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King 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, Gilgamesh 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.
Read an in-depth analysis of Gilgamesh.
Companion 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 looks much like Gilgamesh and is almost his physical 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.
Read an in-depth analysis of Enkidu.
The 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.
A 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.
Read an 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 How-the-Old-Man-Once-Again-Becomes-a-Young-Man.
The 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.
Also called the Stalker. The hunter discovers Enkidu at a watering place in the wilderness and plots to tame him.
The father of the gods and the god of the firmament.
A goddess of creation who fashioned Enkidu from clay and her spittle.
The god of fresh water, crafts, and wisdom, a patron of humankind. Ea lives in Apsu, the primal waters below the Earth.
The 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.
Read an in-depth analysis of Humbaba.
Guardian, 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.
The 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.
Read an in-depth analysis of Siduri.
The god of vegetation and fertility, also called the Shepherd. Born a mortal, Tammuz is the husband of Ishtar.
God of earth, wind, and air. A superior deity, Enlil is not very fond of humankind.
Terrifying queen of the underworld.
The 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 a temple.
Third 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.
The mother of Gilgamesh, also called the Lady Wildcow Ninsun. She is a minor goddess, noted for her wisdom. Her husband is Lugulbanda.
The sun god, brother of Ishtar, patron of Gilgamesh. Shamash is a wise judge and lawgiver.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Epic of Gilgamesh!