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Gilgamesh and Modern Fantasy Lit

June 18, 2009

Michael L. Westmoreland-White at Levelers has been running a series of posts on SciFi and Fantasy lit. He has this to say on the influence of Gilgamesh on these genres:

The Epic of Gilgamesh.  An epic poem from ancient Sumeria, this is one of the earliest works of fiction.  We don’t know when the first version was written in Sumerian, but the standard Akkadian version was compiled from older legends sometime around 1,300 B.C.E.  It tells of the exploits of a legendary King Gilgamesh, blessed by the gods with supernatural strength but who is bored with ruling his kingdom, and his friend, Enkidu the Wild Man (who is even stronger than Gilgamesh) and their quests and battles with incredible monsters.  The story influenced Homer’s The Oddysey, was outlined in brief in a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode (”Darmok”), and has even influenced some role playing video games.  For non-scholars only interested in reading the work for entertainment, the most accessible English translation is N. K.  Sanders, The Epic of Gilgamesh (Penguin Epics, 2006) which reprints the prose edition of the Penguin Classics, 1960.  The “Sword and Sorcery” subgenre of fantasy is particularly indepted to the Gilgamesh stories.

Beyond these influences, I tell my classes that popular movies such as Fight Club, Top Gun, and Stepbrothers are all modern retelling of this ancient text. However, I have been known to lie to students.

  1. Michael Westmoreland-White permalink
    June 19, 2009 6:04 am

    I see how the buddy element of Fight Club, Top Gun, and Stepbrothers might echo the relationship of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, but I don’t see much else that’s similar. I could be just dense, however. 🙂

  2. Bonita Woods permalink
    June 22, 2009 7:12 pm

    echoing Mr. Westmoreland-White’s comment. I felt the same thing when i saw the comment that the movies Fight Club and Top Gun are modern re-tellings of Gilgamesh. what am i missing besides the friendship factor?

    • June 24, 2009 12:37 pm

      If you make the argument that the Gilgamesh Epic is the quintessentially and archetypal “bromance,” the comment makes more sense.

      Of course, it is also important to remember that I lie to my students.

  3. June 25, 2010 5:05 pm

    Where did you get this?

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