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Louise Pryke go not work-related for, consult, very own shares in or receive funding from any firm or company that would benefit from this article, and has discover no relevant affiliations past their academic appointment.

You are watching: Which best describes the significance of the epic of gilgamesh

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Gilgamesh in his lion-strangling mode. TangLung, Wikimedia Commons, CC through

Gilgamesh sets around civilising Enkidu, a feat achieved through the novel way of a main of sex v the wise priestess, Shamhat (whose very name in Akkadian argues both beauty and also voluptuousness).

Gilgamesh and also Enkidu come to be inseparable, and also embark top top a quest for lasting fame and glory. The hero actions uncomfortable the gods, causing Enkidu’s beforehand death.

The fatality of Enkidu is a pivotal suggest in the narrative. The love between Gilgamesh and also Enkidu transforms the royal protagonist, and also Enkidu’s death leaves Gilgamesh bereft and also terrified of his own mortality.

The hero costume himself in the skin of a lion, and also travels to discover a long-lived an excellent flood survivor, Utanapishtim (often compared with the biblical Noah). After a perilous journey over the waters the death, Gilgamesh ultimately meets Utanapishtim and asks for the secret to immortality.

In one of the earliest literary anti-climaxes, Utanapishtim speak him the he doesn’t have it. The story ends with Gilgamesh returning residence to the city the Uruk.

Mesopotamian mindfulness

Gilgamesh and his adventures can only be described in superlative terms: throughout his legendary journeys, the hero war deities and monsters, finds (and loses) the an enig to eternal youth, travels to the an extremely edge that the civilization — and beyond.

Despite the fantastical elements of the narrative and also its protagonist, Gilgamesh stays a really human character, one who experiences the same heartbreaks, restrictions and basic pleasures that form the universal top quality of the human being condition.

Gilgamesh explores the nature and definition of gift human, and asks the inquiries that proceed to be debated in the modern day: what is the meaning of life and also love? What is life really — and am ns doing that right? exactly how do we cope with life’s brevity and uncertainty, and how do we deal with loss?

The text gives multiple answers, permitting the reader to wrestle through these concepts alongside the hero. Several of the clearest advice is noted by the beer deity, Siduri (yes, a goddess of beer), who argues Gilgamesh set his mind much less resolvedly on expanding his life.

Instead, she urges the to enjoy life’s an easy pleasures, such together the firm of loved ones, good food and also clean clothes — maybe giving an example of a type of Mesopotamian mindfulness.


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The king-hero Gilgamesh battling the ‘Bull of Heaven’. Wikimedia Commons, CC by

The epic also provides the reader with a helpful case research in what not to carry out if one is in the exceptional circumstance of reigning end the ancient city that Uruk. In ancient Mesopotamia, the exactly behaviour that the king was important for preserving earthly and also heavenly order.

Despite the gravity of this imperial duty, Gilgamesh appears to do whatever wrong. He death the divinely-protected ecological guardian, Humbaba, and ransacks his precious Cedar Forest. The insults the beauteous goddess of love, Ishtar, and also slays the mighty Bull the Heaven.

He finds the key to eternal youth, but then loses it simply as easily to a passing snake (in the procedure explaining the snake’s “renewal” after shedding that skin). V these misadventures, Gilgamesh strives because that fame and also immortality, yet instead find love with his companion, Enkidu, and also a deeper expertise of the limits of humanity and also the importance of community.

Reception and also recovery

The epos of Gilgamesh was wildly famous in antiquity, through its influence traceable to the later literary civilizations of the Homeric epics and the Hebrew Bible. Yet, in the modern day, even the many erudite reader of old literature might struggle to outline its plot, or name its protagonists.


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A statue that Gilgamesh at the university of Sydney. Gwil5083, Wikimedia Commons, CC by

To what might we owe this modern-day cultural amnesia neighboring one that the world’s best works of old literature?

The prize lies in the history of the narrative’s reception. While many of the an excellent literary functions of ancient Greece and Rome to be studied consistently throughout the breakthrough of western culture, the epic of Gilgamesh comes from a forget age.

The story originates in Mesopotamia, an area of the old Near east thought to around correspond with modern-day Iraq, Kuwait and parts that Syria, Iran and also Turkey, and also frequently noted as “the cradle of civilisation” because that its early agriculture and cities.

Gilgamesh was created in picture writing script, the world’s earliest known kind of writing. The more quickly strands of Gilgamesh’s narrative deserve to be discovered in five Sumerian poems, and other versions include those composed in Elamite, Hittite and also Hurrian. The best-known version is the typical Babylonian Version, composed in Akkadian (a language composed in cuneiform that operated as the language of diplomacy in the 2nd millennium BCE).

The disappearance of the picture writing writing system approximately the time that the first century CE sped up Gilgamesh’s sharp slide right into anonymity.

For virtually two millennia, clay tablets containing story of Gilgamesh and also his companions lay lost and also buried, alongside countless tens of thousands of other picture writing texts, beneath the remnants the the good Library that Ashurbanipal.


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tablet V that the epic of Gilgamesh. Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin, Wikimedia Commons

The modern rediscovery that the epos was a watershed moment in the expertise of the ancient Near East. The eleventh tablet computer of the epos was first translated by self-taught picture writing scholar George smith of the brother Museum in 1872. Smith found the visibility of an ancient Babylonian flood narrative in the text with highlight parallels to the biblical overwhelming story of the book of Genesis.

The story is regularly repeated (although it might be apocryphal) that as soon as Smith began to decipher the tablet, he came to be so excited that he started to remove all his clothing. Indigenous these beginnings in the mid-19th century, the procedure of recovering the cuneiform literary catalogue continues today.

In 2015, the publication of a new fragment of tablet V through Andrew George and Farouk Al-Rawi made international news. The fragment’s discovery synchronized with increased an international sensitivity come the devastation of antiquities in the Middle east in the same year. The Washington short article juxtaposed the “heart-warming story” the the find against the destruction and looting in Syria and Iraq.

Ancient ecology

The brand-new section of tablet computer V contains ecological aspects that resonate with modern day comes to over environmental destruction. That course, there space potential anachronisms in projecting environmental involves on an old text composed thousands of years before the commercial revolution.

Yet, the undeniable sensitivity in the epic’s presentation of the wilderness is illuminating, considering the long history of humanity’s communication with our environment and also its pet inhabitants.


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A cedar woodland in Turkey. Zeynel Cebeci, Wikimedia Commons, CC by

In Gilgamesh, the wilderness is a location of beauty and also purity, and also home come a wild abundance. The splendour and grandeur that the Cedar forest is described poetically in tablet computer V:

They (Gilgamesh and Enkidu) stand marvelling in ~ the forest,

Observing the height of the cedars …

They were gazing in ~ the Cedar Mountain, the populated of the gods, the throne-dais that the goddesses …

Sweet to be its shade, full of delight.

While the heroes stop to excellent the forest’s beauty, their attention is no purely aesthetic. Gilgamesh and Enkidu are conscious of the financial value of the cedars, and the text provides a clear snapshot of contending commercial and also ecological interests.

Where to read Gilgamesh

Since Gilgamesh’s reappearance into renowned awareness in the last hundred years, the typical Babylonian variation of the epic has become obtainable in countless translations. This variation was originally compiled through the priest, scribe and also exorcist, Sin-leqi-uninni, roughly 1100 BCE.

The scholarly standard among contemporary translations is Andrew George’s The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic: Introduction, an essential Edition and Cuneiform messages (2003).

Despite that is all-around excellence, the two-volume job-related is decidedly unwieldly, and also the much less muscle-bound reader would certainly be well directed to The epic of Gilgamesh: A brand-new Translation (1999), by the same author. Many readable among modern-day treatments is David Ferry’s Gilgamesh: A new Rendering in English city (1992), which provides a potent, poetic interpretation of the material.

Like the snake the steals Gilgamesh’s rejuvenation plant, the epos of Gilgamesh has actually aged well. The themes - exploring the tension in between the natural and civilised worlds, the potency of true love, and also the question of what provides a good life – are as relevant today as they were 4,000 years ago.

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Note: Translations room sourced native Andrew R. George 2003. The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic: Introduction, crucial Edition and Cuneiform Texts, Volume 1. Oxford: Oxford university Press.