It could be argued that any story more than four thousand years old deserves the close attention of modern students of literature. The appeal of this epic, however, goes far beyond its literary antiquity. Gilgamesh abounds with drama, conflict, and charismatic characters, and its topics are many and varied. These include such enduring human concerns as the fear of death, the need for true friendship, the importance of achieving great deeds and displaying virtuous traits (such as courage, loyalty, and leadership) and—perhaps most vital of all—the glory and wisdom to be found in the search for truth. On a basic human level, the narrative reveals many ways in which these ancient peoples differed from modern humans, but also points to surprising similarities. Some scholars may quarrel with Bryson's claims that this is "man's first story," but there can be no question that Gilgamesh is the world's first genuine epic hero.
A number of later epic and legendary heroes—including Odysseus, Aeneas, and Beowulf—resemble Gilgamesh, and it is thought that some of them were at least partly based on his character. Certain biblical narratives, most notably the story of Noah and the Flood, may also have been based on episodes from this epic. Scholars are not in total agreement, but there is a strong likelihood that the composers of the Old Testament were familiar either with Gilgamesh or its sources, the oldest of which probably existed in an oral...
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