The Epic of Gilgamesh

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What happens in The Epic of Gilgamesh?

Gilgamesh is two-thirds god and one-third man, making him the strongest and wisest of all mortals. As King of Uruk, Gilgamesh attracts the attention of the goddess Ishtar, a cruel, spiteful woman who treated her past lovers terribly. Gilgamesh declines her offer of marriage.

  • Enraged, Ishtar complains to Anu, the King of the Gods, and convinces him to create a fearsome bull to smite Gilgamesh. This bull kills five hundred men in just two snorts, but the monster proves to be no match for Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu.
  • Prior to Ishtar's proposal for marriage, Anu fashioned another demigod, Enkidu. Gilgamesh bested Enkidu in battle, and the two became great friends. Enkidu was cursed, however, when he touched the gate of a magic portal while on a hunt. Enkidu dies soon after the battle with the bull.
  • Gilgamesh meets Utnapishtim, who was granted immortality by the gods after he built a giant ark to survive an ancient flood. Utnapishtim advises Gilgamesh to return home to Uruk and rule. Gilgamesh dies a beloved king, having never achieved his dream of immortality.

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(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 all of the evil things she did to her earlier lovers. Ishtar then angrily ascends to heaven and reports his scornful refusal to Anu. Threatening to...

(The entire section is 2,435 words.)