The epic of Gilgamesh

Essay by LeynaLou1College, UndergraduateA, November 2002

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What kind of character do we know that possesses beauty, strength, and unmatchable potential for greatness, but also who is an autarchic ruler, unexperienced and impetuous? Gilgamesh is who comes to mind. The epic story is about the hero's growth to full maturity, and his quests for immortality. The document that is to be presented begins after a battle with Humbaba of the sacred Forest of Cedar.

The Gilgamesh Epic is considered to be one of the oldest epics in the world. It is called an epic because it is really a myth. The epic as such is the creation of the Semitic Babylonians and its first fragments belong to the so-called Old Babylonian period, during the dynasty of Hammurabi, in the first half of the second millennium B.C.E. But this first Old Babylonian version is very fragmentary. Fortunately later copies and further elaborations of these fragments were found in the library of Assurbanipal, the last great Assyrian king, who reigned in the 7th century B.C.E.

The latest version is written on twelve clay tablets and is the result of at least 1800 to 2000 years of work on the epic. More fragments have since been discovered which contain valuable additions to the damaged and incomplete text. The original from which the Assyrian version was copied was composed in Old Babylonian times but was based on legends and stories from older Sumerian sources about a real King of the city of Uruk on the Euphrates River. This epic has been said to be the most important literary product of Ancient Mesopotamia.

The portion of the epic that I read begins when Enkindu is dreaming. In the dream he was held captive and then transformed into an animal with wings and led to the underworld, where he sees all the...