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Full Title The Epic of Gilgamesh
Author The ancient authors of the stories that compose the poem are anonymous. The latest and most complete version yet found, composed no later than around 600 b.c., was signed by a Babylonian author and editor who called himself Sin-Leqi-Unninni.
Type of Work Epic poem
Genre Heroic quest; heroic epic
Language Sumerian; Akkadian; Hurrian; Hittite. All these languages were written in cuneiform script.
Time and Place Written Between 2700 b.c. and around 600 b.c. in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq)
Date of First Publication Tablet XI of Gilgamesh was first translated into English and published in 1872. The first comprehensive scholarly translation to be published in English was R. Campbell Thompson’s in 1930.
Publisher The Clarendon Press, Oxford
Narrator Most of the epic is related by an objective, unnamed narrator.
Point of View Third person. After Enkidu appears in Tablet I, most of the story is told from Gilgamesh’s point of view. Utnapishtim narrates the flood story in Tablet XI.
Tone The narrator never explicitly criticizes Gilgamesh, who is always described in the most heroic terms, but his portrayal of him often includes irony. In the first half of the story, Gilgamesh is heedless of death to the point of rashness, while in the second, he is obsessed by it to the point of paralysis. Gilgamesh’s anticlimactic meeting with Utnapishtim, for example, is quietly ironic, in that everyone involved, including Utnapishtim and his wife, knows more than Gilgamesh does.
Setting (Time) 2700 b.c.
Setting (Place) Mesopotamia
Protagonist Gilgamesh, king of Uruk
Major Conflict Gilgamesh struggles to avoid death.
Rising Action In the first half of the poem, Gilgamesh bonds with his friend Enkidu and sets out to make a great name for himself. In doing so, he incurs the wrath of the gods.
Climax Enkidu dies.
Falling Action Bereft by the loss of his friend, Gilgamesh becomes obsessed with his own mortality. He sets out on a quest to find Utnapishtim, the Mesopotamian Noah who received eternal life from the gods, in the hope that he will tell him how he too can avoid death.
Themes Love as a motivating force; the inevitability of death; the gods are dangerous
Motifs Seductions; doubling and twinship; baptism
Symbols Religious symbols; doorways; journeys
Foreshadowing The most important instances of foreshadowing are explicit, because they come in the form of premonitory dreams. Gilgamesh dreams about a meteor, which his mother tells him represents the companion he will soon have. Few things, however, are as ephemeral as a falling star, and already we have a hint of Enkidu’s eventual fate. Enkidu interprets dreams during their journey to the forbidden forest. In one a mountain falls on them, which Enkidu says represents the defeat of Humbaba. It also suggests Enkidu’s journey to the underworld and Gilgamesh’s passage through the twin-peaked mountain. In another dream, a bull attacks them. Enkidu says the bull is Humbaba, but it may also be the Bull of Heaven they fight later.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Epic of Gilgamesh!