The Epic of Gilgamesh

2500 BC

The Epic of Gilgamesh is a Sumerian story dating back to around 2500 BC. It qualifies as an epic in that is a long poem told or written in elevated language, dealing with gods and heroes, with universal themes.

The Gilgamesh epic revolves around a friendship between the main character who is a king, Gilgamesh, and his friend Enkidu. Enkidu is a natural man—he runs with the animals and drinks from the pool. The people in the city are worried about Enkidu, so they send out a harlot to seduce him. He has sex with the harlot, that results in his disaffection from the animals—he has been civilized and alienated from the natural/animal world. Enkidu then enters the city.

Gilgamesh befriends Enkidu and they have amazing adventures together, including killing the bull of heaven, fighting with Humbaba, and traveling together throughout the kingdom. Then Enkidu gets sick and dies.

Gilgamesh, worried about his own death, then goes in search of immortality. He chases Ziusudra (in some stories) or Utnapishtimin (in others). This character gives Gilgamesh a branch which will grant him immortality. A snake, representing immortality, takes the branch away from Gilgamesh, and Gilgamesh comes to realize that one can only achieves immortality by being in the memory of ones descendants.

Gilgamesh Retrieved from: on February 28, 2010.

Gresseth, Gerald K. (1974-5). The Gilgamesh Epic and Homer. Classical Journal, 70:1-18.