The Epic of Gilgamesh


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Writing Assignment 1

Fall 2014

The Epic of Gilgamesh


The Epic of Gilgamesh is a Babylonian work of literature that covers the story of Gilgamesh, an Uruk king who reigned approximately four thousand six hundred years ago. The epic presents Gilgamesh as a brutal and unforgiving despot who was more powerful and any other man and willing to abuse his power to have his way. Though the contents of the epic are fantastic in nature, historians have confirmed that Gilgamesh was a real ruler in Uruk through inscriptions mentioning him in different contexts. The Epic of Gilgamesh is notable for being one of the earliest known pieces of literature. Another significant feature of The Epic of Gilgamesh is the story’s depiction of the culture of the Babylonian people during the period in which it is based. Through The Epic of Gilgamesh, readers come to terms with the lives of people from Mesopotamia during the 26th century, which were based on a patriarchal and spiritual society.


The Epic of Gilgamesh contains 12 sections, with each one of them coming from a single tablet of the story’s original form. The story begins by introducing Gilgamesh, the brutal and unforgiving despotic king of Uruk. The epic explains that Gilgamesh is one part human and two parts god, making him the most powerful person in the land. Gilgamesh uses his unmatched power to oppress the Babylonian people, forcing them to ask the gods for help. The gods react by sending Enkidu, a primitive man who first lives among animals. The Babylonian community tames Enkidu by having a prostitute sleep with him and then teaching him about the ways of men. Eventually, Enkidu and Gilgamesh meet and become close friends. The two embark on a quest together and kill Humbaba the forest guardian. When they return home, Gilgamesh spurns the advances of Ishtar and this makes her wreck havoc on Uruk using the bull of heaven. After Enkidu and Gilgamesh kill the goddess, the gods decide to kill one of them as punishment and take the life of Enkidu. Distraught, Gilgamesh becomes obsessed with his own mortality and seeks Utnapishtim so that he can evade his death. After finding Utnapishtim, Gilgamesh learns of a plant that will grant him immortality. However, before he can use the plant, a snake takes it. After this, Gilgamesh embraces his death and acknowledges the legacy of his city as his own immortality[1].

Babylonian Culture as Depicted in The Epic of Gilgamesh

Through the events occurring in The Epic of Gilgamesh, readers are able to learn many things about the culture of the Babylonian people and the traditions that they had. Historians believe that The Epic of Gilgamesh was written between the 21st and 14th centuries, depicting events that occurred in the 26th century BC[2]. This means that the book covers the culture of the Babylonian people in a period from which few written texts existed. Although the contents of the epic are fantastic, other details bear some credibility.

One issue that the epic exposes about ancient Babylonian life is the power that leaders of the time had. In the story, Gilgamesh is a powerful despot who seems to have the right to do whatever he wanted. This power allowed Gilgamesh to force the men to work in slave like conditions and sleep with brides even before their grooms. While some of these issues are difficult to verify, the confirmed existence of Uruk structures that were supposedly built under Gilgamesh’s rule makes them a possibility. In addition to the manner with which Gilgamesh treated his subjects, his interactions with various gods and goddesses in the story allude to how powerful Babylonian kings were. Although the gods and goddesses are fictional entities in the story, Gilgamesh’s apparent disdain for some of them is indicative of how powerful Babylonian kings were at the time when the story was written.

Another issue that The Epic of Gilgamesh shows about Babylonian life is the importance of religion and spirituality in their culture. The first reference to deities in the story comes through the description of Gilgamesh, who is supposedly two parts god and one part man. Other significant references to gods in the story include gods and goddesses such as Ninsun, Ishtar and Shamash. In the story, the gods and goddesses appear alongside other fantastic creatures such as Gugalanna, the bull of heaven and Humbaba, the ogre protecting the cedar forest. These deities and fantastic creatures in the story indicate that the Babylonians had a religion that encompassed complex beliefs and practices. Additionally, the interactions between Gilgamesh and the gods imply that the Babylonians considered their deities to be the only people who could control their rulers.


The Epic of Gilgamesh is an ancient Babylonian story that has helped scholars understand more about the culture of the Babylonian community as it was in the 26th century. Though the story contains various fantastic and incredible references, some aspects of it remain accurate to some extent. For instance, historians have concluded the Gilgamesh was a real king who reigned over Uruk millennia ago. Through the epic, readers get the chance to learn about various aspects of ancient Babylonian culture such as the unchallenged power of the king and the complex religious beliefs of the people. Accordingly, these references to Babylonian culture make The Epic of Gilgamesh a valuable work of literature.



Mark, Joshua J. Gilgamesh. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last accessed September 5, 2014,

Spielvogel, Jackson. Western Civilization. Boston: Cengage Learning, 2012.

[1]Jackson Spielvogel, Western Civilization, (Boston: Cengage Learning, 2012), p. 14.


[2] Joshua J. Mark, Gilgamesh, Ancient History Encyclopedia, Last accessed September 5, 2014,


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