The Epic of Gilgamesh

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Gilgamesh Character Analysis

Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, is rumored to be the strongest man in the world. He is at first an arrogant and harsh ruler, but his friendship with Enkidu and Enkidu’s ensuing death show Gilgamesh that even the greatest heroic feats cannot transcend mortality. Throughout the story, Gilgamesh’s understanding of what brings meaning to life is transformed. At first he naively seeks only fame, and pursues this with feats of strength and heroism. After Enkidu’s death, however, Gilgamesh begins to question what meaning life can possibly have in the face of inevitable death. Ultimately, by finding the secret to everlasting life and then losing it, Gilgamesh comes to understand his place in the universe. There is no easy answer to what gives life “meaning,” but Gilgamesh seems to find his purpose in being a just ruler and sharing through writing what he has learned on his adventures.

Gilgamesh Quotes in The Epic of Gilgamesh

The The Epic of Gilgamesh quotes below are all either spoken by Gilgamesh or refer to Gilgamesh. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Civilization and the Fall from Innocence Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of The Epic of Gilgamesh published in 1960.
Prologue Quotes

When the gods created Gilgamesh they gave him a perfect body. Shamash the glorious sun endowed him with beauty, Adad the god of the storm endowed him with courage, the great gods made his beauty perfect, surpassing all others, terrifying like a great wild bull. Two thirds they made him god and one third man.

Related Characters: Gilgamesh, Shamash
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

The prologue is recounted by an unknown speaker who praises Gilgamesh for his wisdom and strength, as well as his contributions to civilization. These lines focus on his physical prowess and establish Gilgamesh’s partial divinity.

That Gilgamesh was “created” by the gods instead of being born to humans might seem like a casual turn of the phrase. But it actually has an important basis in mythology: In the Babylonian tradition, the god Aruru is said to have made the first men out of clay, and later in the epic, Aruru will forge the character Enkidu to rival Gilgamesh. This early reference that humans are directly crafted by gods establishes the close interworking of the divine and human realms.

The emphasis in this passage on beauty perplexes some readers and has led to interpretations of Gilgamesh and Enkidu’s relationship as homoerotic. These points are certainly valid, but the more overt role of the prologue is to legitimize Gilgamesh’s rule by establishing his personal power and divine heritage. (His mother Ninsun is herself a goddess.) Thus Gilgamesh’s later conquests are not framed as the result of a resourceful human, but rather can as the result of gods having bestowed on him partial divinity. Gilgamesh’s strength, however, is tempered by his remaining “one third man,” a deficiency that hints at his quest to achieve immortality.

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Part 1 Quotes

Gilgamesh sounds the tocsin for his amusement, his arrogance has no bounds by day or night. No son is left with his father, for Gilgamesh takes them all, even the children; yet the king should be a shepherd to his people. His lust leaves no virgin to her lover, neither the warrior’s daughter nor the wife of the noble; yet this is the shepherd of the city, wise, comely, and resolute.

Related Characters: Gilgamesh
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:

After the laudatory prologue, the text quickly changes tones to criticize Gilgamesh for his treatment of the people of Uruk. The speaker first recounts Gilgamesh’s misdeeds, and they are then echoed by the gods who condemn him for malpractice.

Whereas before Gilgamesh’s strength was presented in only positive terms, here it is seen as “arrogance.” In particular, the gods focus on his selfish behaviors that deny the autonomy of other humans: the way he takes sons and daughters away from their parents. They contrast this despotism with the type of leader he should be: “a shepherd.” This image repeats throughout the text and shows that Uruk society values a combination of strength and compassion. The gods choose to model their ideal leader not on a bull or warrior, but rather on one who can guide the gentle flock of people.

That Gilgamesh has overstepped these bounds presents his journey less as a series of heroic deeds and more as a tale of moral development. On that journey, we are told early on, Gilgamesh must recognize how to be a better “shepherd” and how to temper his arrogance. This emphasis on humility should be kept in mind when interpreting the relative value of his later accomplishments.

When Enkidu was thrown he said to Gilgamesh, ‘There is not another like you in the world. Ninsun, who is as strong as a wild ox in the byre, she was the mother who bore you, and now you are raised above all men, and Enlil has given you the kingship, for your strength surpasses the strength of men’. So Enkidu and Gilgamesh embraced and their friendship was sealed.

Related Characters: Enkidu (speaker), Gilgamesh, Ninsun, Enlil
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

After much foreshadowing and prophecy, Enkidu and Gilgamesh’s friendship finally begins in this scene. Enkidu had originally entered Uruk to challenge Gilgamesh’s tyranny, but after being defeated in the fight, he is awed by Gilgamesh’s strength and thus wishes to be his comrade rather than his enemy.

What is particularly poignant about this scene is the unusual way that Enkidu sanctions their friendship. It is marked first by being overpowered or “thrown,” which seems to imply that battle and a test of strength is a prerequisite to their comradeship. Then, Enkidu cites Gilgamesh’s uniqueness and his divine lineage. These lines do not only give a justification for Gilgamesh’s power, but also sanctify his position as ruler, for he is be “raised above all men.”

The scene also reaffirms how Gilgamesh’s strength is such that he can at times overpower even the wishes of a god: Remember that Anunu had originally created Enkidu in order to defeat Gilgamesh, but due to a mixture of cunning and power Gilgamesh foils that plan and instead adopts Enkidu as a friend. This first tale in the epic, then, does not yet teach Gilgamesh humility or wisdom. Instead it reaffirms his personal fortitude. Enkidu, however, will become a source of notable emotional investment for Gilgamesh, and their friendship is critical to his moral development.

Part 2 Quotes

The meaning of the dream is this. The father of the gods has given you kingship, such is your destiny, everlasting life is not your destiny. Because of this do not be sad at heart, do not be grieved or oppressed. He has given you power to bind and to loose, to be the darkness and light of mankind.

Related Characters: Enkidu (speaker), Gilgamesh
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:

Enkidu functions, here, as an oracle for Gilgamesh, using the dream to make sense of the the will of the gods. Here, he interprets the visions Gilgamesh had the night before as a sign of Gilgamesh’s mortality.

To explain the dream, Enkidu contrasts the gift Gilgamesh has been given to rule—“kingship”—with what has been withheld: “everlasting life.” Despite the power he has from being two-thirds divine, Gilgamesh remains one-third human and thus will die like all mortals do. Yet Enkidu cautions Gilgamesh not to be distraught at this realization, for he still maintains impressive abilities. “To bind and to loose” points to his dominion over other humans, whereas “to be the darkness and light of mankind” stresses the way he can be a symbolic leader—an inspiration for how other men should live. Note that Enkidu stresses both the positive and the negative sides of Gilgamesh’s power: “bind” is balanced by “loose,” “darkness” is contrasted by “light.” At this point in the story, Gilgamesh seems to have largely employed the harmful sides of his power, and Enkidu subtly points out that his mortality offers him a choice of how he will use these precious years and how he will be remembered.

Dreams are an important motif throughout this epic. They offer a way for the gods to connect directly to the characters, and they foreshadow events that are to pass. But they can also, we should note, function as plot devices that drive—instead of just narrating or foreshadowing—the action of the events. Here, Gilgamesh is impelled, because of the dream, to leave the city of Uruk and make a name for himself.

Gilgamesh replied: ‘Where is the man who can clamber to heaven? Only the gods live for ever with glorious Shamash, but as for us men, our days are numbered, our occupations are a breath of wind. How is this, already you are afraid!’

Related Characters: Gilgamesh (speaker), Enkidu, Shamash
Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis:

To rally Enkidu to hunt the giant Humbaba with him, Gilgamesh offers this inspiring speech on human mortality. He takes their eventual death as a justification for not fearing death due to any particular cause.

Gilgamesh here responds explicitly to the way that Enkidu differentiated him from an immortal god. He asks rhetorically if any man can “clamber to heaven”—that is, whether a mortal could somehow become equal to the gods. But he quickly answers his own question, vanquishing any potential for men to gain immortality. These observations could easily lead him to a state of hopelessness (as in fact they will later in the Epic), but a striking turn comes with the phrase “our occupations are a breath of wind.”

In that line, human endeavors are trivialized due to their transitory and small-scale nature. And in triviality, Gilgamesh finds solace rather than panic. The giant Humbaba need not be feared, because the fight against him is just a breath of wind, and even if Gilgamesh and Enkidu do die, they will have simply hurried an already eventual fate. The passage also foreshadows the importance of accomplishing deeds that will be repeated for future generations and written down: to have a historical legacy, Gilgamesh implies, would be one way to escape being just a breath of wind.

Here in the city man dies oppressed at heart.

Related Characters: Gilgamesh (speaker), Enkidu
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

Gilgamesh responds here to the god Shamash, who questions him on his motivation for leaving Uruk to seek adventure in the wilderness. His justification is that nature will provide a source of strength and adventure otherwise sapped by the leisure of the city.

This line further complicates the binary of city and nature that is at the heart of the epic. Earlier, Enkidu’s assimilation into the city was marked by wisdom and a new humanity in his heart—but also by physical weakness and a loss of innocence. Gilgamesh extrapolates that case and makes a universal claim on the way civilization subdues people. The wilderness, then, is not just a state from which man begins before graduating to superior civilization. Rather it remains an important developmental space particularly for heroes: a domain to reinvigorate the heart with hardship and power beyond the confines of civilization.

That Gilgamesh speaks explicitly on how a man “dies” as opposed to “lives” or “is” links his statement with the earlier discussion on immortality. The implication is that his fixation on death has brought new urgency to his need to leave Uruk. It’s worth mentioning that the line also all but inaugurates a literary tradition: characters who leave home in order to seek fortune in distant lands and who then return as wiser and more capable versions of themselves.

O my lord, you do not know this monster and that is the reason you are not afraid. I who know him, I am terrified. His teeth are dragon’s fangs, his countenance is like a lion, his charge is the rushing of the flood, with his look he crushes alike the trees of the forest and reeds in the swamp. O my Lord, you may go on if you choose into this land, but I will go back to the city. I will tell the lady your mother all your glorious deeds till she shouts for joy: and then I will tell the death that followed till she weeps for bitterness.

Related Characters: Enkidu (speaker), Gilgamesh, Ninsun, Humbaba
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:

Having finally arrived close to Humbaba’s lair, Enkidu and Gilgamesh are both beset by fear of the giant. Yet while Gilgamesh rouses himself and ignores these instincts, Enkidu gives in and expresses his wish to return to civilization.

This speech represents an important turn in the relationship of Enkidu and Gilgamesh. Before, Gilgamesh’s bravery was represented in purely positive terms, for it allowed him to overcome the fear of mortality and to journey into the wilderness. Yet here, Enkidu implies that his bravery may be the result of ignorance rather than wisdom: he claims that Gilgamesh is only “not afraid” because he does “not know this monster.” Enkidu, who had intimate access to the wilderness and can recount specific physical details and actions of Humbaba, seems more qualified to speak on the relative danger. Perhaps, the text implies, Gilgamesh's hubris will lead to his downfall.

Enkidu’s lines also give great import to the act of storytelling. He becomes here an emissary for and proponent of Gilgamesh’s deeds by promising to tell of both his triumphs and his death. This pledge reiterates how Gilgamesh’s legacy will be marked not by the acts themselves, but rather by the way they carve out a place for him in history.

Part 3 Quotes

Which of your lovers did you ever love for ever? What shepherd of yours has pleased you for all time?

Related Characters: Gilgamesh (speaker), Ishtar
Page Number: 86
Explanation and Analysis:

After defeating Humbaba, Gilgamesh is approached by the goddess Ishtar, who proposes marriage. The arrogant Gilgamesh, however, rejects her offer and chastises her (albeit rather justly) for how she has previously taken and rejected many lovers before him.

These questions show the increasingly brazen way that Gilgamesh interacts with the gods. Though he had previously shown a considerable ego, he was always certain to ask for divine aid and pray appropriately. The killing of Humbaba marked an indirect affront to the gods, but here the provocation is entirely direct. Gilgamesh’s tone is mocking, and he chides Ishtar for promising what she will not keep. Of course, this is a rather ironic challenge considering Gilgamesh’s own licentious behavior. Perhaps, he is articulating a sexist viewpoint in which men can move quickly between many lovers whereas women should not. Or perhaps he is simply trying to defend his own right to be with many women by avoiding marriage—even with a goddess. (At the same time, he is partially justified in criticizing Ishtar, who was famous for her fickle nature and transient lust for mortals.)

The image of the shepherd also recalls the earlier reference to how the ruler of Uruk should be a shepherd. Gilgamesh juxtaposes the role of human ruler with Ishtar’s divinity and points out, presumably accurately, that she will soon tire of him. Despite all his brashness, Gilgamesh does seem aware that there is a fundamental difference between gods and humans, and that the immortality of the first will make any marriage a transitory affair.

My father, give me the Bull of Heaven to destroy Gilgamesh. Fill Gilgamesh, I say, with arrogance to his destruction; but if you refuse to give me the Bull of Heaven I will break in the doors of hell and smash the bolts; there will be confusion of people, those above with those from the lower depths. I shall bring up the dead to eat food like the living; and the hosts of dead will outnumber the living.

Related Characters: Ishtar (speaker), Gilgamesh, Anu
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

After being spurned by Gilgamesh, Ishtar is infuriated and seeks revenge by appealing to her father, Anu. She requests that he unleash a divine bull to destroy Gilgamesh, and that he also weaken Gilgamesh by rendering him even more arrogant.

These lines offer good insight into the inter-workings of the gods in this text. Rather like humans, they quarrel and threaten each other. Ishtar cannot attack Gilgamesh directly, it seems, so instead she must ask her father to do so—and she must leverage the danger of unleashing the underworld to blackmail him into doing so. Her threat also builds on the theme of human mortality, for opening the underworld would upset the natural order of human death and life. That allowing the dead to resurface would be taken as a dire action indicates the importance of this equilibrium.

Ishtar's request that Anu fill Gilgamesh “with arrogance” casts Gilgamesh’s relative confidence as not the result of his personal mental state but rather as the result of specific actions from the gods. Furthermore, it indicates that bravery should be a weakness when he fights the Bull, whereas it was notably useful when he defeated Humbaba. Ishtar thus reiterates the folly of arrogance, for the same quality that caused Gilgamesh to defy her will supposedly lead to his demise.

‘Who is there in strong-walled Uruk who has wisdom like this? Strange things have been spoken, but why does your heart speak strangely? The dream was marvelous but the terror was great; we must treasure the dream whatever the terror; for the dream has shown that misery comes at last to the healthy man, the end of life is sorrow.’ And Gilgamesh lamented, ‘Now I will pray to the great gods, for my friend had an ominous dream.’

Related Characters: Gilgamesh (speaker), Enkidu
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:

Enkidu has just told Gilgamesh about a recent horrifying dream, which he has interpreted as his own impending death at the hands of the gods. Gilgamesh is deeply moved by the tale, and reflects on the terror of what it professes—but also on the value of that terror.

Gilgamesh’s response shows a striking shift in his character away from arrogance and toward personal reflection. He puts emphasis on the “wisdom” that comes from the dream by implying that it is poignant beyond the comprehension of those others in Uruk. There is an inherent strangeness to the dream that defies his understanding, and thus makes him humble enough to “pray to the great gods” to render the situation more coherent. The tone of Gilgamesh’s speech also focuses on his compassion as opposed to his previous bravado, demonstrating that his deep friendship with Enkidu is what has led him to be more reflective.

The exact content of that reflection also bears some consideration. When Gilgamesh claims that “we must treasure the dream whatever the terror,” he implies that negative, even deathly, consequences are not to be hated or feared. Rather, there is a poetic and philosophical significance that can be extracted from mortality, and thus an indication of that significance should be treasured. Here, the lesson is to reiterate the “misery” that comes even to the most vibrant man or warrior. And Gilgamesh’s response has notably shifted from taking mortality as the impetus to accomplish great deeds to instead reflecting on how it equates all men.

Part 4 Quotes

How can I rest, how can I be at peace? Despair is in my heart. What my brother is now, that shall I be when I am dead.

Related Characters: Gilgamesh (speaker), Enkidu
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

After Enkidu’s death and funeral, Gilgamesh enters the wilderness. There, he once more becomes consumed by grief and the fear of his own mortality.

Gilgamesh's return to the wilderness represents a rejection of the artifice of human civilization, and also renders him closer to Enkidu’s original state in nature. Yet having already experienced the human revelation of mortality, Gilgamesh can find no “peace” in the wilderness. The “despair” cannot be removed by changing his physical environment because it is lodged in his “heart.” Again, the text stresses the importance of the friendship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Whereas Gilgamesh responded bravely, even brashly, to his mortality before, watching Enkidu helplessly die has made him entirely shift his perspective. These lines show that it is the identification between the two men that is the main source of his anxiety: the fact that Gilgamesh will be “what my brother is now.” Thus the text presents Gilgamesh’s ensuing quest to pursue immortality less as an arrogant search for self-empowerment, but rather as a response to a personal tragedy.

Now that I have toiled and strayed so far over the wilderness, am I to sleep, and let the earth cover my head for ever? Let my eyes see the sun until they are dazzled with looking. Although I am no better than a dead man, still let me see the light of the sun.

Related Characters: Gilgamesh (speaker), Shamash
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis:

Having traveled through twelve leagues of darkness, Gilgamesh arrives at the sea that borders the garden of the gods. Though he is told by Shamash that his quest for immortality is foolhardy, Gilgamesh refuses to give up. Instead, he expresses this striking desire to continue regardless of whether or not the quest itself is successful.

Gilgamesh juxtaposes the darkness of the “wilderness” he has experienced thus far with the divine light he sees upon approaching the garden. Though the gods caution him to avoid the light, Gilgamesh presents abstention as cowardly and akin to death. To avoid the light would mean being covered by the earth and forgotten by history. Instead, Gilgamesh values the overwhelming power of the sun, even if he is “dazzled with looking.” This image marks a subtle shift in the tone of Gilgamesh’s quest. He no longer claims to be able to conquer the sun, a symbol for Shamash. Instead, he values the mere experience of its splendor even if he is bested by that splendor in the end. His rationale rephrases his earlier fatalistic reflections, for Gilgamesh points out that he may as well “see the light of the sun” even if it will kill him. That is to say, if he fails in the quest for immortality, he will die anyway: Every man, as we know by now, is a “dead man” eventually.

She answered, ‘Gilgamesh, where are you hurrying to? You will never find that life for which you are looking. When the gods created man they allotted to him death, but life they retained in their own keeping. As for you, Gilgamesh, fill your belly with good things; day and night, night and day, dance and be merry, feast and rejoice. Let your clothes be fresh, bathe yourself in water, cherish the little child that holds your hand, and make your wife happy in your embrace; for this too is the lot of man.’

Related Characters: Siduri (speaker), Gilgamesh
Page Number: 102
Explanation and Analysis:

These lines are spoken by a god of wine, Siduri, whom Gilgamesh meets as he approaches the sea. As others have before, Siduri tells Gilgamesh to abandon his quest, recommending instead that he experience the mortal leisures available and appropriate to humans.

Beneath these relatively straightforward images lies a strong philosophical contention with Gilgamesh’s quest. Siduri explains that “death” is destined for mortals, while “life” remains in the grasp of the gods. She presents immortality, then, as a possession, an object that could potentially be distributed to men but that has not been released. (It is exactly such an object that Gilgamesh is seeking and will temporarily find.) Siduri thus presents a fatalistic, hierarchical view of the world in which certain experiences are appropriate for certain beings, and in which Gilgamesh has overstepped the limits of his identity as a mortal.

Mortals, she explains, should instead immerse themselves in momentary pleasures. The “lot of man” is distilled to: food, dance, and festival—to proper maintenance of clothes, the body, future generations, and one’s beloved. Gilgamesh, up to this point, has scorned such mortal pursuits: he avoids monogamy and rejects the leisurely city for heroic adventures to kill divine beings and pursue immortality. Siduri represents, then, a voice of hedonism: her character grants humans only the pursuits of momentary pleasures that Gilgamesh rejected earlier as a "breath of wind." 

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 forever, 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.

Related Characters: Utnapishtim (speaker), Gilgamesh
Page Number: 106
Explanation and Analysis:

Having finally arrived at Utnapishtim’s island, Gilgamesh questions him on the significance of and route to immortality. Yet instead of offering the secret, Utnapishtim gives this heady speech on how all things in life are ephemeral.

Whereas other characters have cautioned Gilgamesh based on the pragmatics of succeeding on his quest, Utnapishtim opts for a more philosophical explanation. He begins with his thesis statement—not specifically on human life but on the stability of any type of existence. Then he follows with four compelling rhetorical questions on transience, drawing examples from both human and natural realms. A legal contract, he explains, will eventually disappear in just the same way as a river flood. In contrast, he offers the “nymph of the dragon-fly,” who, we imagine, becomes immortal by fully experiencing the divine sun. But even that image is tinged with mortality, for the nymph “sheds her larva” and thus herself undergoes a process of change. Utnapishtim then calls attention to the fact that impermanence is itself an ancient quality, for the world has been this way since “the days of old.”

This is a moving explanation, for it takes the existential despair that has preoccupied Gilgamesh and transmutes it into a beautiful transience of human life. Utnapishtim’s final image, in particular, relativizes the horror of death by rendering it similar to “sleeping.” He does not command Gilgamesh to abandon his quest, but rather offers a voice of serenity and reason that instructs him on the need to accept one’s place in the universe.

I look at you now, Utnapishtim, and your appearance is no different from mine; there is nothing strange in your features. I thought I should find you like a hero prepared for battle, but you lie here taking your ease on your back. Tell me truly, how was it that you came to enter the company of the gods and to possess everlasting life?

Related Characters: Gilgamesh (speaker), Utnapishtim
Page Number: 107
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Gilgamesh is perturbed by Utnapishtim’s appearance and demeanor. He reveals that he had expected Utnapishtim’s immortality to be accompanied by physical vigor and a martial nature, and is surprised to find the opposite.

The first observation on their physical similarity expresses Gilgamesh’s frustration that immortality was bestowed on Utnapishtim and not on him. To Gilgamesh’s eyes, there is no significant difference between the two, and thus Utnapishtim has no greater right to live forever. Recall how frequently the text has focused on descriptions of Gilgamesh’s physical stature and beauty as an indication of his divine power: He has likely come to equate external appearance with internal wisdom and longevity. But Utnapishtim’s character teaches that the two should not be associated so quickly.

Gilgamesh’s second contention reveals a similar prejudice. He assumed that Utnapishtim would be a strong warrior ready to battle. Presumably, Gilgamesh thought he could prove his claim to immortality by besting someone in combat. This line reiterates the way Gilgamesh presumes his physical strength will allow him to overcome any obstacle—a belief that, after all, has allowed him to overcome the gods several times in the epic. Yet here that confidence has broken down: Gilgamesh seems confused as to how one could “enter the company of the gods” if not through brute strength. His conversation with Utnapishtim, then, marks his realization that physical prowess is not the sole metric by which to assess a human’s worth.

Part 5 Quotes

In those days the world teemed, the people multiplied, the world bellowed like a wild bull, and the great god was aroused by the clamour. Enlil heard the clamour and he said to the gods in council, “The uproar of mankind is intolerable and sleep is no longer possible by reason of the babel.” So the gods agreed to exterminate mankind.

Related Characters: Utnapishtim (speaker), Gilgamesh, Enlil
Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:

Utnapishtim concedes to tell Gilgamesh how he acquired immortality, and he begins to recount a story from the days of old. This tale, we should note, is the one that Gilgamesh will transmit back to Uruk, so it is considered to hold deep significance for future generations. It also bears many similarities to the Biblical story of Noah's Ark, indicating that one may have stemmed from the other, or that they came from a common historical source.

Utnapishtim’s opening description of the old Mesopotamian society stresses the hubris and grandeur of human civilization. Not only are the people numerous in quantity, but they are also distinctly loud—loud enough to frustrate the god Enlil. This “clamour” can be taken as a broader metaphor for human activity and the way it became an affront to the gods. Thus Utnapishtim’s tale intersects closely with Gilgamesh’s own opening adventures, in which his arrogance caused the gods to send first Enkidu and then the Bull of Heaven to quiet him. Yet in this ancient story, the gods’ reaction is far more dire, for they decide not just to kill one man, but rather to end civilization altogether. So the story opens with a warning against not just Gilgamesh’s pride, but a more general pride of mankind. The implication is that Gilgamesh must bring back the story in order to teach the people of Uruk humility so that they do not create a “babel” that would anger the gods again.

Part 6 Quotes

Go now, banished from the shore. But this man before whom you walked, bringing him here, whose body is covered with foulness and the grace of whose limbs has been spoiled by wild skins, take him to the washing-place. There he shall wash his long hair clean as snow in the water, he shall throw off his skins and let the sea carry them away, and the beauty of his body shall be shown, the fillet on his forehead shall be renewed, and he shall be given clothes to cover his nakedness.

Related Characters: Utnapishtim (speaker), Gilgamesh, Urshanabi
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 115
Explanation and Analysis:

After Gilgamesh fails the test to stay awake for seven nights, Utnapishtim sends him back with the now-banished ferryman Urshanabi. Utnapishtim instructs Urshanabi to wash Gilgamesh and offers these specifications on the way he should return to human civilization.

This description focuses on the water imagery that plays a key role throughout the epic. Gilgamesh has previously engaged in cleansing rituals, and Utnapishtim’s tale on the flood presented water as a way to cleanse humanity of its hubris (and its life). Here, water is used to extract the “foulness” from Gilgamesh and specifically to the “wild skins” that he has donned throughout the travels. These skins are apparently an indication of his arrogance, for they represent his hunting prowess, and they are a mark of civilization, with all its "sins" of fashion, adornment, and luxury. In contrast to the attire of an extravagant king, Utnapishtim prescribes that Gilgamesh present himself in his natural state: His hair should be “clean” and his body should reveal its inherent “beauty.”

Utnapishtim’s request offers some insight into what Gilgamesh must take away from his epic journey. He should abandon both his decadent life as a ruler and his dreams of immortality and return to the purity and simplicity of humanity. Furthermore, he must serve as a cleansed emissary back to the people of Uruk and carry Utnapishtim’s lessons on water and the flood.

Gilgamesh spoke to him, to Urshanabi the ferryman, ‘Urshanabi, climb up on to the wall of Uruk, inspect its foundation terrace, and examine well the brickwork; see if it is not of burnt bricks; and did not the seven wise men lay these foundations? One third of the whole is city, one is garden, and one third is field, with the precinct of the goddess Ishtar. These parts and the precinct are all Uruk.’

Related Characters: Gilgamesh (speaker), Ishtar, Urshanabi
Page Number: 117
Explanation and Analysis:

Gilgamesh and Urshanabi have arrived empty-handed in Uruk, but the narrative suddenly shifts to a more hopeful tone. Here, the speaker recounts how Gilgamesh explained to Urshanabi the wonder of the city walls he had built.

The text shows, then, a striking character shift in Gilgamesh. Having abandoned his previous quest for immortality, the hero can return to Uruk with fresh eyes and notice his true accomplishment: the way he has built a civilization that will endure long beyond his death. These walls are not an indication of his personal strength or of any triumph against the gods. Rather they reveal a strong work ethic, a wish to empower the people of Uruk, and an ability to cooperate with deities. Indeed, the fact that Gilgamesh cites Ishtar shows just how deeply Utnapishtim’s tale has touched him: he no longer scorns the goddess, but rather recognizes her as an important supporter of Uruk's livelihood.

In a way, then, Gilgamesh has acquired immortality—not through his physical or heroic deeds, but rather through cooperation and social betterment. As Enkidu said far earlier, Gilgamesh's status as two-thirds god could allow him to be either light or darkness for humankind. And the text implies, here, that his journey has not given him everlasting life, but rather the moral wisdom to play the role of the light.

This too was the work of Gilgamesh, the king, who knew the countries of the world. He was wise, he saw mysteries and knew secret things, he brought us a tale of the days before the flood. He went a long journey, was weary, worn with labour, and returning engraved on a stone the whole story.

Related Characters: Gilgamesh
Page Number: 117
Explanation and Analysis:

Having established Gilgamesh’s longevity through the legacy of the walls of Uruk, the speaker now references a second way he will endure beyond death: through the myth of the flood he has brought back, and the stone tablets he has engraved with stories.

The language used to describe Gilgamesh has shifted from references to physical power to instead praise of his knowledge and wisdom. His adventures are valued not for specific acts of heroisms, but rather the “mysteries” and “secret things” that are transmitted back to humanity and that can serve as lessons for people in the future. Most notable, though, is not the tale of Gilgamesh’s journey, but rather the tale he hears on that journey: “of the days before the flood.” This story is given great import, presumably, because of the lessons it teaches on how humans should interact with the gods: It reminds them not to be too arrogant, and suggest that if they are loyal, the gods will treat them with kindness and care.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of passage, though, is the sudden reference to the “stone” on which Utnapishtim’s story has been “engraved.” Gilgamesh’s great triumph is to bring back not only oral history, but a recorded textual history, for this will allow it, like the walls of Uruk, to live on past his death. Immortality is ultimately bestowed on Gilgamesh through literature—and the epic was remarkably prophetic in this statement. After all, though the walls of Uruk have long fallen, the metaphorical stone that Gilgamesh brought back has carried him almost five millennia in the future to readers today.

Part 7 Quotes

In those days the lord Gilgamesh departed, the son of Ninsun, the king, peerless, without an equal among men, who did not neglect Enlil his master. O Gilgamesh, lord of Kullab, great is thy praise.

Related Characters: Gilgamesh, Ninsun, Enlil
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:

These final lines of the epic come after Gilgamesh has died and been honored by gods and men alike. They return to the laudatory tone of the opening, but shift the emphasis from Gilgamesh’s physical prowess to his comportment toward others.

Many of the features of the opening are repeated here. We are told once more of Gilgamesh's divine heritage through Ninsun, as well as his complete uniqueness within humanity. Yet it is also noted that he “did not neglect Enlil his master,” indicating that Gilgamesh has learned the lesson on how to respect the gods. In particular, Enlil was the god in Utnapishtim’s tale who found the humans too raucous and thus sentenced them to death. The fact that Gilgamesh has learned to pay heed to this master in particular demonstrates that he has both controlled his own hubris and ensured that the events before the flood will not be repeated. For by inscribing them in stone, Gilgamesh has ensured that other humans will have access to his wisdom and not make similar mistakes. Gilgamesh’s “praise” as an epic hero and lord is thus ultimately earned by humility and wisdom—as well as by the way he can transmit these qualities to future generations.

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Gilgamesh Character Timeline in The Epic of Gilgamesh

The timeline below shows where the character Gilgamesh appears in The Epic of Gilgamesh. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Prologue: Gilgamesh King in Uruk
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The epic begins with the words “I will proclaim to the world the deeds of Gilgamesh.” The narrator tells of Gilgamesh’s wide experience of the world and of his returning from... (full context)
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Gilgamesh was created by the gods with strength, beauty, and courage. He was two-thirds god, and... (full context)
Part 1: The Coming of Enkidu
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Gilgamesh has travelled the world and ended up in the Sumerian city of Uruk, where he... (full context)
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...next plea to Aruru, the goddess of creation, asking her to create someone to be Gilgamesh’s equal in strength. (full context)
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...he is like an immortal from heaven.” The trapper’s father advises the trapper to tell Gilgamesh about Enkidu’s strength. He also says to ask Gilgamesh for a temple prostitute to bring... (full context)
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The trapper travels to see Gilgamesh and tells him about Enkidu’s life with the wild beasts, destroying the trapper’s traps, and... (full context)
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Enkidu accepts Shamhat’s invitation to come to Uruk, and she tells him that Gilgamesh has never met a man stronger than himself. Shamhat tells Enkidu of the riches of... (full context)
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Indeed, Gilgamesh has had a dream, and he describes it to Ninsun, his mother (a goddess). Gilgamesh... (full context)
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Gilgamesh tells his mother of a second dream. In it, Gilgamesh found an axe in the... (full context)
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...the shepherds, Enkidu is happy. One day, a mysterious man appears and tells Enkidu that Gilgamesh has shut himself in “the marriage-house” and has been acting strangely. Gilgamesh is to be... (full context)
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All the townspeople admire Enkidu when he enters Uruk. That night, Gilgamesh is on his way to meet his bride, but Enkidu meets him at the city... (full context)
Part 2: The Forest Journey
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The father of the Gods, “Enlil of the mountain,” is responsible for Gilgamesh’s fate. Gilgamesh has a dream, and Enkidu interprets it: he says that though Gilgamesh is... (full context)
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Gilgamesh rouses Enkidu with a speech, saying that since all men must die eventually, he should... (full context)
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Gilgamesh takes up two goats in his arms and speaks to Shamash, asking for the god’s... (full context)
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Shamash accepts “the sacrifice of [Gilgamesh’s] tears.” In addition, Shamash appoints the winds to help Gilgamesh on his quest. Shamash orders... (full context)
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The people of Uruk assemble in the street to listen to Gilgamesh speak. He declares his mission to “climb the mountain, to cut down the cedar, and... (full context)
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Having arrived at Egalmah, Gilgamesh asks Ninsun to pray to Shamash on his behalf while he goes on his journey.... (full context)
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Gilgamesh and Enkidu prepare to leave for the Land of Cedars. They arm themselves. The people... (full context)
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Enkidu tells Gilgamesh to follow him—Enkidu knows the way—and not to be afraid. In three days, they walk... (full context)
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They sleep, and at midnight Gilgamesh wakes up from a dream. He tells Enkidu of his dream: it was terrifying and... (full context)
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Gilgamesh tells Enkidu of another dream he had. In a deep swamp, the two of them... (full context)
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They travel another day and dig a well before the sun has set. Gilgamesh climbs up the mountain, sets an offering of food on the ground, and prays to... (full context)
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After descending the mountain, Gilgamesh uses his axe to start chopping down the cedars. From afar, Humbaba hears the noise... (full context)
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Gilgamesh says that he will not die or be mourned. He asks Enkidu to help him... (full context)
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Gilgamesh cuts down the first cedar and cuts the branches off, laying them down at the... (full context)
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Humbaba says that Enkidu speaks out of jealousy and terror. Enkidu again tells Gilgamesh to slay Humbaba and his servants. Gilgamesh listens to Enkidu and strikes Humbaba with his... (full context)
Part 3: Ishtar and Gilgamesh, and the Death of Enkidu
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Gilgamesh washes his hair, cleans his weapons, and puts on his royal robes. Once he puts... (full context)
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Gilgamesh’s speech enrages Ishtar. She tells her mother and father, Antum and Anu, that Gilgamesh has... (full context)
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...two hundred people fall and die. Enkidu leaps onto the bull and grabs its horns. Gilgamesh grabs the Bull’s tail and stabs it, killing the Bull. Then they cut out the... (full context)
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Gilgamesh presents Uruk’s smiths and armorers with the Bull’s enormous horns plated with decorative rock. Inside... (full context)
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The next morning, Enkidu tells Gilgamesh of a dream he had: the gods gathered together and Anu said that because of... (full context)
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...Enkidu, asking why he curses this woman who brought him into a lavish life with Gilgamesh as his companion. Shamash reminds Enkidu that Gilgamesh has given him much, and that when... (full context)
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Enkidu complains bitterly to Gilgamesh: “It was I who cut down the cedar, I who leveled the forest, I who... (full context)
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Gilgamesh cries while hearing Enkidu’s dream. He says that Enkidu’s dream is both awe-inspiring and grim,... (full context)
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In his lamentation, Gilgamesh says that he weeps for Enkidu as “the axe at my side.” He says that... (full context)
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Enkidu has died, and Gilgamesh lays a veil over him. Then Gilgamesh rages, tearing out his hair and throwing down... (full context)
Part 4: The Search for Everlasting Life
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Gilgamesh wanders the wilderness, grieving for Enkidu. He declares that because he fears his own death,... (full context)
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In his sleep, Gilgamesh dreams of the same lions he saw long ago in those same mountains. In the... (full context)
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Gilgamesh soon finds himself in a darkness that becomes more and more complete as he travels,... (full context)
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Near the sea lives Siduri, who rules over the vines and makes wine. Seeing Gilgamesh, who is weary from travelling, she determines that he must be a criminal, and she... (full context)
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But Gilgamesh refuses to comply. He demands that Siduri tell him how to get to Utnapishtim. Siduri... (full context)
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Gilgamesh goes to find Urshanabi in the woods. In his anger, Gilgamesh smashes Urshanabi’s boat’s tackle.... (full context)
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For three days they travel and then arrive at the waters of death. Urshanabi tells Gilgamesh to use the poles to thrust into the water and move the boat along. He... (full context)
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Gilgamesh tells Utnapishtim that he has made the journey to see him. He asks Utnapishtim if... (full context)
Part 5: The Story of the Flood
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This chapter consists of the story that Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh. It begins in Shurrupak, a city built along the Euphrates river. The city was growing... (full context)
Part 6: The Return
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To get the sympathy and attention of the gods, Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh that he must stay awake for six days and seven nights. As Gilgamesh sits and... (full context)
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Utnapishtim banishes Urshanabi from ever returning to his shores, and orders Urshanabi to take Gilgamesh, “whose body is covered with foulness and the grace of whose limbs has been spoiled... (full context)
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Urshanabi takes Gilgamesh to the washing-place, where Gilgamesh washes his hair and throws away his skins. He is... (full context)
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Gilgamesh tells Urshanabi that the plant he has can restore youth, and that he will take... (full context)
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In three days, the two reach Uruk. Gilgamesh tells Urshanabi about the city and asks him to climb up on the walls and... (full context)
Part 7: The Death of Gilgamesh
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Enlil speaks of his destiny for Gilgamesh, which has now been fulfilled: “in nether-earth the darkness will show him a light,” and... (full context)
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The story briefly transitions into verse: Gilgamesh the king has died, and will not rise again. Though he was wise and handsome,... (full context)
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The people of the city lament Gilgamesh’s death loudly. Gilgamesh’s wife, son, concubine, and all the entertainers and servants of his household... (full context)
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The epic ends with praise for Gilgamesh, proclaiming him the best of men and a faithful servant of the gods. It ends... (full context)