The Epic of Gilgamesh Questions and Answers

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Gilgamesh is widely considered the first epic hero in literature. What are his heroic qualities and his non-heroic qualities, and what role does Enkidu play in Gilgamesh's story?

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Seen within the context of the ancient world, heroes tended to be exhibit superhuman qualities and ambitions. Almost always kings, and usually featuring some form of divine parentage, heroes existed in a state of suspension: they were simultaneously more than mortal human beings and yet less than fully divine. Seen in these terms, you can see how Gilgamesh adheres to the pattern: he is king of Uruk, described as two-thirds divine.

All this being said, it is worth noting that the heroes of the ancient world were not necessarily heroic as we understand the term today. Nowadays, we tend to expect our heroes to serve as moral exemplars, and from that perspective, ancient heroes can often be problematic when viewed from modern expectations. Consider the greatest of the Greek heroes, Heracles, who was stricken with murderous rages of temporary insanity, or the characterization of Agamemnon and Achilles in The Iliad. Meanwhile, Gilgamesh, as the epic begins, is described as a tyrant terrorizing the...

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