Assigned: Epic of Gilgamesh (10-41).
Epic of Gilgamesh
Prologue and Part 1. Gilgamesh; The Coming of Enkidu (12-17)
1. Who was Gilgamesh? Use the internet to respond to this question in more detail than the Norton introduction provides.
2. What heroic attributes does the prologue give Gilgamesh? What other goal might the prologue be designed to achieve -- what about its final paragraph in this light?
3. When Uruk's men complain against Gilgamesh, the goddess Aruru creates Enkidu for him as a companion. What is Enkidu like -- how does he live before he meets with any human beings? What does he look like?
4. What happens when a trapper, following the advice of his father and then Gilgamesh, brings Enkidu a temple prostitute? What does this episode suggest about the author's view of the difference between human beings and animals, between the wild and the civilized?
5. How are Gilgamesh and Enkidu brought together? And how specifically is the bond of friendship established between them when they meet? What can you draw from this episode concerning Mesopotamian ideas about heroism, rank, and friendship?
Part 2. The Forest Journey (17-24)
6. What moves Gilgamesh to make his journey to the "Land of the Living," where fierce Humbaba guards the cedars? How much of his motive has to do with fame, and how much, perhaps, to more complex motives? Explain with specific reference to the text.
7. What role do gods such as Enlil, Shamash, and Ninsun play in this episode?
8. How does Enkidu serve his comrade Gilgamesh throughout this episode? What dreams does Gilgamesh recount to him, and how does he interpret them? What counsel does he offer the hero regarding Humbaba before and after the fight?
9. What seems to have been the point of this episode, in which the monster Humbaba is at last killed and many of his cedar trees cut down? What "reward" (if that's the right way to interpret the episode) accrues to Gilgamesh and his companion Enkidu?
Part 3. Ishtar and Gilgamesh, and the Death of Enkidu (24-30)
10. Why does Gilgamesh refuse Ishtar's desire for him? How does she respond to his rejection and to his killing the Bull of Heaven?
11. How does Enkidu come to terms with the knowledge (given in a dream) that he is to die? What vision of the afterlife does he pass along to Gilgamesh? In what manner does he die, and why is that way unacceptable to him?
Part 4. The Search for Everlasting Life (30-35)
12. Gilgamesh now seeks out the immortal human Utnapishtim. But first, how does he explain his quest to the Man-Scorpion?, Siduri the woman of the vine, and Urshanabi the Ferryman? What explanation does he give? What do they say about him and his quest?
13. When Gilgamesh finally meets Utnapishtim towards the end of Part 4, what insight into human life does this immortal man reveal? How does this insight clash with the virtues of active heroism we have seen in Gilgamesh and Enkidu?
Part 5 The Story of the Flood (35-38)
14. Give an outline of the flood story in this epic, and briefly compare it with the story of Noah in Genesis Chapters 6-9. What is similar, and what is different?
15. What conflicting motives and attitudes do the gods reveal concerning the destruction of humankind? And in general, do you find that the gods in this epic have been a positive force or a destructive one for humans -- or both? Explain with reference to specific parts of the text?
Parts 6-7 The Return, The Death of Gilgamesh (38-41)
16. In these brief parts, Gilgamesh is tested by Utnapishtim and fails, a serpent whisks away the youth-restoring flower he had plucked from the sea bed on Urshanabi's advice, and at long last the hero dies. What compensation does the conclusion of the text offer for the inevitability of death? Does it seem that the text presents this as sufficient or satisfying?
17. Do you find that the heroic ideal remains constant in this epic, or do you think it changes after the death of Enkidu, when Gilgamesh becomes fearful of death? Judging from your now completed reading of Gilgamesh, what makes a character heroic in the author's eyes? What must a hero confront? What are his limitations?
Edition: Lawall, Sarah, ed. The Norton Anthology of World Literature. 2nd edition. Volumes 1ABC. New York: Norton, 2002. ISBN A = 0-393-97755-2, B = 0-393-97756-0, C = 0-393-97757-9.