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The Epic of Gilgamesh

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Describe and explain what the Epic of Gilgamesh reveals about the early Sumerians and their beliefs. Use examples to support your answer.

The epic reveals that the Mesopotamians believed women were powerful, and they also seemed in awe of women's power to create life and beauty. They also seemed to attribute to them the power to destroy life. The epic also reveals the way in which leaders were supposed to behave. At the beginning of the epic, Gilgamesh treats his people so badly that they cry out to the gods for relief. Gilgamesh is heartless, as he works his people to death and takes all the women of Uruk as his own. Through a series of adventures, including his friendship with Enkidu and his quest for eternal life, Gilgamesh becomes more humane.

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One of the interesting aspects of The Epic of Gilgamesh is its portrayal of women. The creator of Gilgamesh is Aruru, a goddess who also creates Enkidu. She is capable of creating strong, partly divine creatures, so she has a great deal of power. Later in the epic, the goddess Ishtar, the goddess of beauty, love, and war, proposes to Gilgamesh and asks him to be her husband. She is the aggressive person in their relationship, and when Gilgamesh spurns her, she begs her father, Anu, the sky god, to send the Bull of Heaven after Gilgamesh. Mesopotamians (Sumerians were early Mesopotamians) regarded women as powerful, and they also seemed in awe of women's power to create life and beauty. They also seemed to attribute to them the power to destroy life.

The epic also reveals the way in which leaders were supposed to behave. At the beginning of the epic, Gilgamesh treats his people so badly that they cry out to the gods for relief. Gilgamesh is heartless, as he works his people to death and takes all the women of Uruk as his own. Through a series of adventures, including his friendship with Enkidu and his quest for eternal life, Gilgamesh becomes more humane. In the end, he treats his people more benevolently and turns his attentions to being a great king rather than to achieving everlasting life. Therefore, the epic reveals the way in which Mesopotamians thought leaders should act—as benevolent rulers.

In addition, the epic reveals that the Mesopotamians believed that life on earth was important. Gilgamesh gives up his pursuit of achieving immortality, and he dedicates himself to making his kingdom better. His actions show that the Mesopotamians valued one's actions on earth, not just the attainment of an afterlife.

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