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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
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
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
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
Themes Love as a motivating force; the inevitability of death;
the gods are dangerous
Motifs Seductions; doubling and twinship; journeys; baptism
Symbols Religious symbols; doorways
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!