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The Epic of Gilgamesh

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What narrative function do dreams serve in the Epic of Gilgamesh?

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The Epic of Gilgamesh follows the story of Gilgamesh, a man who is two-thirds god and one-third human. His unique composition makes Gilgamesh stronger and wiser than all other men. Much of the story involves Gilgamesh's search for immortality and a woman named Ishtar's pursuit of him. Ishtar becomes enraged when Gilgamesh declines her marriage proposal, and she begins to seek revenge. The Epic of Gilgamesh is actually the oldest surviving piece of literature in the world.

Dreams are first introduced to us in Tablet 1 when Gilgamesh dreams of embracing a fallen meteorite. From there, we begin to read about them periodically throughout the rest of the tale. Dreams in this story are most often used as a way to foreshadow, or preview, what's going to happen next. For example, in Tablet 7 Enkidu dreams of the underworld while preparing for death. Not only does this dream foreshadow Enkidu's eventual death, but it also causes Gilgamesh to reaffirm his search for immortality.

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Since the story is an epic, that is, a combination of different tales, the dreams serve as foreshadowing (the name of this narrative element) because the thematic value of each of the stories and the lesson each story wants to teach are more easy to accept, understand, and expect once a dream or a premonition, or a prophecy are added as part of the supernatural substance of the tale. Not only do you see dreams as foreshadowing, but also the doorways, journeys and religious symbols that appear in the epic are cues of what will come in the story, and give shape and meaning to the actions.

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