Why is The Epic of Gilgamesh important to world literature?

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The primary importance for The Epic of Gilgamesh as a piece of world literature is its age. The earliest Sumerian poems dealing with Gilgamesh date back to around 2100 BCE. It represents a turning point when the written word may have first been used for something other than commerce, instead being put to task in what today what might be called “the humanities.” If one of the powers of literature is the ability to send thought, intent and emotion across temporal and cultural lines, then The Epic of Gilgamesh might be one of the most important stories ever written; the longest standing example of literature’s power to keep stories alive.

There are many Biblical and epic stories that seem at least partly rooted in Gilgamesh. The story of Noah’s Arc is perhaps the most apparent, the flood-surviving Utnapishtim acting as his Sumerian counterpart. Beyond the impact it has had on other epics, however, The Epic of Gilgamesh is an incredible story all on its own. From a historical standpoint,...

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