(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Uruk (EW-rewk). Ancient city in what is now Iraq (now called Tall al-Warka) over which the demigod Gilgamesh rules. During the period in which the epic is set (c. 2600 b.c.e.), Uruk was one of the largest cities in the world. Protected by brick walls, it preserved urban technology and order. In all versions of The Gilgamesh Epic, the city’s king or “shepherd,” Gilgamesh (also known as Bilgamesh), combines within himself civilization and fierce lawlessness, so that he can relate both to the city and to the barbarous rest of the world.

The split within Gilgamesh’s character helps the urbanites, since it gives Gilgamesh the ferocity to defend them. Nonetheless, they resent his disorderliness, particularly his leading the young in revels throughout such sacred precincts as Egalmah, the temple complex governed by the goddess Ninsun, Gilgamesh’s mother. Because of public resentment, Gilgamesh’s Uruk appears to be a grim totalitarian state. However, the prostitute whom he employs to lure Engidu (also called Enkidu) there, extols Uruk as a joyous place in which people wear wide belts and attend festivals every day that are celebrated with beautiful music.


Nagbu (NAHG-bew). Chaotic abyss, believed to exist at the center of the earth. It is the source of all rivers and maintains the aboriginal condition before order (and mortality) came to the world. Its most characteristic figure is Utnapishtim, a Noah-like being who survived a world-wide flood, thus preparing him to dwell forever amid Nagbu’s timeless waters. Appropriately, Gilgamesh finds within the abyss the plant of immortality. In the best-known and fullest version of Gilgamesh, that composed by the exorcist priest Sin-leqi-uninni (c. 1600-1000 b.c.e.), Nagbu is especially important, with Gilgamesh identified in the very first line of the poem as the one who saw this abyss. Knowledge of it is presumably why he is then described as the “lord of wisdom” who knows everything.


Edin (AY-din). Grassland surrounding Uruk. Embodying the almost total wildness and contradictoriness of that hinterland, Engidu, its heaven-appointed guardian eats grass with gazelles and releases animals from traps but also defends shepherds from wolves. A primordial savage, Engidu reflects the vitality of the region, thus threatening Gilgamesh, who therefore introduces Engidu to a human relationship...

(The entire section is 995 words.)