Epic of Gilgamesh1

This essay has a total of 1310 words and 6 pages.


Epic of Gilgamesh1





Lindsey Johnson
Professor Cutter
World civilization
October 9, 2000
The Epic of Gilgamesh1
. Mesopotamia, current day Iraq, derived its name from words meaning, “the land
between the rivers,” which refers to the Tigris and Euphrates. This land was
inhabited during the fourth millennium B.C.E. and throughout time transcended into
political and military organizations. The significance of these cultures revolved around
important warrior figures and their impact on society. The most important figure that will
be discussed is the protagonist from The Epic of Gilgamesh. Many consider it to be the
greatest literary composition written in cuneiform Akkadian around 2150 BC. This epic
portrays the life of the great warrior, Gilgamesh. It chronicles how his victories, both
militaristic and internal, ultimately determined his superiority. This relates to the
ancient Mesopotamian society in many ways, including the role of warriors and the dual
nature of Gilgamesh.

It is evident from the beginning of the Epic of Gilgamesh how vital of a role
warrior’s played in ancient Mesopotamian society. Warriors were considered top of
the social hierarchy. All other authoritative figures were considered subordinate.
Uruk’s inhabitants deemed Gilgamesh as their superior: “There is nobody among
the kings of teeming humanity who can compare with him…Belet-ili designed the shape
of his body, made his form perfect…In Uruk the Sheepfold he would walk about, show
himself superior, his head held high like a wild bull.” 2 Gilgamesh epitomizes the
ideal hero in the eyes of his society through admirable physical strength, bodily
perfection, and bravery. This admiration directly pertains to ancient Mesopotamia and the
earliest Sumerian governments. For instance, “When crises arose, assemblies yielded
their power to individuals who possessed full authority during the period of
emergency.”3 Back then, it was considered common knowledge that early governments
based their decisions for the good of the entire community. Gilgamesh demonstrates these
same tactics when he finds his community in danger. For example, Gilgamesh seized the
Bull of Heaven, which came down from the skies, in order to protect his cherished
citizens. 4 Protection of the city is Gilgamesh’s main objective. He states,
“I shall face unknown opposition, I shall ride along an unknown road.” 5
Here, Gilgamesh seeks out to Pine Forest where he slays Humbaba, in order to exterminate
evil and safeguard his city.

Sumerian cities also faced external tribulations because of their wealth and virtually
defenseless entrances o their land. Because the land and location was so flat and
vulnerable the cities built defensive walls and organized military forces.6 Gilgamesh
built a very similar structure. The wall of Uruk was an amazing barrier that sheltered
every square mile of land. The citizens of Uruk claimed the wall to be “the pure
treasury.” 7 It becomes evident in Mesopotamian culture as well as with Gilgamesh
that major defense mechanisms are needed in order to maintain security. When a city
–state gains structure the next step is to become proactively aggressive; therefore,
conquering and punishing other cities. For example, “External threats came later to
Egypt than to Mesopotamia, but the invasion of the Hyksos prompted the pharaohs to seize
control of regions that might pose future threats.” 8 In addition, Gilgamesh
displays these same ideas when adventuring into the Pine Forest. Because its citizens
adored Mesopotamia’s physical landscape, they would protect their land at all costs.

Gilgamesh’s image and qualities depict those of an ideal man. He controls a great
deal of power and status, for he is believed to be two-thirds divine and one-third human.
He also possesses power through his kingship. Gilgamesh displays a great amount of
hubris. Priding himself with greatness he states, “Gilgamesh is finest among the
young males! Gilgamesh is proudest among the males” 9 He is not only spiritually
content, but also physically appealing. He represents the ideal man through wealth,
handsomeness, and power. These traits were also important of the Egyptian pharaohs.
Because the city valued their leader to such a great extent, they built massive pyramids
as royal tombs. They also believed that heroes were gods living on earth.10 This helps
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