The Epic of Gilgamesh

The Epic of Gilgamesh is the first great epic story of mankind. Written thousands of years ago in cuneiform on clay tablets. It tells th story of the great king Gilgamesh, ruler of Uruk, and his companion, Enkidu, the “Wild Man” of the forest. Written millenia before the Iliad, the Bible or the Odyssey, this epic passionately explores Gilgamesh’s struggles with the power of nature, the will of the gods, his own mortality and his relationship with his shadow (represented by Enkidu).

The Story of The Epic of Gilgamesh

Gilgamesh’s stature as a special creation of the gods: he is the son of a goddess and a human and thus partly divine. The strongest and wisest of all humans, he is also the renownedd builder and king of the great city of Uruk. The story is located in the distant past, in “the days before the flood” when Gilgamesh himself etched the whole story in stone.

The Coming of Enkidu

Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, is the strongest of all men, but he is a harsh and unkind ruler. The people of Uruk describe his abuses to Anu, god of Uruk, who asks Aruru, goddess of creation, to create an equal or “second self” to oppose Gilgamesh and leave them at peace. Aruru creates Enkidu out of the raw stuff of nature. Enkidu is a fearfully strong, uncultured “wild man” with long hair and coarse features who runs with the beasts and eats grass. A trapper sees Enkidu at a watering hole, and tells his father about the wild man who disrupts his snares. The father advises the son to tell Gilgamesh about the wild man. Gilgamesh gives him a temple courtesan to tame th wild man. The woman embraces Enkidu, cleans and clothes him, and teaches him civilized behavior. When Enkidu is brought to Uruk, Gilgamesh puts off his pending marriage to Ishtar, the goddess of love, and meets Enkidu, who has challenged him, in the street. They fight, and after Gilgamesh throws Enkidu, they embrace and become friends.

The Forest Journey

Enlil, father of the gods, establishes Gilgamesh’s destiny to be king and achieve great feats, but Enkidu is “oppressed by the idleness” of living in Uruk. In order to establish his eternal reputation, to “leave behind me a name that endures” Gilgamesh purposes to travel with Enkidu to the Land of the Cedars and kill its guardian, the fearsome giant Humbaba. Gilgamesh prepares for the journey both by making a sacrifice to Shamash, who gives him the nature elements as allies; by forging a set of formidable weapons, including an axe, bow, and shield; and by seeking the intervention of his mother Ninsun, who adopts Enkidu as her own. Now brothers as well as companions, Gilgamesh and Enkidu begin their journey. On the way, Gilgamesh ahs three dreams, which though frightening portend a successful end to his quest. Humbaba, the guardian of the cedars, can hear an animal stir from many miles away, and he has seven fearsome “splendors” as weapons. After they arrive at the grove, Gilgamesh and Enkidu send Humbaba into a rage by cutting down one of the sacred trees. After a fierce battle, Gilgamesh defeats Humbaba, who begs for his life.