Why is the Epic of Gilgamesh important to world literature?

Expert Answers
piratejaime eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Epic of Gilgamesh is extremely important to world literature for several reasons. First, it is one of the oldest written stories in existence. Second, it is loosely based on the historical record of an actual Sumerian King named Gilgamesh, who ruled Uruk in 2700 BC. Gilgamesh's rule was so epic that great myths and legends were inspired from his deeds.

Another reason The Epic of Gilgamesh is important to world literature is that it is the first example of the epic poem genre. It served as inspiration for other great epic poems found throughout history. The story of a hero imbued with hubris and his struggles as he faces the obstacles put forth in his path by the gods has been used in many other epic poems such as The Aeneid, The Iliad, and The Odyssey

Finally, the events that occur in The Epic of Gilgamesh are said to have inspired many of the stories in the Bible. For instance, in The Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh faces a great flood, just as Noah in the Bible faced a great flood. Further, Gilgamesh's use of a plant that grants immortality is stopped by a serpent, which parallels the story of Adam and Eve in the bible. 

edcon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Epic of Gilgamesh is valuable for many reasons; the first is that many literature scholars hail it as the earliest extant piece of world literature. The similarities to later stories in The Bible suggest that it informed the account of Adam and Eve and offered other accounts for how mankind must conduct itself. 

It is also believed that The Epic of Gilgamesh inspired The Iliad and The Odyssey.  All of these works address important themes about what it means to be human.

What seems consistent in the epic and the early (and some later) literature that followed is that humankind needs to be reminded not to let our pride in our abilities supplant what must be instead ascribed to our creator.  Warnings against man's arrogance is found in world literature for subsequent generations; it is, to cite a few examples, found in Greek myths involving Odysseus, Icarus and Prometheus, and in much later works such as Frankenstein, which demonstrates the peril of placing oneself alongside that which is more powerful than ourselves.

thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are several reasons why it is important to study The Epic of Gilgamesh in order to understand world literature. First, it is one of the earliest preserved examples of literature in the world. Interestingly, it is the product of a written scribal tradition, rather than a purely oral one, and thus provides insight into early modes of literacy.

Next, it gives us insight into one of the great world civilizations, that of Mesopotamia. Its views of kingship and its duties, especially when taken in conjunction with the early Mesopotamian law codes, help us understand how ideas of justice, responsibility, leadership, and government evolved in early civilizations.

Finally, it shows us an early stage of Mesopotamian religion, which influenced the development of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) as well as classical Greek and Roman religious beliefs and practices.