17 May 2022


Familiarity and Strangeness of “Gilgamesh”

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Academic level: University

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The epic story of "Gilgamesh" is a classical mythology that reveals several heroic and heartbreaking ordeals that still have a place in the today's audience. Also, since it was written a thousand years ago, it has several archaic characteristics that make it difficult for the audience to comprehend today. There remains a huge gap in history which makes numerous aspects in "Gilgamesh" unfamiliar and strange given the already known knowledge regarding the Middle Eastern cultures. Its relevance today, however, stems from the fact that it is one of the world's oldest pieces of literature. Furthermore, it is based on the true accounts of a Sumerian King called Gilgamesh, the leader of Uruk in around 2700 BC. It is for these reasons that “Gilgamesh” remains a unique story that has strange and familiar aspects with regards to the audience today. 

Familiar Aspects

Today, people live in a world where both god and bad prevail in equal measures. The epic of Gilgamesh significantly assists people to think about right and wrong in the society critically. Through the several differences depicted between Gilgamesh and Enkidu, the audience today has an opportunity to determine the position of good and evil in their lives. In cases where Gilgamesh acts arrogantly, Enkidu takes a childlike persona. On the contrary, where Gilgamesh acts violently, Enkidu acts peacefully. Also, people can benefit from the thought of life and death revealed in the poem. In an instance, Gilgamesh shows no fear of death and criticizes Enkidu for shedding tears before they eventually proceed to the Cedar forest. He says, "We are not gods, we cannot ascend to heaven. No, we are mortal men. Only gods live forever. Our days are numbered, and whatever we achieve is a puff of wind” (Lawall, & Mack, 2001). Therefore, from such assertions, the audience today gets a real assessment of death and the role that it plays in life. The poem also illuminates several themes of self-importance and self-interest that have an essential role to the audience today. It also reveals the value of peace in the society as shown by Gilgamesh and Enkidu, who despite the fighting, "embraced and kissed. They held hands like brothers. They walked side by side” (Lawall, & Mack, 2001). 

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Strange Aspects

One of the most unusual aspects revealed in the poem is the position of the prostitute. In the society today, people have demonized the position of prostitutes and associated them with all manners of immorality. However, the story reveals a different role of the prostitutes who seem to be held in high regard. The prostitute seduced Enkidu and further taught him how well to function in the human society. The prostitute also played a mediatory role in the friendship between Enkidu and Gilgamesh after leading the latter to Uruk, where the former ruled. "Bewildered, he turned and sought out the company of the temple prostitute” (Lawall, & Mack, 2001). The quote further emphasizes the value of prostitutes in the society, something that audience today cannot accept. The ending of "Gilgamesh" also left a lot to be desired and goes in total non-conformity with many known heroic narratives. Typical heroes primarily end with a sense of triumph or heroism. Today's audience is accustomed to heroes overcoming all odds and achieving the perceived impossible. However, Gilgamesh fails to attain his goals of eternity, goes through misery, and finally meets his untimely death.

In conclusion, “Gilgamesh” remains a fantastic story with tremendous lessons that can make sense to the audience today. On the contrary, its archaic nature means that it follows a fashion and adopts values that might fail to appeal to the audience today. 


Lawall, S. N., & Mack, M. (2001).  The Norton anthology of world literature . Norton.

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