Gilgamesh: Man's First Story Topics for Discussion
by Bernarda Bryson

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Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Old epics are noted for being highly imaginative. They often possess, however, a considerable proportion of realism. Which episodes in Gilgamesh seem the most realistic, especially in terms of the credibility of the motivation behind important actions?

2. Which of the characters appears to be the most sympathetic and most deserving of the reader's concern? What are the best reasons for this choice?

3. Why does Gilgamesh persist in his quest for eternal life despite all the hardships and words of discouragement? Is his search justified in light of the events and people he encounters?

4. Why does Gilgamesh not immediately consume the "magic weed" so as to regain his youth? Are his motives selfless, or does he hope to gain even more fame and glory when he returns to Uruk?

5. What purposes are served by the dreams that appear in the narrative? Are they merely devices to arouse or maintain reader interest, or do they serve as psychological and thematic elements in the tale?

6. Serpents have often been used as representations of evil. What does the snake that steals the magic weed symbolize? Could it stand for some weakness in Gilgamesh's nature or perhaps in the larger forces of wickedness in the world? Are there parallels with the biblical story of the Garden of Eden?

7. Some readers believe that Enkidu represents the innocence and purity of unspoiled nature, which becomes corrupted when Harim takes him to Uruk and thus the "civilized" world. Is this claim supported by the text? If so, how?

8. What lesson seems to be indicated in the passage in "The Wooing of Ishtar" in which Gilgamesh and Ishtar engage in their heated discussion of the goddess's proposal? Does the episode suggest anything about the ancient attitude toward supernatural beings?

9. What is the significance of the death of Enkidu, both in terms of the events that precede it and those which follow? Is this character made into a kind of special sacrifice? Does the judgment on him seem fair?

10. In what ways do the illustrations contribute to the tone and atmosphere of the narrative?