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Imagery and Themes in the Epic of Gilgamesh

Historical Context – Imagery and Themes

Rosenberg notes that Gilgamesh is probably the world’s first human hero in literature (27). The Epic of Gilgamesh is based on the life of a probably real Sumerian king named Gilgamesh, who ruled about 2600 B.C.E. We learned of the Gilgamesh myth when several clay tablets written in cuneiform were discovered beginning in 1845 during the excavation of Nineveh (26). We get our most complete version of Gilgamesh from the hands of an Akkadian priest, Sin-liqui-unninni. It is unknown how much of the tale is the invention of Sin-liqui-unninni, and how much is the original tale. The flood story, which appears in the Sin-liqui-unninni version, is probably based on an actual flood that occurred in Mesopotamia around 2900 B.C.E. (26).

The Sumerian culture influenced the entire Near East (Swisher 13). The success of their culture was dependent on the agricultural viability of the area. Every year there were floods which provided rich silt for successful farming that encouraged the people to stay in the same area year after year instead of migrating to find new areas for crops (19).

There are indications that the Sumerians were composed of two different peoples which mingled in the same area. The Semites are believed to have mixed with the Highlanders. The Semites were patriarchal hunters and more warlike than the Highlanders. The Highlanders were matriarchal and peaceful. Swisher suggests that there is evidence of both social groups and that the combination of the two led to changes in the perception of the roles of the gods and goddess as well as the men and women (21).

Sumer was originally small groups of people that eventually grew to form cities. As a country it included 13 …

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…der to receive eternal life. The apparent belief in an afterlife which is indicated by the burial with useful objects may show that eternal life is achieved after physical death. The Flood – recounted by Utanapishtim is representative of the purification of human life by the gods. Their transgressions are swept away (with most of the population) and they are reborn into a fresh, new world and relationship with the gods. Ark – the symbol of the gods’ love of the humans and their interest in preserving the human race.

We also identified five themes in the Epic of Gilgamesh: Conflict between chaos and order, represented by nature and civilization; Man’s quest for immortality and knowledge; Dealing with loss; Male bonding/brotherhood; Heroism (man’s victory over nature).

Comparing Gilgamesh and King Arthur

Gilgamesh and King Arthur

The Epic of Gilgamesh has many similarities to The Legend of King Arthur. Although Gilgamesh and King Arthur have comparison they also have differences. The main difference is that one is an Epic and the other is a Legend. To compare and contrast The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Legend of King Arthor, one must first know what the words, “Epic” and “Legend” mean. Primarily, “epic” is a long narrative poem about the deeds of a semi-god, also known as a superhuman hero who’s actions are depended on as the fate of a nation, tribe or a human race. This usually consists of an adventure filled plot and is concerned with timeless human problems such as honour, jealousy, war and hatred. These contain gods and goddesses and the setting is fixed in a far distant place at a time long past. Epics are based on legends and myths.
Secondly, “legend” consists of a protagonist (superman) who manages to solve some problems that a group of people have encountered. This too consists of an adventure filled plot. In knowing the words, epic and legend there is now a better comprehension of these wondrous stories.

The Legend of King Arthur is in comparison to The Epic of Gilgamesh because Arthur’s closest companion was Merlin, and Gilgamesh’s closest companion was Enkidu and neither Gilgamesh nor Arthur forgot their friends. Enkidu only came in contact with Gilgamesh after becoming a man. Enkidu released the animals from the hunter’s traps when they ere caught, so to make him a man the prostitute slept with him so that the animals would be ashamed of him and reject him. King Arthur became aware of Merlin when he was a young man. When Arthur was born Merlin placed him in the care of Sir Ector, throughout his boyhood Arthur learned the ways of chivalry, knighthood and how to become a gentleman. At the tournament one day Arthur pulled Excalibur from the stone and this is what brought upon Arthur meeting Merlin once again. In The Legend of King Arthur, Merlin exclaimed, “it is the doom of men if they forget.” Gilgamesh along with Enkidu together fought and killed Humbaba, protector of the Cedar forest, and the Bull of Heaven, sent as punishment to Gilgamesh for killing Humbaba. King Arthur nor Gilgamesh forgot their faithful friends.

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