The Epic of Gilgamesh

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Themes and Colors
Civilization and the Fall from Innocence Theme Icon
Heroism in Nature vs. Comfort in the City Theme Icon
Friendship, Love, and Sexuality Theme Icon
Mortality and Meaning Theme Icon
Pride and the Gods Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Epic of Gilgamesh, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

The Epic of Gilgamesh portrays the idea of civilization in an ambiguous way—as something that provides protection and knowledge, but that can also be a corrupting force. It’s important to keep in mind that the Epic was written in ancient Mesopotamia, an area that has been called the “cradle of civilization,” as the first known city-states in human history began there. Thus the Epic’s portrayal of civilization is especially “contemporary” for its time, but…

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A common form of the quest narrative involves the hero leaving their comfortable home in civilization to venture out through nature, and then returning with new knowledge. Like Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit and King Arthur in the many legends of the Knights of the Round Table, leaving a comfortable home forces a character into confrontation with the more difficult questions of morality and existence.

Through the Epic of Gilgamesh, civilization is shown to…

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Love of all kinds—between friends, or between lovers—plays a central role in the Epic. For Enkidu, being intimate with a woman signals his joining human civilization. When Gilgamesh rejects Ishtar’s advances, she grows angry, and this leads eventually to Enkidu’s death. But the most important love in the epic is certainly between Gilgamesh and Enkidu. The Epic celebrates this friendship, and how it transforms both men for the better. Only through his…

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The Epic of Gilgamesh confronts a number of important themes, but none is more prominent than that of confronting one’s mortality. As is famously portrayed in Percy Shelly’s poem Ozymandias, even the works of great kings and heroes turn eventually turn to dust.

At the beginning of the epic, Gilgamesh seeks to make a name for himself: he wants to accomplish heroic feats so that he will be remembered forever. This drives him, but…

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In The Epic of Gilgamesh, men and gods each have their place in a clearly-defined hierarchy. To overstep the bounds of that position is to be proud, something the gods punish harshly, even among themselves. Gilgamesh’s quest is first motivated by pride, and in Enkidu’s death he pays an enormous price. Likewise, among the gods, Enlil is humbled after ordering mankind destroyed by a flood, because it was not his place to…

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