The Epic of Gilgamesh Insight into



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The Epic of Gilgamesh

Insight into a people's ideas about life and death can be gained by examining their myths and their literature. The Epic of Gilgamesh, probably written in the latter part of the third millennium (2000s) B.C.E., was the great epic poem of Mesopotamia. Its hero, Gilgamesh, ruled the Sumerian city-state of LJruk around 2700 B.C.E. The poem is about the mythical adventures this king, part god himself, has struggling with life, the gods, and death. In one adventure, Gilgamesh faces death by embarking on a search for immortality. As part of that search he descends into the Netherworld to find 171-napishtim, a human who has been granted immortality by the gods. In the following selection, Gilgamesh questions LJt-napishtim, who tells him the story of the flood.

SOURCE: N. K. Sandars, trans., The Epic of Gilgamesh, 2d rev. ed. (London: Penguin Books, 1972), copyright © N. K. Sandars, 1960, 1964,1972.

CONSIDER; The nature of the gods and their relations with humans; conclusions about life Mesopotamians might have come to reading or listening to this story; connections be­tween this story and the biblical story of Noah and the flood.



"Oh, father Utnapishtim, you who have entered the as­sembly of the gods, I wish to question you concerning the living and the dead, how shall I find the life for which I am searching?"

Utnapishtim said, "There is no permanence. Do we build a house to stand for ever, do we seal a contract to hold for all time? Do brothers divide an inheritance to keep for ever, does the flood-time of rivers endure? It is only the nymph of the dragon-fly who sheds her larva and sees the sun in his glory. From the days of old there is no permanence. The sleeping and the dead, how alike they are, they are like a painted death. What is there between the master and the ser­vant when both have fulfilled their doom? When the


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