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HIST 119 Gender and History

Published : 20-Sep,2021  |  Views : 10


Historical context: Review three essential events in the narrative that reflect the values and culture of ancient Mesopotamian life.

Worldview: Explain how the Epic of Gilgamesh reflects humans relationships to each other, Nature and the supernatural.

Psychological Aspects: Explain how Gilgamesh undergoes psychological transformation and passes through several stages of Joseph Campbell Hero Journey.

Contemporary Themes: Identify and evaluate two universal concepts from the Epic, which apply to contemporary life and thought, and to your own personal experiences.


Epic of Gilgamesh

The epic of Gilgamesh talks about a ruler of Urun who was a two-thirds God and only the remaining third, human (Jackson et al., 54). Gilgamesh had immense power and ruled over the people of Urun as a tyrant. His main challenge was how he could achieve his dream of living forever as a youth. This recorded piece of poetry helps us understand some of the values and culture of Mesopotamia life; what it meant to be a real Sumerian.

Religion is one of the vital values of the Sumerian culture. We find that people turned to God to provide them with another ruler owing from the fact that Gilgamesh was a tyrant and a dictator (George and Francis, 150). According to the culture of Mesopotamia life, death and life lay in the hands of gods. The people offered sacrifices to the gods, performed rituals to get the support of the gods. For instance, they believe that when a bull drops from heaven, it indicates that seven years of famine is about to strike the city of Erech.

The Sumerians also enjoyed life through different kinds of festivals they participated in (Jackson et al., 130). The festival involved tinkling of cymbals and playing of flutes. Unique types of dressings accompanied these festivals as people dressed in festive thongs during the festivities.

The people of Mesopotamia had a vibrant economy and stable government which was headed by Gilgamesh. The craftsmen specialized in designing different forms of arts such as pottery, jewelry, cloth and sculpture (McCaughree et al., 60). They had farmers, hunters, bakers, butchers, and trappers who provided food to the city. The form of government of Sumerians was Monarchy.

The Epic of Gilgamesh demonstrates how human beings can go overboard to achieve whatever they want, even if it means to use their power for the detrimental effect on other people. Gilgamesh is a dictator who uses his power to torture his subjects. For instance, he raped women and took away their virginity (McCaughree et al., 80). The people are aware that they cannot oppose his decision and therefore turn to the gods and goddess for help. They ask the God to create another leader who will encounter the power of Gilgamesh. The Gods answered people's prayers and created another leader from dust; Enkidu (Jackson et al., 135).

At first, Enkidu tries to stop the evil actions of Gilgamesh, and the two engage in a big fight. Gilgamesh realizes that Enkidu is as much powerful as he is, and instead decides to form a great alliance with him (Jackron et al., 150). For the first time, Gilgamesh has found a true friend whom can help him. The friendship is, however, short-lived as Enkidu is killed by the gods because he failed to stop Gilgamesh from killing Humbabe; the beast. Gilgamesh deeply mourns the death of his great friend which the gods have taken away from him. It is at this juncture that Gilgamesh realizes that death is certain and nobody can avoid it (Jackson et al., 104).

Gilgamesh started his reign as a ruthless, dictator and as someone who had many flaws, but as his reign came to an end, he changed and became a better person. Joseph Campbell came up with seventeen stages of undergoing a transformation. He grouped the stages into three sections; the departure, the initiation and the return (Jackson et al., 156).

At the beginning of his reign, Gilgamesh does whatever suits him; kill children, rape girls, have sexual intimacy with a young man's bride.  People made some prayers to the gods who answered them by creating Enkidu to balance the power of Gilgamesh. The hero's journey starts after Gilgamesh and Enkidu gets acquainted.  They started their adventure and went to the Cedar forest where they meet Humbaba, who is the protector of the forest (George and Francis, 136). Gilgamesh being arrogant swears to kill Humbaba. When face to face with the beast, he confesses that he is frightened and intimidated by Humbaba (Jackson et al., 120).

The initiation stage of the hero's journey entails tests, tasks or ordeals that someone undergoes through to begin the transformation. Gilgamesh and Enkidu, together fight the beast. Gilgamesh encourages Enkidu not to give up (Jackson et al., 130). Another transforming factor occurs when Enkidu dies. He shows his caring emotions. The selfless character of Gilgamesh is witnessed when he offered sacrifices to the gods, so that Enkidu can be accepted and cared for in the underworld (McCaughree et al., 156).

The return stage of Gilgamesh hero's journey is when Gilgamesh accepted that all human beings are meant to die, the same way Enkidu died. He learns to be grateful for everything he has; his life and kingdom. Utnapishtim reminds him how fortunate he is to be two-thirds divine, a third human and the privilege he has to the king of Sumerians (Jackson et al., 176).

From the epic of Gilgamesh, we can learn the importance of love and friendship. Initially, Gilgamesh portrays characteristics of a tyrant ruler. He undergoes transformation after meeting his friend Enkidu. He becomes a hero and a better leader to his subjects. This explains how good friends can have the positive impact on our lives.

Another universal concept of the epic of Gilgamesh is the reality of death. Gilgamesh witnesses the death of Enkidu which was as powerful as him. He later realizes that nobody can escape death (Foster et al., 167), even as a king. From this, we can deduce that the nature of one's life is not measured by how long he lives, but by the quality of time, he spent while alive and the people with whom he surrounded himself with.


"Citations From The Translated Gilgamesh Texts." The Buried Foundation of the Gilgamesh Epic (n.d.): 217-222. Print.

"Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh Epic." Brill's New Pauly (n.d.): n. pag. Print.

Foster, Benjamin R, Douglas R. Frayne, and Gary M. Beckman. The Epic of Gilgamesh: A New Translation, Analogues, Criticism. the Sumerian Gilgamesh Poems / Transl. by Douglas Frayne. the Hittite Gilgamesh / Transl. by Gary Beckman. New York: Norton, 2001. Print.

George, A R, and Francis Mosley. The Epic of Gilgamesh: The Babylonian Epic Poem and Other Texts in Akkadian and Sumerian. London: Folio Soc., 2010. Print.

Jackson, Danny P, Saul Tchernichowsky, Ze?ev Raban, David S. Kahn, James G. Keenan, and Gideon Ofrat. The Epic of Gilgamesh: A Myth Revisited. Jerusalem: D.K. GraubArt Publishers, 2001. Print.

McCaughrean, Geraldine, and David Parkins. The Epic of Gilgamesh. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2003. Print.

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