The Epic of Gilgamesh – Analytical Summary

The Epic of Gilgamesh is a story about the futility of seeking immortality. It’s a journey of self-discovery in which Gilgamesh learns the ultimate truth – every human dies. It follows Gilgamesh, king of the ancient city of Uruk in southern Mesopotamia. As a youth, Gilgamesh was a capricious and domineering king. He deflowered the maidens, bullied the children and elderly, and forced labor on the men. His people prayed to the gods that they would send respite. So the gods formed the magnificent wild-man Enkidu out of clay. Enkidu fought in mighty hand-to-hand combat with Gilgamesh. When they found themselves nearly equal in strength, they embraced and became dear friends. 

Gilgamesh found entertainment and love in his new friend, and left the people of Uruk alone. But the two unearthly men soon became bored. They decided that they wanted to earn immortality by achieving great feats – or at least die trying. Rash youths, they glorified death, thinking it would immortalize them. 

First, they set out to defeat the beast Humbaba, whom the god Enlil had appointed protector of the forest. Once conquered, Humbaba begged for mercy. But the two youths, mistaking death for victory, chopped off his head and then downed many of the huge trees Humbaba had protected. 

Gilgamesh and Enkidu certainly made an impression, because upon returning to Uruk, Ishtar, the fertility goddess, fell in love with Gilgamesh. In his blood-glory, Gilgamesh scorned the love of Ishtar, who ran to daddy and pouted and screamed until her father loaned her the Bull of Heaven to punish Gilgamesh. 

The Bull brought famine and drought. He drank the Euphrates in a few gulps. He snorted, and the earth cracked before him. But Gilgamesh and Enkidu were in a blood-lust fury. They tore the Bull apart, and Enkidu threw the shank of the Bull at Ishtar claiming he’d tear her limb from limb if only she’d come down from the wall. Then Gilgamesh and Enkidu rode through the streets exclaiming: “Who is the most magnificent hero? Gilgamesh is! Enkidu is!”
With these two “victories” over death, Gilgamesh and Enkidu fancied themselves equal to the gods. But they soon found themselves sorely wrong. The gods punished the two by giving Enkidu a wasting illness. Before, they had glorified death as a path to immortality. But now they were standing face-to-face with death, and they were appalled by what they saw. To slowly die breath by breath? Humiliating! The loss of life, of friendship, of love? Tragic!
Gilgamesh could not face the reality of his friend’s death; refusing burial until maggots fell out of Enkidu’s nose. Then Gilgamesh melted down. He realized that he is human – and humans die. And death is not glorious. It leads to rot and decay. This was the second stage of Gilgamesh’s folly: he no longer saw death as a path to immortality, nor did he see it as a natural part of life. To Gilgamesh, death was an enemy who must be defeated.

Gilgamesh wrapped himself in the bloody skins of a lion and roamed the earth trying to hide from death. He became increasingly more violent and insane. In one passage, he found a boat that would take him to a man-god who Gilgamesh thought could advise him on becoming immortal. But instead of asking the boatman to ferry him across the lake to Utnapishtim, Gilgamesh furiously destroyed everything in sight. Having shown his power, he then demanded the boatman ferry him. But the boatman told him “How can I? You have destroyed the tools I need to do that.”

Everyone Gilgamesh talked to on his journey told him the same thing – death is inevitable. You are wasting your life in futility. But he would not listen. 

He finally reached Utnapishtim and asked the man-god how he had become immortal. Utnapishtim related the story of an annihilating flood which killed all but him, his family, and the animals he brought on his ship with him. Realizing the horror that they had empowered, the gods rewarded Utnapishtim with god-hood – promising never again to destroy the inhabitants of earth. But, Utnapishtim assured, the gods would never again grant immortality. Death was now the inevitable finale of life.

Gilgamesh was relentless, so Utnapishtim challenged him to fight death’s younger brother sleep for only seven days. Gilgamesh reclined and immediately fell asleep from exhaustion. He slept for 7 days before Utnapishtim woke him. 

Defeated in the realization that death could not be overcome, Gilgamesh prepared for his journey home. He bathed, anointed his body with oils, and donned civilized clothes. He was now willing to face death as a man. But there was one more lesson Gilgamesh had to learn before returning to his kingdom. 

As a parting consolation prize, Utnapishtim told Gilgamesh that at the bottom of the lake lay a plant that would return youth to whomever ate it. Gilgamesh dove into the lake and retrieved the plant. Instead of eating it right away, Gilgamesh decided to take it back to Uruk. In his hand, he finally clutched a tiny morsel of immortality, something that would allow him to return to Uruk wise and youthful. Yet he hesitated.

While on his return journey, Gilgamesh stopped by a lake and bathed. He carelessly placed the plant on the shore. Of course, the plant was stolen by a passing snake, which sloughed its skin and slithered youthfully into the ground. 

Thus Gilgamesh realized that his entire quest for immortality – from the glory-seeking of his youth, to the insane grasping for godhood, to his desperate clutching at the comfort of youth – was in vain. He returned to Uruk an introspective, wise king. This elderly Gilgamesh finally attained a form of immortality: he built temples, halls, and the great wall of Uruk (parts of which have been found by archaeologists today). He brought prosperity to the city. 

My one lingering question after writing this analytical summary is why did Gilgamesh hesitate to eat the plant? Was it his final folly to hesitate? Or was this hesitation encouraged by his new-found wisdom? I can’t decide.

There are so many things to say about The Epic of Gilgamesh, and I had big plans for this post. But I see now that there’s no way to give even a small portion of Gilgamesh’s due in one post. So I will break this into a series of posts. More is yet to come. If you have anything specific you’d like me to discuss, let me know.

This is a series of posts about The Epic of Gilgamesh. Here is a list of all posts thus far: 

The Annotated Emma, by Jane Austen

The Annotated Emma, by Jane Austen

Genre: Classic / Regency Romance

Reason for Reading: I’m rereading all of Austen’s novels. I’ve seen these Annotated versions and been tempted to try them out for a while, and this is the one I ended up picking up. 

Synopsis: Emma is young, rich, beautiful, and the most important gentleman’s daughter in her neighborhood. When her governess marries and moves away, Emma must find another friend to entertain herself. She chooses Harriet Smith, the love-child of nobody-knows-whom, and boarder at a local country school for girls. Emma, well-meaning but naively self-important, makes a mess by foisting potential suitors upon poor Harriet, while Emma’s old friend Mr. Knightly tries in vain to check Emma’s eager naivete. 

My thoughts: I’m a huge fan of Jane Austen. This is the third time I’ve read this novel, and I’ve seen all the movie renditions multiple times. I love watching Emma grow in wisdom throughout the story. And her romance is, in my opinion, the sweetest of those written by Austen. But I recognize that this is a difficult book for many people to get into because of Emma’s painful flaws and poor choices. Another reason that Emma is less appealing to some readers is because the narrator’s perspective is so unique. The POV focuses almost entirely on Emma’s perception of the world, to the point where it is easy to be mislead about what is really occurring since we are only seeing what Emma sees. Emma, especially at the beginning of the novel, tends to be very self-centered and aloof, and so is the narration of the novel. However, even though this POV makes the story harder to get into than the other Austen novels, this is Austen’s most appealing work for character study.  

The annotations of this book are lengthy and detailed. Many interesting images and comments are included so that we can visualize antique customs, fashions, and furniture that Austen’s readers would take for granted. That aspect of the annotations was fantastic. The annotations also included a lot of character analysis commentary, such as “Emma thinks such-and-such is happening, which shows you how much she lacks self-awareness at this stage.” These annotations included a lot of spoilers (the reader is warned which annotations include spoilers, but sometimes these warnings were dropped out of the ebook version – so caution should  be practiced if you’re reading the book for the first time and you have ebook format). These character analysis annotations were sometimes interesting, but mostly they told me things I’d already knew – either because I was familiar with the story or because I am sensitive to Austen’s nuances. Therefore, I think this annotated version is for you if 1)You are interested in having some historical perspective, 2)You are reading the book for the first time and don’t mind spoilers, 3)You’re re-reading the book, but don’t remember the details and nuances, and/or 4)You just love reading annotations. In other words, I am glad that I read this one book from The Annotated Austen series, because I enjoyed the historical perspective notes, but I probably will not pick up any of the others because I think I got the main idea now. 


James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl

James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl

Reason for Reading: To keep up with my nephew’s book reports

Genre: Children’s Adventure / Fantasy

Review
After the tragic death of his parents, James has been living with his horrible neglectful, hateful aunts Sponge and Spiker. One day James is given a magical bag by a mysterious stranger – and in his excitement he trips on the root of a peach tree and dumps all the magic on the tree. Soon a peach larger than a house has grown out of the tree. James crawls into the peach and begins the adventure of a life-time. 

This is another classic kids story that I read as a child and haven’t picked up since. I’m glad I had a reason to pick it up again, because it was really funny and silly and it had a lot of nostalgia for me. Dahl has just the right amount of humor and whimsy in his books. 🙂



After reading the book, my nephew and I watched the 1996 stop-action movie. It was a cute movie that followed the basic story-line well enough. But it was a bit too sentimental and it lacked the dark humor of Roald Dahl’s story. Cute for an hour’s entertainment, but nothing I’m going to watch again and again. 
 

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl



Written by Roald Dahl and Narrated by Eric Idle

Reason for Reading: I’d watched the two movies with my nephew, who’d just read the book, and I decided that I wanted to know which one was more true to the book. 

Genre: Children’s Fantasy / Humor / Adventure

Review
When Willie Wonka announces that he’s hidden 5 golden tickets to his fantasticly famous, but very mysterious, chocolate factory, Charlie Bucket wishes more than anything that he could be one of the lucky 5 winners. But Charlie is very poor and can not afford to buy any of the chocolate bars that conceal the tickets. Luck knocks unexpectedly, though, and he’s up for the adventure of a life-time with 4 other kids – each of whom has at least one huge personality flaw. Violet Beauregarde is uber-competitive and has a nasty chewing-gum habit, Veruca Salt is spoiled rotten, Mike Teavee is a know-it-all who watches too much TV, and Augustus Gloop is grossly overweight and incredibly greedy. As the eccentric Willie Wonka takes the kids on a wild tour of his factory, each of the kids suffers dire consequences of their flaws. 

This is my FAVORITE Roald Dahl book. Hilarious and fun – and it has a classic movie that makes me even fonder of it. 🙂 I really enjoyed listening to Idle’s fantastic narration of the story – though I wish he’d sung the Oompa Loompa songs instead of just reading them. But no one’s perfect. 🙂 I think I enjoyed this book just as much as an adult as I had as a child. 

My nephew and I compared the two film adaptations. The first was the Gene Wilder version from 1971 and the second was the Johnny Depp version from 2005. I hadn’t seen the classic movie for many years, but I had watched the newer one when it came out. I remember being disappointed in the newer version, but this time around I rather enjoyed it. Yes. It was different than the classic movie, but they were both very interesting interpretations. They both took some artistic license – and each had some stronger points and weaker points. The 1971 version, of course, inserted all that stuff about Arthur Slugworth (not to be confused with Horace Slughorn) and the 2005 version inserted all that stuff about Wonka’s father. Other than that, there were only minor tweaks to the story in either one, and I was surprised to realize that they both were equally true to the book, in their own way.


So, who’s my favorite Willie Wonka? I don’t know! That’s really hard to decide. The character was acted QUITE well both by Wilder and by Depp, though in very different ways. Wilder’s was eccentric in a crazy-scary sort of way. Depp was eccentric in a wacky-vulnerable-creepy sort of way. These were very different interpretations  but I was surprised to realize that they were more similar to each other in some ways than they were to the book character (as read by Idle). Both of Depp and Wilder (especially Wilder) seemed almost to encourage the nasty little kids to misbehave. Willie Wonka of the book seemed mostly unconcerned with the consequences of misbehavior, but seemed to genuinely warn them not to misbehave. 
Charlie Bucket was cute in both movies, and the interpretations of the actors was fairly similar. I think Peter Gardner, of the 1971 version, sparkled just a tab bit more. Look at that cute expression when he finds the ticket. 🙂
Violet Beauregarde was modernized in the 2005 version. She was still the over-competitive gum-chewing brat written by Dahl, but she was the daughter of a win-or-die beauty queen and was totally kick-butt in a losing-isn’t-an-option-because-you’re-better-than-them sort of way. Basically, it’s making fun of a certain stereotype of over-competitive girls that didn’t exist when Dahl wrote the book. So, the Violet of the 1971 version was more true to the kid in the book, but  I could better relate to the stereotype portrayed in the 2005 version – and I think this modernization was spot-on with the message Dahl portrayed in his book.
Veruca Salt was cuter in the 2005 version, but she had SO much more attitude in the 1971 version. Look at that “I want it NOW!” face. Definitely a bad egg.

Mike Teavee was obnoxious in both versions. He was modernized a bit in the 2005 version – he was addicted to video games rather than TV – but their interpretations of the character were pretty similar and I don’t see any reason to think one did a better job than the other.
The first thing my nephew said when he saw Augustus Gloop in the 2005 version is “he’s even fatter in this one!” Indeed, the only character trait Augustus had in the 2005 version is that he was severely obese. To the point of it being a little too much, I feel. Augustus Gloop in the 1971 version is quite fat enough to get the point across, and he has a lot more personality. 

Which movie did you like better, and why?

The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle

The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle

Reason for Reading: Group read on LibraryThing’s Green Dragon 

Review
When a unicorn realizes that she may be the last remaining unicorn, she leaves her peaceful home on a quest to find out what happened to all her brothers and sisters. Along the way, she picks up bumbling magician seeking his talent and a dour cook looking for her lost innocence. The unicorn soon discovers that the world has changed since she last ventured out. Humans have lost their youthful innocence, and they are no longer able to see things as they truly are – humans have excelled in the art of deceiving themselves. 

When I originally picked up this book, I’d expected a cute young adult tale, but never expected such depth. The Last Unicorn is a multi-layered allegory: about lost innocence, self-fulfilling prophecies, and self-deception. But these cynical themes aren’t the main point. The main point is that only in fully understanding humans can the ethereal unicorns save themselves. Only by sacrificing a piece of their ineffable essence can they form a closer bond to humans. And this closer bond can lead humans to do wonderful things. 

Yes, it is a Christian allegory by my interpretation. But I think it’s amazing the way Beagle didn’t just throw in a Christ Figure and be done with it….The allegory of Beagle’s unicorn isn’t uniquely Christian – it defies religious boundaries. It is a story of love and innocence that mixes cynicism and hope. Quite extraordinary! 🙂

I was also a HUGE fan of the bumbling wizard Schmendrick who (in my opinion) was only fooling himself into believing he wasn’t a capable wizard. He’s like the Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man in Wizard of Oz – just the fact that he wanted so badly to be a wizard made him into one. He could laugh at all the people who deceived themselves, as he unconsciously deceived his own self. He reminded me of myself when I’m in a glum mood thinking I’m not capable of anything when, of course, I’m quite capable if I’d stop expecting so little of myself. 😉 This book was a good reminder to have faith in yourself and think about the consequences of your beliefs. 🙂

The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald

The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald

Reason for Reading: Group read with Simpler Pastimes

Review
This classic fairy-tale-style story is set in a land where the Goblins and Humans have had a “cold war” for many, many years. Long ago, the Goblins threatened that some day they will steal a princess…and their day finally comes when Princess Irene’s nurse accidentally keeps the Princess out after sunset. Luckily, they are rescued by a miner’s boy, Curdie – but now the Goblins know where the Princess lives and what she looks like. When the Goblins hatch a devious plot, Curdie and Irene become fast-friends as they act in turn as heroes. First and foremost, this is a fairy-tale. But it is also an allegory about faith. Princess Irene has a great-great-grandmother – a mysterious and heavenly woman that only she can see. Irene’s very-great grandmother gives the Princess a magical string and tells her to follow the string whenever she’s afraid – never doubting it or deviating from it, regardless of where it may take her. Irene must learn to have faith even when she thinks that the string has led her astray. And Curdie must learn to have faith in a very-great grandmother that he has never seen.  This is a sweet story, nice for reading aloud to young children. 

Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen

Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen

Reason for Reading: Well, actually, it was an accident. I watched the BBC movie with my mom and she asked me how similar it was to the book. I said that it was very close to the book, but that there were a few things in the movie that I didn’t really believe happened that way in the book. So I picked up the book and started reading. Got sucked in. 🙂 I was wrong, though, all three incidents happened in the book. 

Review
This is the story of two very different sisters: Elinor is a sensible (yet secretly passionate) young woman who must continuously reign in the wild passions of her mother and sisters – especially Marianne whose head is filled with romantic notions of one-true-love and tragedy. When their father suddenly dies with their newly-acquired estate entailed away to their half-brother John, the sisters are left destitute. John and his wife Fanny descend upon the mourning family within a fortnight and make the sisters and mother feel like unwelcome guests in their beloved home. Elinor soon forms an attachment with Fanny’s brother Edward, but Fanny doesn’t approve of Elinor’s lack-of-fortune-or-name. So the family moves away to a cottage, leaving Edward behind. Poor Elinor must struggle with her own worries about Edward while at the same time monitoring the expensive of the house and trying to reign in the wild, all-consuming attachment of Marianne to the dashing young Willoughby. The romantic hopes of both girls spiral downwards as more and more obstacles appear. 

I love this story because I’ve always admired Elinor for both her passion and her ability to handle all problems that come her way. I also admire Colonel Brandon for his devotion to Marianne despite her ecstatic preference for the younger, handsomer, and less reserved Willoughby. This time around, I also really appreciated Marianne’s character. Her youthful ideas about love were cute – and realistic for many girls of 16. 🙂 Her development throughout the story was extraordinary. I loved the way she slowly, cluelessly, began to understand the world around her. I don’t admire her, but I think she’s cute and very funny. And, frankly, a more interesting character than Elinor (due to her development-of-character).

To be honest, this book is just as much a favorite as Pride and Prejudice. Yes. That is right. I ADMIT that I like this book just as much (possibly a little more) than the beloved P&P.