The Epic of Gilgamesh - Study Guide Tablets 1-2 Summary & Analysis

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This Study Guide consists of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Epic of Gilgamesh.
This section contains 658 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)

Summary

Tablet 1

Gilgamesh is the son of a goddess and a mortal king, Ninsun and Lugalbanda. For this reason, Gilgamesh is a strong man. Gilgamesh is the king of Uruk, a country which he created. Gilgamesh likes to show off and is often challenging the men of Uruk, embarrassing them and making it difficult for the women of Gilgamesh to find suitable husbands. The people of Uruk pray to the gods to make another man who could challenge Gilgamesh. The gods create a man named Enkidu. He is placed in the forest where he annoys a trapper by taking the animals from his traps. The trapper asks his father for advice. In turn, the father sends him to Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh recommends taking a woman, Shamhat, to the wild man and have them engage in intercourse. The trapper does this. After a marathon sexual encounter, Enkidu finds he cannot run as fast as before because he has been civilized. At the same time, Gilgamesh has dreams about Enkidu. After both dreams, Gilgamesh’s mother tells him that it means he will soon make a friend.

Tablet 2

Enkidu continues to spend time with Shamhat who helps him become more civilized. Enkidu meets some shepherds. He eats and drinks with them. After a bath, he feels that he is human. Enkidu later speaks with a young man who is going to Uruk for a wedding and learns that as the king, Gilgamesh has the right to lie with the bride before her new husband. Enkidu does not like this, so he goes to the bride’s house and stands guard. When Gilgamesh arrives, they fight. Gilgamesh wins, but Enkidu so respects his superiority that he forgives him, and they become good friends.

Gilgamesh suggests that he and Enkidu go to the Cedar Forest to kill Humbaba, the creature that lives. Enkidu does not think it is a good idea, but Gilgamesh promises it will bring them fame and power. Enkidu agrees, and they go to have weapons made. Gilgamesh brags to the people of the village. He is once again told that it is a bad idea.

Analysis

Gilgamesh is an epic that was written on clay tablets. Many of the tablets are broken; therefore, the poem is not complete. However, scholars can make educated guesses as to what might have been said so that the English translation is mostly whole.

Gilgamesh is a powerful man who likes to show off to those around him. He is young and lives with the mistaken belief that he is unstoppable. Since everyone is tired of his showing off, the people of Uruk ask the gods to give them a man who can stand up to Gilgamesh. This man is Enkidu. Enkidu comes to the world more beast than human before spending time with Shamhat, a woman who worships Ishtar, the goddess of love and war. Shamhat teaches Enkidu the ways of humans, and he quickly becomes civilized. This includes a distaste for the habits of Gilgamesh. The first time Enkidu and Gilgamesh meet, they fight. However, they soon become quick friends, just as Gilgamesh’s mother predicted.

Gilgamesh likes to prove himself among his fellow man. This includes starting fights with mean, powerful beasts. Many believe Gilgamesh is crazy and will one day get himself killed. However, nothing stops Gilgamesh, and Enkidu finds himself going along for the ride.

Discussion Question 1

Who is Gilgamesh? Why are the people of Uruk unhappy with his behavior?

Discussion Question 2

Who is Enkidu? Why does he relate to the animals more than humans when he first arrives in the forest? How does the trapper arrange to change that behavior?

Discussion Question 3

With whom does Gilgamesh want to pick a fight? Why? What do the wise people of Uruk say about his wish to fight?

Vocabulary

Goddess, created, cultivated, harlot, assembled, disputing, artisans, countenance, instituted, purified, continually, powerful, embracing, halting, mightily, presence, permitted, grappled, destroyed, demolished.

This section contains 658 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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