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Journeys in Gilgamesh

March 7, 2008

Next semester I will be teaching Gilgamesh as part of the Gen Ed at Temple University in a program called Mosaic. This program consists of a two semester, sophomore level rotation that works through eight themes and sixteen texts in a seminar format.

The first theme is “Journey” and the first text is Gilgamesh. In preparation for the new program, I’ve been musing on how to teach Gilgamesh as a journey by analyzing the journeys in the text itself. The major journeys I’ve come up with so far are the following:

  • Journey of Enkidu from the innocence of nature to the knowledge of human civilization.
  • Journey of Gilgamesh and Enkidu to Humbaba and the cedar forest.
  • Journey of Gilgamesh and Enkidu from hubris to humility in Enkidu’s death.
  • Journey of Gilgamesh in search of immortality.
  • Journey from adolescent bravado and childlike ignorance to the world of an adult.

Obviously, the last journey is the overall theme of the work: the movement from Gilgamesh the hero to Gilgamesh the parent, husband and king with an eye to the future. While Gilgamesh and Enkidu seek journeys of adventure and fame, they are really only attempts to escape thoughts of the future, their own mortality and what will happen after their gone.

This is just a first run at trying to conceptualize the epic in this manner. Are there any other journey elements that I’m missing?

  1. March 11, 2008 12:59 pm

    Perhaps you would see this as part of Gilgamesh’s search for immortality, but what about Gilgamesh’s journey for knowledge/wisdom. That is, he seeks out Utnapishtim in search of the knowledge he needs in order to achieve immortality.

  2. jimgetz permalink*
    March 11, 2008 9:12 pm

    I think that you raise an excellent point. What Gilgamesh thinks he is seeking is immortality, but what he gains is wisdom (and wisdom from before the flood, no less!). There’s a lot of these twists in the plot. I’m going to have a lot of fun teaching this text….

  3. April 4, 2008 10:51 pm

    Also Gilgamesh is moving on dealing with death and suffering and his attempt to talk to Ut-napishtim. One of the most moving lines for me is the speech that Gilgamesh gives when he is asked by others in the epic why he looks down cast and depressed. Great comparisons to texts and epic of the Ancient Near East. Texts like the decent of Baal in the Baal epic and also the decent of Ishtar and the poem of the biblical Job starting in chapters 3- 41. Sorry I was rambling but I love the old epics and find great joy in reading them. I hope also your student will also!

  4. April 4, 2008 10:54 pm

    LOL one more thing the fight between Enkidu and Gilgamesh can also be compared to the Bhagavad gita, great lines about the struggles and battles we may find ourselves in the middle of.

  5. April 5, 2008 1:05 pm

    Thanks for stopping by, wayman29.

    I hadn’t thought of comparing the struggle to perform sacred duty in both Gilgamesh and the Gita. I’m teaching both of them in the same semester, and they can be definitely played off each other.


  6. godfrey permalink
    January 22, 2013 3:34 am

    actually, i have a question on the moral of gilgamesh and what did he learn at the end. just want a brief explanation.

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