The Epic of Gilgamesh


When we say that Gilgamesh is the first epic in the world, we are claiming that it has most or all of the characteristics of the genre called “epic,” but what exactly is an epic? Simply put epics are long narrative poems centered on the deeds or quests of a central hero. Epics typically have a central theme and a main task or quest that the hero must achieve or complete before the end. Gilgamesh, the eponymous hero, has several adventures that could qualify as “epic” on their own merit, but ultimately they are all just signposts on his journey from being a vicious tyrant to becoming a shepherd-king. Interestingly, Gilgamesh’s journey is not physical but a moral, ethical, and spiritual quest to become a better man. Along the way he will meet and lose his soul-mate and best friend Enkidu, kill monsters, resist the temptation of a deceitful goddess, and search for the cure for death, but in the end he will find himself, and his people will hail him as the greatest of kings.

Themes and Motifs

A theme is a unifying idea or concept that is woven into the fabric of a literary work. Some of the themes of Gilgamesh are:


Think of a motif as a visual theme; it is an image that is repeated throughout a text and that points to a theme; some motifs may appear in several texts in a genre or over a literary period. Some motifs in Gilgamesh include:


Main Characters:

 Talking Points



Fragmentary relief dedicated to the goddess Ninsun, mother of Gilgamesh. Steatite, Neo-Sumerian Period.