Sumerian Literature

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Epic of Gilgamesh

Study Questions


What roles may the epic have played in courtly settings throughout the history of Mesopotamian civilizations? What is the relation of the poet to the kings and heroes about which he/she spoke? Is that relation necessarily one of harmony and agreement? What does the epic suggest?


What sort of a king is Gilgamesh? Is he liked by his people? What is the meaning of the figure of Enkidu? Why is he said to have come into being? For what purpose? Does he succeed in that purpose?


Why is Enkidu said to be so similar to Gilgamesh ("his equal; ... his own reflection, his second self, stormy heart for stormy heart")? Does Enkidu change throughout the course of his adventures? What sort of a man was he at the beginning? How does he change? What are the consequences of those changes?


Is there some possible historical significance to situations such as the raid against the "Country of the Living," the giant Humbaba, the sacred forest of cedars? What does the giant represent? What may have been the underlying motivation of such a raid? Could economic factors have played a role?


What is the attitude of the epic toward Nature (forests, animals, wild life, etc)? What is the attitude toward the destruction and neglect of Nature (as for example in the cutting down of Humbaba's cedar forest and Enkidu's abandonment of his former life in another forest)?


What is the meaning of the gods? What functions do they play in the story? What is their relationship to human beings? How do gods differ from and how are they similar to human beings? Why is Gilgamesh said to be two-thirds god? What does that suggest about the processes by which gods are created/envisioned by the human imagination? How is the literary narrative and story-telling in general connected to those processes?


What is the significance and role of the dreams of Enkidu just before his death? What does he see in his vision of the Underworld? What happens there to those who were rich and powerful while alive? What does this imply for people like Gilgamesh and Enkidu? Why is Gilgamesh so afraid after Enkidu's death?


According to the epic, is immortality possible for human beings? Are there any immortal human beings depicted in the epic? What does this suggest? What does this suggest about Gilgamesh?


What is the reaction of Gilgamesh at the moment when he first sees Utnapishtim, the Faraway? What are his exact words? What does this imply concerning his expectations, his values, his lifestyle? Is there any relation between those expectations, values and lifestyle-that is, the sort of man Gilgamesh is-and his destiny? What does the life of Utnapishtim represent?


What is the significance of the story of the Flood which Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh? Why did the gods choose Utnapishtim to be saved?


What is the meaning of the tests which Utnapishtim asks Gilgamesh to undertake? Why does Gilgamesh fail?


Is the character of Gilgamesh transformed in the course of his journeys? Is he a different sort of man at the end, after his return home? According to this epic, what is the best way of life? That of Gilgamesh? That of Enkidu? That of Utnapishtim?

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