The Epic of Gilgamesh is a long Akkadian poem on the theme of human beings’ futile quest for immortality. A number of earlier Sumerian stories about Gilgamesh, the quasi-historical hero of the epic, seem to have been used as sources, but the Akkadian work was composed about 2000 BC. It exists in several different rescissions, none of them complete.

Tablet 1: Gilgamesh, the god-man and king is a harsh ruler over his people. They pray to Anu, the sky god who fashions a rival for Gilgamesh in the person of Enkidu, the wild man of the forests who is given superhuman strength. A trapper’s son finds Enkidu running in the forests with the animals and, per the instructions of his father, he goes to the city and engages the aid of Shamhat, a temple prostitute, to come and entice Enkidu. He yields to her charms and loses his strength, but he gains knowledge. Shamhat subsequently takes Enkidu to the city to meet Gilgamesh.

There are certain parallels in this story with the opening chapters of Genesis and the fall in the Garden of Eden.

Gilgamesh Epic


Anu, the sky god, creates Enkidu, the wild man of the forest

The Lord God creates Adam and places him into a garden

Enkidu is naked in the forest

Adam and Eve are both naked in the garden

Enkidu is tempted by Shamhat, the temple prostitute

Adam is given the forbidden fruit by the woman

Ediku falls to Shamhat’s charms, loses his strength but gains knowledge

Adam eats the fruit given to him by Eve, his eyes are opened with the knowledge that they are naked and he is removed from the garden

Tablet 2: Enkidu becomes educated in the ways of civilization and comes to Erech at a time when Gilgamesh is exercising his prerogative as the king to sleep with a new bride on her wedding day. Enkidu confronts the king over this abuse and they fight. Gilgamesh wins the battle, but develops an admiration for the bravery of Enkidu in standing up to him and they become friends.

Gilgamesh and Enkidu begin a series of adventures, setting out to the great forests to the east where they plan to confront Humbaba, the forest demon.

Tablet 3: The elders of the city ask Enkidu to take the forward position in the upcoming fight with Humbaba. Enkidu tries to dissuade Gilgamesh from the journey, but he will not be deterred.

Tablet 4: During the six days of their journey to the forests of Humbaba, Gilgamesh has several visions concerning the upcoming battle. As they arrive at the forest, Enkidu wishes to turn back and Gilgamesh begins to fight with him.

Tablet 5: Gilgamesh and Enkidu enter the forest and begin to cut down the trees. They are attacked by Humbaba and they defeat him. Humbaba offers his submission to Gilgamesh, but Enkidu urges him to kill the demon. He does so, but not before Humbaba has placed a curse upon Enkidu.

Gilgamesh and Enkidu cut down some of the trees of the forest to make a great cedar gate for the city which they float down the river to the city.

Tablet 6: Back in the city, Gilgamesh is wooed by the goddess Ishtar. When he declines her advances, she asks her father, Anu, for the bull of heaven to bring vengeance upon the city of Erech. Gilgamesh and Enkidu manage to kill the bull, thus saving the city.

Tablet 7: The gods are angry over the slain demon and the slain bull and they focus their anger upon Enkidu who dies and goes to the house of the dead.

Tablet 8: Gilgamesh mourns the loss of his friend.

Tablet 9: Mourning over the death of Enkidu causes Gilgamesh to face his own mortality. He sets out on a quest to find eternal life. The object of his quest is Utnapishtim who reigned as king of the earth prior to the great flood.

Tablet 10: After many dangers and toils, Gilgamesh arrives at the waters of death where he is met by the ferryman, Urshanabi. He is warned against touching the waters and he uses long poles to ferry himself across the river where he meets an old man who tells him that death is inevitable.

Tablet 11: Gilgamesh realizes he is speaking to Utnapishtim. The old man tells him the story of how he and his family were saved from the great flood by building a boat into which they and all the animals entered.

Utnapishtim promises Gilgamesh that he can become immortal if he will stay awake for six days and seven nights. He tries to do so, but he falls asleep. Utnapishtim’s wife then tells him of a plant at the bottom of the sea that can restore his youth. He obtains the plant but determines to take it back to his city and test it on an old man. On his way home and while he is asleep, a snake eats the plant. Gilgamesh is distraught.

For whom have I labored? For whom have I journeyed?

For whom have I suffered?

I have gained absolutely nothing for myself,

I have only profited the snake, the ground lion!


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