The Epic of Gilgamesh Summary

Epic of Gilgamesh summary
  • Gilgamesh is a mighty young ruler in Uruk. He's also arrogant, so the gods create the wild Enkidu to challenge and befriend him. The two of them go adventuring and slay Humbaba, who guars the Cedar Forest.
  • The goddess Ishtar proposes marriage to Gilgamesh. When he refuses, she releases the Bull of Heaven to kill him and destroy Uruk. When Gilgamesh and Enkidu kill the Bull, the angry gods decree the death of Enkidu. Enkidu’s death throws Gilgamesh into a deep depression, and he begins a quest for immortality.
  • Gilgamesh meets Utnapishtim, who was granted immortality by the gods after he alone survived an ancient flood. He tells Gilgamesh this is the only path to immortality. Gilgamesh accepts his own mortality and returns to Uruk to rule.


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Gilgamesh is the wisest, strongest, and most handsome of mortals, for he is two-thirds god and one-third man. As king of the city-state of Uruk he builds a monumental wall around the city, but in doing so he overworks the city’s inhabitants unmercifully, to the point where they pray to the gods for relief.

The god Anu hears their plea and calls the goddess Aruru to fashion another demigod like Gilgamesh in order that the two heroes might fight and thus give Uruk peace. Aruru creates the warrior Engidu out of clay and sends him to live among the animals of the hills. A hunter of Uruk finds Engidu and in terror reports his existence to Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh advises the hunter to take a priest to Engidu’s watering place to lure Engidu to the joys of civilization and away from his animal life. The priest initiates Engidu into civilization with her body, her bread, and her wine. Having forsaken his animal existence, Engidu and the priest start for Uruk. On their arrival she tells him of the strength and wisdom of Gilgamesh and of how Gilgamesh told the goddess Ninsun about his dreams of meeting Engidu, his equal, in combat.

Engidu challenges Gilgamesh by barring his way to the temple. An earth-shaking fight ensues in which Gilgamesh stops Engidu’s onslaught. Engidu praises Gilgamesh’s strength and the two enemies became inseparable friends. Gilgamesh informs Engidu of his wish to conquer the terrible monster, Khumbaba, and challenges him to go along. Engidu replies that the undertaking is full of peril for both. Gilgamesh answers that Engidu’s fear of death deprives him of his might. At last Engidu agrees to go with his friend. Gilgamesh then goes to the elders and they, like Engidu, warn him of the perils he will encounter. Seeing his determination, the elders give him their blessing. Gilgamesh then goes to Ninsun and she also warns him of the great dangers, but to no avail. Then she takes Engidu aside and tells him to give Gilgamesh special protection.

Upon climbing the cedar mountain to reach Khumbaba, Gilgamesh relates three terrible dreams to Engidu, who shores up Gilgamesh’s spirit by placing a favorable interpretation on them. On reaching the gate to the cedar wood where Khumbaba resides, the pair are stopped by the watchman, who possesses seven magic mantles. The two heroes succeed in overcoming him. Accidentally, Engidu touches the magic portal of the gate; immediately he feels faint and weak, as if afraid of death. The champions enter the cedar wood and, with the aid of the sun god, slay Khumbaba.

Upon their return to Uruk after their victory, the goddess Ishtar falls in love with Gilgamesh and asks him to be her consort. Gilgamesh, being wiser than her previous consorts, recalls...

(The entire section is 1112 words.)