Gilgamesh Discussion Questions and helpful web links

Web Links:

A passage from Gilgamesh read in ancient Babylonian

A really wonderful cartoon version of the poem

Captain John Luc Picard explains the poem to a dying alien

Diagram and outline of Joseph Conrad’s “Monomyth,” or, “The Hero’s Journey “:

Discussion Questions for Tablets 1-4:

1. What was your reading experience of the poem?  What did you notice about its tone and structure?

2. What role does the prologue play? How does it situate the reader/audience to the story?

3. What do we learn about G and how he is established as a hero?

His semi-god status? His human status? How does this establish him as a leader?

4. What else do we learn about G and his role as a ruler?

5. Why does Enkidu get created? How and by whom?  How is he introduced and what is his function in the story?

6.  Comapre G and E:  how are they similar? Different?

7. How is E civilized and what does this tell us about the values of Sumerian culture?

8.  What role do dreams seem to play? Pp 10-11 (and 30-37)?

9. What role do women—divine and mortal play?


Discussion Questions for Tablets 5-8:

1. Why do Gilagmesh  and Enkidu go on their journey to conquer Humbama?

2. What is the relationship between the gods, Gilgamesh and Enkidu; what can this relationship tell us about Sumerian notions of the divine?

3. How does the relationship between G and E work in these tablets?

4. Do you think G and E act rightly on their journey? Why or why not?

5. Why does E die instead of G when both seem equally responsible for the deaths of Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven?

6. How would you characterize G’s reaction to E’s death? What role does it play in the story as a whole?  Why does it happen in the middle of the story?

7. How are the roles of women portrayed in these tablets?

Discussion Questions for Tablets 9-11:

1. When Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh nearly goes mad with grief. He sits by the body until it begins to decay, he puts on the skins of animals (such as Enkidu probably once wore), and he searches the wilderness and the underworld for the secret of immortality. Do you think this is because of his love for Enkidu and his desire to bring him back, or do you think this is because Gilgamesh has finally recognized his own mortality and is terrified? Can you think of other stories in which people visit the lands of the dead? What would it represent to you?

2. Review Utnapishtim’s story of the flood. Do you see similarities to the account in the Hebrew Bible? How is it different? Why would there be two stories? What does Gilgamesh learn from this story about the nature of human beings and of the gods? Do you think there is a sense of divine justice for human beings here or not?

3. Although Gilgamesh wants to live forever, he cannot even stay awake for seven days, as Utnapishtim proves by having his wife bake seven loaves of bread while Gilgamesh sleeps. What is the point of this episode? What does Utnapishtim teach Gilgamesh about immortality? Would anyone really want this kind of immortality? What does sleep represent to you in this case?

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