beliefs about cultural values and about religion and the afterlife. Ancient Sumerian culture valued the ideas of heroism, knowledge and loyalty. They have an anthropomorphic slant on religion, specifically in regards to their gods. Also, their view of the afterlife is somewhat dark and morbid.
One important aspect of The Epic of Gilgamesh is that it communicates the prevailing societal values of ancient Sumeria. One of these values is the act of having right conduct toward others, or heroism. In this story, Gilgamesh displays heroic actions by slaying the Bull of Heaven, which was created to destroy him.
Gilgamesh praises, "Who is the most glorious of heroes, the most eminent among men." He is also tragically heroic after the death of his friend, Enkidu. After his death he mourns him and wanders throughout the desert for the rest of this life. This suggests heuristic qualities such as doing good deeds, having integrity and living by one's ethics was something valued highly in ancient Sumeria.
Another highly important value among the Sumerians is knowledge. When the goddess Ishtar tried to seduce Gilgamesh, he realized it was a trick and told her to let him alone: "Which of your lovers did you ever love forever? What shepherd of yours has pleased you for all time?" Apart from that he is also a very knowledgeable hunter, able to kill large beasts such as Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven. From this knowledge he gains notoriety (and jealousy)...