The Epic of Gilgamesh Summary

The Epic of Gilgamesh is an ancient Sumerian epic poem about a demigod named Gilgamesh who tries to achieve immortality.

  • As King of Uruk, Gilgamesh attracts the attention of the goddess Ishtar. Gilgamesh declines her offer of marriage.
  • Enraged, Ishtar has Gilgamesh’s friend, Enkidu, killed. 
  • Gilgamesh travels a great distance to meet Utnapishtim, who was granted immortality by the gods after he built an ark to survive a massive flood. 
  • Utnapishtim advises Gilgamesh to return home to Uruk after Gilgamesh fails a number of trials to win eternal life. Gilgamesh dies a beloved king, without having achieved his dream of immortality.

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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.

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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 destroy humanity, she forces Anu to create a monster bull that will kill Gilgamesh.

Anu forms the bull and sends it to Uruk. After it slays five hundred warriors in two snorts, Engidu jumps on its back while Gilgamesh drives his sword into its neck. Engidu then throws the bull’s thighbone in Ishtar’s face, and Gilgamesh holds a feast of...

(The entire section contains 2435 words.)

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