Epic of Gilgamesh a long narrative poem we read a prose translation

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8/10 Notes

Epic of Gilgamesh – a long narrative poem – we read a prose translation

About a Sumerian King named Gilgamesh on a journey.

The epic journey consists of three main concerns:

  1. “How to become known and respected?”

  2. “How to deal with the loss of a friend?”

  3. “How can I deal with my own mortality?”

List of names in Gilgamesh:

Adad – the god of storms and weather

Annunaki – god of the underworld

Anu – the father of the gods and god of the sky

Belit-Sheri – the scribe for the underworld gods

Ea – the god of the waters and of wisdom; also called Enki

Enkidu – Gilgamesh’s friend and advisor

Enlil – the god of earth, wind, and air

Gilgamesh – the hero of the epic, king of Uruk

Humbaba – the giant who guards the cedar forest

Irkalla – the queen of the underworld; also known as Ereshkigal

Ishatar – the goddess of love

Namtar – the god of evil fate

Samuqan – the god of cattle

Shamash – the sun god

Shurrupak – an ancient Sumerian city, eighteen miles northwest of Uruk

Urshanabi – Utnapishtim’s ferryman

Uruk- an ancient Sumerian city on the Euphrates river

Utnapishtim – the Mesopotamian Noah, survivor of the great flood

8/12 The Epic

Epic Hero - An epic focuses on the adventures of a larger than life main character. This hero is strong, brave, loyal and virtuous – although he is sometimes flawed.

Epic Conflict – the plot of an epic centers on the hero’s struggle against an obstacle or series of obstacles. Proves his strength, bravery. Seeks wisdom.

Heroic Quest – often, the hero’s day takes the form of a perilous journey, or quest, in search of something of value to his people.

Epic Convention – in addition to these key elements, epics also share certain literary characteristics, called epic conventions.

  • An epic usually begins with an opening statement of theme, followed by an invocation, or appeal for supernatural help in telling the story.

  • The story begins in medias res (Latin for “in the middle of things”) Readers are plugged right into the action, and then flashbacks and other narrative devices report on earlier events.

  • An epic has a serious tone and elevated style that reflect the importance of its characters and theme.

  • Epics often include epic similes, elaborate extended comparisons using like or as. For example, in the Iliad, a twelve –line simile compares Achilles’ pursuit of Hector to a mountain hawk swooping down on a dove.

  • Epics typically include epithets, or stock descriptive words or phrases. Because these poems were originally composed and recited orally, epithets were a kind of shorthand that allowed the poet to describe a character or an object quickly in terms the audience would recognize. Homeric epithets are compound phrases such as “the grey-eyed goddess Athena,” “Man killing Hector,” and “the wine-dark sea.”

8/13 Gilgamesh

  • What’s up with the cedars? Why does Gilgamesh want timber?

  • Timber – commodity (wood is a resource)

  • Gilgamesh seeks divine help from Shamash

  • Shamash – Sun god

  • Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and Shamash defeat Humbaba, the monster who controls the cedar forest, thus the valuable resource

  • Death of Enkidu:

  • Enkidu dreams of his own death

  • Deeds of his life that lead to his death

  • Gilgamesh seeks immortality

  • Kings and Gilgamesh ALL DIE!

8/16 Gilgamesh

Epic Hero / Journey

  • The journey has meaning – but lead to one destination or reality

  • Can’t beat death

  • Helps to define himself

  • Gilgamesh shares his story

  • Gilgamesh as a videogame – how would you design it?

  • Seeking immortality

  • Teemed: was full of; swarmed

  • Babel: confusion of voices or sounds

  • Subsided: settled, lessened; died down

8/ 17 Rumi

(1207 – 1273)

  • Poet who composed thousands of verses of poetry

  • Told stories via anecdotes, fables, allegories, etc.

  • Written / Spoken in the ancient Persian long form

  • Originally shared orally

Lessons learned from today’s readings: Can you state them?

The value of solitude versus togetherness – which is better?

8/18 African Proverbs

Proverbs are very short pieces of writing that convey or explain larger ideas or deeper meaning.

  • Very short

  • Written with figurative and descriptive language

  • Ideas and images are specific to a region or culture.

  • Include universal concepts or wisdom.

Uganda: Friendship


  • Conquer small things

  • Listen

  • Don’t talk bigger than you are

South Africa

  • You can’t go after two things

  • History repeats


  • Don’t bring attention to yourself when you have done something wrong

  • If you have lied once you never get peoples trust back

  • Figure it out slowly

  • Value honesty


  • Plan ahead, be prepared

  • Time given is precious


  • Help yourself before others


8/ 20 The Sundiata: Epic of Old Mali

  • King has multiple wives

  • He has children by several wives

  • Griot – oral storyteller – chronicles the story of the king

  • Story of how children measure against both their siblings and parents expectations

Proverb (Morals of a story):

  • Love your mother

  • Forgive others

  • People are stronger that they appear

  • Don’t judge people by what they look like

8/23 The Mahabharata

  • Indian Epic shared over generations via oral storytellers

  • The excerpt tells the story of Sibi, a king who protects a dove from a hawk to fulfill his personal Dharma (Individual obligation in life specific to each person).

Karma – do something good, good will come of it. Do something bad, bad will happen

Dharma: the unique obligations that each person must fulfill in order to maintain harmony in the universe.

Overarching question: How can a King protect all of his subjects when their needs conflict or overlap? What is the answer? Is there an answer?

Mitigated: moderated, eased

Caricature (amusement park artists do these): exaggerated visual representation; imitation that is so distorted or inferior to seem ridiculous.

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