Here are some questions you can use to guide your reading for the last tablets of Gilgamesh (and give you something to write in your texts!).
The Search for Everlasting Life
- Why does Gilgamesh plan to seek Utnapishtim? Why do people call Utnapishtim the “Faraway?”
- What animals does Gilgamesh encounter first on his journey, and how does he react? What creatures does he meet next, and why does he react differently?
- Who does Gilgamesh first meet in the garden of the gods by the edge of the sea? What message does this individual have for Gilgamesh?
- Who is Siduri, and what advice does she give to Gilgamesh?
- Who is Urshanabi? Why does Gilgamesh smash this man’s sacred stones, and what does this action reveal about Gilgamesh’s humanity rather than his superhuman qualities?
- When Gilgamesh explains his quest to Utnapishtim and asks him for the secret of eternal life, the old man’s reply is not what Gilgamesh expects. What does Utnapishtim tell Gilgamesh?
- What is the purpose of the repetition during the account of Gilgamesh’s journey through Mashu and his own explanations of his appearance to Shamash, Siduri, Urshnabi, and Utnapishtim?
- In the last line of this section, Utnapishtim offers to tell Gilgamesh “a secret of the gods.” The secret will not be revealed for several more pages. What do you imagine the secret will be?
- What similarities can you find between the Genesis account of the Garden of Eden and the Sumerian account of the Garden of the Gods?
The Story of the Flood
- Relative to other events in Gilgamesh, when did the flood happen? Which god causes a flood and why?
- Note Utanapishtim’s description of landing and searching for viable land. What is the effect of his sacrifice?
- After the storm, Utnapishtim says “…..all mankind was turned to clay.” Why is this image appropriate?
- How do the gods react to the flood? How does Enlil act upon discovering the survivors? Again, how does the epic characterize the nature of the Sumerian gods?
- Why does Utnapishtim tell Gilgamesh this story? What point is he trying to make to Gilgamesh?
The Return / The Death
- Why do you think that sleep suddenly overtook Gilgamesh after hearing Utnapishtim tell the story of the flood? What might the “sleep” represent?
- Why does Utnapishtim feel the need to prove to Gilgamesh that he has had a prolonged sleep?
- What is Gilgamesh’s reaction once he realizes just how long he has been asleep?
- Why does Utnapishtim become angry with Urshanabi, the ferryman? What does he instruct the ferryman to do regarding Gilgamesh?
- What might Gilgamesh’s ritual bath, hair washing, and donning of new clothes symbolize?
- What does Gilgamesh’s pursuit of the magic flower reveal about his state of mind?
- How does Utnapishtim’s “gift” of the information about the flower tie into the hero’s journey?
- In the ancient Middle East, snakes were believed to be immortal. How does the story explain the origins of the serpent’s supposed gift of immortality? Why does this make sense?
- Were you surprised that Gilgamesh did not pursue the plant after it floated away? How could you explain this behavior? In other words, what might it suggest about Gilgamesh?
- On returning to Uruk, what does Gilgamesh do? Why was this a significant action for the hero?