The Epic of Gilgamesh

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 numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer 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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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Here in the city man dies oppressed at heart.

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

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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:

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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:

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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:

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‘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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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Get the entire Gilgamesh LitChart as a printable PDF.
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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)