Unlike most epics, the hero Gilgamesh actually existed. Who was Gilgamesh?
Most of the epic is set in and around the city of Uruk, one of the great cities of ancient Mesopotamia.Access the link above to see a map of ancient Uruk. What river was it on?
The ruins of Uruk are near the modern day city of Warka. Where is Warka?
Archaeologists think they may have found Gilgamesh’s tomb. Read the article. What is the most amazing part of the excavation?
The epic was found inscribed on clay tablets in the Sumerian language prior to 2000 BCE.Scroll down to the clay tablet. When were these tablets created?
The Sumerians used a system of writing called cuneiform.Scroll down past the clay tablets. Draw any two cuneiformsymbols. Tell what the symbols mean and the time period they were in use.
There are many versions of the epic,but the best one was found in Nineva at the ruins of a famous king Assurbanipal’s library. Where and when did Assurbanipal reign?
Most epics do not have a knownauthor, but this one does. He called himself Sin-Leqi-Unninni.What was Sin-Leqi-Unninni’s occupation? Scroll down to Mesopotamia.
… and now the story.Be sure to fill in the chart related to the Sumerian gods when you see a god’s name in red.
Gilgamesh was a demi-god, the son of Lady Wildcow Ninsun and Lugulbanda, a mortal. What is a demi-god?
Gilgamesh built the magnificent city of Uruk and surrounded it with layers of walls. Inside the city walls were spectacular ziggurats and temples to the gods as well as fertile fields and orchards. What is a ziggurat?
However, things weren’t all rosy in Uruk. Gilgamesh was actually an evil despot who tortured and killedanyone he did not like. He also stoleanything he wanted from his people. What is a despot?
The people of Uruk complained toAruru , the goddess of creation, who then took some clay, moistened it, and created another man called Enkidu. Enkidu was both handsome and massively large.
Enkidu hears about the deeds of the evil Gilgamesh and goes to Uruk tochallenge him. The two massive men fight. The walls of the city shake. Eventually, Gilgamesh proves to be the stronger of the two and pins Enkidu to the ground.
Enkidu pledges loyalty to Gilgamesh and becomes his best friend. Together the new friends look for adventure. Enkidu suggests they go off to defeat the vile monster Humbaba who Enlil has placed in charge of the Cedar Forest.
The elders of the city arehorrified at Gil’s plan. Theysuggest that he pray to the sungod Shamash at the templeEgalmah where the goddessof medicine, Gula, resides.Gilgamesh did so.
In three days, the friends walk over 150 leagues. Mortal men could not cover that distance in 3 weeks. At the gate of the forest, the adventurers see a huge mountain in the background. This is where the gods live. It is forbidden to mortals. How long is a league?
When Gilgamesh and Enkidu reach the mountain, they cut down some trees. This enrages the monster Humbaba who attacks them. They both fight valiantly but they are overpowered by the monster. In desperation, Gilgamesh prays to the god Shamash.
Shamash sends 13 storms into the forest which disable Humbaba. Although Humbaba pleads for his life, Gilgamesh kills him anyway. Out of the tallest cedar trees, Gilgamesh makes a new citygate and a raft. The friends float back to Uruk in triumph.
Anu, god of the Heavens, unleashes the Bull of Heaven as a punishment forkilling Humbaba and stealing the sacred trees.The Bull brings down 7 years of famine on Uruk. Eventually, Gilgamesh and Enkidu kill the bull. What is the Bull of Heaven’s name?
The gods are angry that Gilgamesh and Enkidu killed the monster andcut down their trees. They determine that one of the friends must die. Enkidu falls ill.
Enkidu tells Gilgamesh of a dream he had about the Underworld where everyone lives in darkness. Ereshkigal, goddess of the underworld, sits on her throne while Belit-Seri, scribe of the gods, writes in the book of fate.Enkidu suffers 12 days and then dies.
Gilgamesh wanders in the wilderness mourning his friend. He decides to talk to Utnapishtim who survived the great flood that nearly wiped out the entire world. Gilgamesh wants Utnapishtim to tell him how to outsmart death.
Eventually, Gilgamesh arrives at the sacred mountain Mashu which isguarded by the Scorpion-man and his wife. They tell Gilgamesh that to reach his goal, he must travel through the sacred tunnel used by Shamash every night as he travelsback to where he rises each morning.
Sin, the moon god, sends a dream to Gilgamesh. In the dream, the hero is surrounded by lions which hequickly slaughters with an ax. This is a good omen.
It takes Gilgamesh 12 double hours to travel through the mountain. When he does so, he enters a beautiful garden.He meets the beautiful Siduri, goddess of wine and beer, who tells Gilgamesh that he needs to cross the sea of the sun god Shamash. No mortal has ever survived this journey.
Siduri suggests that Gilgamesh ask Urshanabi to ferry him across thesea. On the way, Gilgamesh attacks the Urnu-snakes and the Stone Things. Not a good idea.
Urshanabi agrees to help Gilgamesh across, but he says the journey will be even harder because he attacked the snakes and Stone Things.Urshanabi tells Gilgamesh to build a raft of cedar trees made of poles exactly 60 cubits in length. How long is a cubit?
Gilgamesh sails for three days, a journey that would normally take 2months. When he reaches the Waters of Death, an old man is waiting.Gilgamesh tells him about the deathof Enkidu and asks him for the secret of immortality.
The old man tells Gilgamesh that the gods determine the day of a person’s birth and the day of a person’s death. There is no way to escape one’s destiny.
Next, the survivor of the flood tells Gilgamesh what happened to him.He was once king of a beautiful city called Shurppak.
Ninurta god of war, Ennugigod of irrigation, Ea god ofwisdom, Anu, and Enlil godof earth, wind and air wereangry. They decided todestroy men via a terribleflood.
One of the gods warned Utnapishtimabout the coming flood. Utnapishtim was told to build a huge boat 120 (ten dozen) cubits high with an acre of floor space and load it up with all that lived.
Utnapishtim did as he was told andsurvived the flood. He landed on the top of a mountain and waited 7 days. He then sent a dove off to see if the flood waters had receded. The dove did not return. Then he sent a raven. The raven did return. The waters had subsided. How did Noah know when to come out of the ark?
Most of the gods were furious that anyone had survived the flood. One god Ea chastised the other gods saying that the punishment was too harsh and that they should be grateful that Utnapishtim had saved the human race.
The other gods realized their error and made amends by making Utnapishtim and his wife immortal. Utnapishtim suggests that if Gilgamesh really thinks he is worthy of becoming a god, he should try to do without sleep for a week.
Gilgamesh agrees to do so but, that night, he immediately falls asleep.Gilgamesh is in despair. Because she feels sorry for him, Utnapishtim’s wife begs her husband to give Gilgamesh something!
Utnashpitim decides to give away one of the secrets of the gods. He tells Gilgamesh about a plant that grows beneath the sea that gives men eternal youth. In what other famous biblical story does a snake steal immortal life from humanity?
Immediately, Gilgamesh ties stones to his feet and jumps into the sea! Gilgamesh harvests some of the plants and returns to shore intent on returning to Uruk to take the plant himself and give some to the elders so that they all will be young again.
On the way back to Uruk, Gilgamesh decides to swim in a refreshing pool. A snake in the pool smells the plant in Gil’s pocket. The snake slithers into his pocket and takes the plant.
Gilgamesh sees the snake in the grass shed its skin. The snake has become young again, but Gilgamesh never will be young again now that the plant is gone. Gilgamesh weeps as he returns to Uruk.
Gilgamesh prays to the gods for help. Ea allows Enkidu to return to earth for a brief visit with Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh asks Enkidu to tell him about the Underworld.
Enkidu tells about some of the horrors of life in the land of the dead. Rats and other rodents gnaw on his body. His only food is dirt. However, Enkidu gives Gilgamesh some hope.
Enkidu tells him that the greater thenumber of sons one has, the better life is in the land of the dead. In fact, if a man has 7 sons then his life in the Underworld resembles that of thegods. The people who suffer the most are those who have no one to grieve for them when they die. What is the connection between the #7 and the gods?
Gilgamesh must learn to be content to rule Uruk as best he can and hope that his family will grieve for him when the gods decree that his time is up. The End
Epics have some common elements: A larger-than-life hero A friend who helps the hero on his journey Gods and monsters who either help or hinder the hero
Epic heroes also have some common characteristics.Fill in the “Elements of the Epic Hero Cycle” in your handout.