of Uruk, the strongest of men, and the personification of all human
virtues. A brave warrior, fair judge, and ambitious builder, Gilgamesh
surrounds the city of Uruk with magnificent walls and erects its glorious
ziggurats, or temple towers. Two-thirds god and one-third mortal,
is undone by grief when his beloved companion
Enkidu dies, and by despair at the prospect of his own extinction.
He travels to the ends of the Earth in search of answers to the
mysteries of life and death.
in-depth analysis of Gilgamesh.
and friend of Gilgamesh. Hairy-bodied and brawny, Enkidu was raised
by animals. Even after he joins the civilized world, he retains
many of his undomesticated characteristics. Enkidu
much like Gilgamesh
and is almost his
equal. He aspires to be Gilgamesh’s rival but instead becomes his soul
mate. The gods punish Gilgamesh and Enkidu by giving Enkidu a slow,
painful, inglorious death for killing the demon Humbaba and the
Bull of Heaven.
in-depth analysis of Enkidu.
temple prostitute who tames Enkidu by seducing him away from his
natural state. Though Shamhat’s power comes from her sexuality,
it is associated with civilization rather than nature. She represents
the sensuous refinements of culture—the sophisticated pleasures
of lovemaking, food, alcohol, music, clothing, architecture, agriculture,
herding, and ritual.
king and priest of Shurrupak, whose name translates as “He Who Saw
Life.” By the god Ea’s connivance, Utnapishtim survived the great
deluge that almost destroyed all life on Earth by building a great boat
that carried him, his family, and one of every living creature to
safety. The gods granted eternal life to him and his wife.
in-depth analysis of Utnapishtim.
An unnamed woman who plays an important role in the
story. Utnapishtim’s wife softens her husband toward Gilgamesh,
persuading him to disclose the secret of the magic plant called
guardian of the mysterious “stone things.” Urshanabi pilots a small
ferryboat across the Waters of Death to the Far Away place where
Utnapishtim lives. He loses this privilege when he accepts Gilgamesh
as a passenger, so he returns with him to Uruk.
the Stalker. The hunter discovers Enkidu at a watering place in
the wilderness and plots to tame him.
List of Important Deities and Demons
father of the gods and the god of the firmament.
goddess of creation who fashioned Enkidu from clay and her spittle.
of fresh water, crafts, and wisdom, a patron of humankind. Ea lives
in Apsu, the primal waters below the Earth.
fearsome demon who guards the Cedar Forest forbidden to mortals.
Humbaba’s seven garments produce an aura that paralyzes with fear
anyone who would withstand him. He is the personification of awesome
natural power and menace. His mouth is fire, he roars like a flood,
and he breathes death, much like an erupting volcano. In his very
last moments he acquires personality and pathos, when he pleads cunningly
for his life.
with his wife, of the twin-peaked mountain called Mashu, which Shamash
the sun god travels through every night. The upper parts of the monsters’
bodies are human, and the lower parts end in a scorpion tail. They
are familiar figures in Mesopotamian myth.
goddess of wine-making and brewing. Siduri is the veiled tavern
keeper who comforts Gilgamesh and who, though she knows his quest
is futile, helps him on his way to Utnapishtim.
in-depth analysis of Siduri.
god of vegetation and fertility, also called the Shepherd. Born
a mortal, Tammuz is the husband of Ishtar.
of earth, wind, and air. A superior deity, Enlil is not very fond
queen of the underworld.
goddess of love and fertility, as well as the goddess of war. Ishtar
is frequently called the Queen of Heaven. Capricious and mercurial,
sometimes she is a nurturing mother figure, and other times she
is spiteful and cruel. She is the patroness of Uruk, where she has
king of Uruk after the deluge (Gilgamesh is the fifth). Lugulbanda
is the hero of a cycle of Sumerian poems and a minor god. He is
a protector and is sometimes called the father of Gilgamesh.
mother of Gilgamesh, also called the Lady Wildcow Ninsun. She is
a minor goddess, noted for her wisdom. Her husband is Lugulbanda.
sun god, brother of Ishtar, patron of Gilgamesh. Shamash is a wise
judge and lawgiver.