Illustration of Gilgamesh's face

The Epic of Gilgamesh

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Compare and contrast an episode in N. K. Sandars' narrative version of the Epic of Gilgamesh with David Ferry's poetic version or one of the versions that follow the original 12-tablet structure of the story. How do the versions differ in their use of language and their organization on the page. Do they differ in their symbolic or thematic emphases? Is one easier to read than the other? What other kind of differences occur when you read the Epic as poetry and as a story?

Locate the five independent myths of the Sumerian song-cycle featuring Gilgamesh ("Gilgamesh and Agga of Kish;'' ''Gilgamesh and the Land of the Living;" "Gilgamesh and the Bull of Heaven;" ''Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Netherworld;'' and "The Death of Gilgamesh") in James Pritchard's Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Choose one, read it carefully, and see if you can identify which portion(s) or details of the Sumerian myth have been incorporated into the Babylonian Standard Version and which have been excluded. What changes did the later version make to the earlier Sumerian myths?

Many contemporary movies feature a hero and counterpart, a sidekick or "buddy." Examples include "Thelma and Louise" and the "Lethal Weapon " and "48 Hours" movies. Often these two characters are as different as Gilgamesh and Enkidu, but together they make a complete team. Select a current "buddy movie"—a movie that feature two dissimilar characters who team up for some purpose—and, using the Epic of Gilgamesh as a guide, analyze the "epic qualities '' of that movie. For example, you might ask: How are the buddies alike or different? How do they react to the opposite sex? What quest do they set out to achieve? What great enemy or evil do they face? Let your imagination guide you to new and outlandish parallels between the ancient story of Gilgamesh and these modern works.

Drawing on such subjects of study as biology, geography, and history, create a collage depicting the elements of ancient Mesopotamian life depicted in the Epic of Gilgamesh or a diorama (picture box) of an ancient ziggurat or temple. From your research, can you reconstruct the architecture of the time; the kinds of people who inhabited the cities; and the kinds of crops, crafts, and clothing they wore?

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