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How might a historian use the source Gilgamesh to understand the nature of ancient Mesopotamian society? What specific themes, plot devices, characterizations, setting, symbolism, imagery, and/or language structures might be most valuable to a historian's inquiry?

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Lynnette Wofford eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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First, historians note that the protagonist of The Epic of Gilgamesh actually appears on the Uruk King List. Although many of the details of the epic are obviously fictional, historians study the text for hints about whether Gilgamesh was the name of a real king or simply a legendary founding figure.

Next, the epic shows a moral evolution from the king an as absolute power, unrestrained by law or morality, to one who learns that his role is to carry out divine justice and protect his people. Historians compare the lawless behavior of Gilgamesh at the beginning of the epic to the prohibitions found in early law codes.

Next, the treatment of Ishtar in the epic can be used to investigate her cult and the tradition of temple prostitutes. The role of Ishtar and the prostitute who seduces Enkidu are evidence of some of the traditions of gender and sexuality in Mesopotamia.

The relationship between Enkidu and Gilgamesh can be examined for insights about male friendship.

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