Story of The Epic of Gilgamesh

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      The earliest known epic poetry is that of the Sumerians. The Epic of Gilgamesh, origin has been traced to a preliterate heroic age, not later than 3000 BCE, when the Sumerians had to fight, under the direction of a warlike aristocracy, for possession of this fertile Mesopotamian land. Among extant literature of this highly gifted people, there are fragments of narrative poems recounting the heroic deeds of their early kings: Enmerkar, Lugalbanda, and Gilgamesh. By far the most important in the development of Mesopotamian literature are the five poems of the Epic of Gilgamesh. The epic story of the Babylonian hero Gilgamesh is one of the first recorded examples of an epic poem. Gilgamesh was written on clay tablets in cuneiform by a priest named Sin-leqi-unninni. Many scholars believe that Sin-leqi-unninni was inspired by Babylonian and Sumerian tales about a real-life king who ruled between 2700 and 2500 BCE.

      This cycle tells the the odyssey of a king, Gilgamesh, part human and part divine, who seeks immortality. According to the poem, Gilgamesh was an arrogant and inexperienced ruler. The Babylonian gods were displeased with the way Gilgamesh treated his people, so they sent a hero named Enkidu to guide Gilgamesh and help him become a better leader. Enkidu and Gilgamesh initially fought; however, Gilgamesh soon realized that Enkidu was a stronger man and a better warrior. The two became fast friends and went on many adventures together. One day, the Babylonian goddess Ishtar saw Gilgamesh, and she was so enamored with the handsome ruler that she asked him to marry her. Ishtar offered Gilgamesh gold, jewels, and storm demons to pull his chariot. She promised that all the kings of the earth would bow down before him. Despite all of these promises, Gilgamesh was uninterested. He reminded Ishtar that she had killed or maimed all of her previous lovers. Ishtar became angry and sent the Bull of Heaven against Gilgamesh. With the help of Enkidu, Gilgamesh defeated the bull and confronted Ishtar. Enkidu was especially angry that Ishtar had tried to kill his friend and he cursed the goddess. A few days later, Enkidu became ill and died as a result of his curse on the sacred goddess. Gilgamesh was devastated at the death of his companion and began to fear his own death. Gilgamesh sought out Utanapishtim, who had survived the great flood that swept over Mesopotamia. Utanapishtim told Gilgamesh that the great flood had been caused by an angry god who wanted to drown out the clamor of humanity. The god Ea was distressed at the idea that all humans would drown, so he told Utanapishtim that he must build a large boat and gather all of the animals into it to survive the flood. After he survived the flood, the gods gave Utanapishtim and his wife eternal life. The survivor shows him where to find a plant that renews youth, but after Gilgamesh gets the plant it is snatched away by a serpent. Gilgamesh returns; saddened, to his capital. Although Utanapishtim was unable to give Gilgamesh eternal life, his stories helped Gilgamesh to become a wiser ruler. His adventures with Enkidu and the knowledge he gained from Utanapishtim helped turn an arrogant young man into a wise and understanding ruler. The transition of a young hero into a wise ruler is a common theme in epic poetry. Another common theme in many epic poems is the tale of a flood. Many ancient cultures in the Middle East had a flood story. Historians believe that there may have been a real flood in the area that inspired flood stories in Babylonian mythology, Sumerian mythology, and the Bible.

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