Middle Eastern Mythologies

The Gilgamesh Epic

How is the epic of Gilgamesh similar to later epics?

It can be argued that there are two basic types of epic, the war epic and the quest epic. The Gilgamesh epic and Homer’s Odyssey, for instance, are primarily quest epics; the Iliad is primarily a war epic. Virgil’s Aeneid, consciously building on the two Homeric epics, is both. It is possible that the Homeric poet or poets in the eighth century B.C.E. would have heard of the Mesopotamian epic, but there is no proof that this was the case. In any case, there are many similarities between the Gilgamesh story and the Odyssey. Both Gilgamesh and Odysseus are forced to leave home to pursue quests to the very ends of the earth and even to the Underworld. Both are true heroes in that they are humans with direct divine guidance. There are some similarities between Gilgamesh and Achilles in the Iliad as well. Each has a divine parent. Each has a more than ordinary love for a male friend and takes his most significant action in reaction to the death of that friend.

Whether there is direct influence or not—and there probably is not—the Gilgamesh epic establishes what is, in effect, an archetypal form of narrative involving the mysterious and far-reaching wanderings of a hero in search of a universal goal such as eternal life or even “home.”


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