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Gilgamesh's Journey

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Alana Francis-Crow

on 19 September 2013

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Transcript of Gilgamesh's Journey

One man takes us on an epic journey through an ancient civilization's ideas about the fear of death, leadership, and legacy.
The Epic of Gilgamesh
to Mesopotamian life

"For his friend Enkidu Gilgamesh did weep...
I shall die, and shall I not be then as Enkidu?
Sorrow has entered my heart!
I am afraid of death, so I wander the wild..."

Mesopotamian peoples' primary fear was
. Since Gilgamesh and Enkidu displayed poor
(by killing Humbaba aimlessly)
, the gods punished Gilgamesh severely by igniting his paranoia of death and killing Enkidu.
This is the lowest point in the hero cycle for Gilgamesh- he feels hopeless and mournful...
The problem was that Mesopotamian people believed in a
gloomy afterlife
. Unlike Ancient Egyptians, Mesopotamian people did not prepare bodies for the afterlife- they simply dreaded death. This fear of death was a huge part of Mesopotamian life, which is why it is such a major theme in the story.
"By day and night his [Gilgamesh's] tyranny grows harsher...[but Gilgamesh] lets no daughter go free of her mother."
"Though powerful, pre-eminent, expert and mighty..."

- Tablet I, lines 70-75
We meet Gilgamesh as the "hero" of our story- he has the classic features of the epic hero cycle- he is aggressive, physically strong, and even two thirds god. He is also egomaniacal, rash, womanizing, and generally lacking a moral compass- at least in the beginning of the epic.
Throughout the epic, we follow the young Gilgamesh as he takes on somewhat of a transformation as a
and as a person. The reader meets Gilgamesh as an immature king who takes advantage of his subjects. He then kills Humbaba, the guardian of the forest of Cedar, simply for the sake of adventure and thrill. Meanwhile, his subjects are left alone in Uruk without a leader to guide them. He also foolishly wanders the "wild" chasing his dream of immortality.
(the killing of Humbaba by Gilgamesh and Enkidu)
However, by the end of the epic, one sees that Gilgamesh matures significantly. He returns to Uruk to take care of his people and realizes that his quest for immortality was pointless.
Mesopotamia was known for having some harsh leaders (such as Hammurabi). Perhaps the writers of the epic hoped that their leaders would change for the better as Gilgamesh did.
"O Ur-shanabi, climb Uruk's wall and walk back and forth!" Survey its foundations, examine the brickwork!"
- Tablet XI, lines 323-324
At the end of the epic, Gilgamesh is forced to come to the conclusion that immortality is a foolish aspiration and that the only thing close to immortality that humans can achieve is leaving behind a lasting
. The legacy that Gilgamesh chooses to leave behind is Uruk's wall, which he proudly shows to Ur-shanabi (the boatman) at the end of the story.
Although there is not a happy closure to the story, Gilgamesh does return to his rightful place on the throne at the end of the epic.
-Tablet IX, lines 1-5
The tablet on which the story of Gilgamesh is written is leaving behind an important
for the Mesopotamian culture. Because it has lasted throughout the generations, readers are provided with insight into Mesopotamian culture and thought and are able to enjoy the first epic story in history...
Full transcript