The Epic of Gilgamesh - Tablets 10-11 Summary & Analysis

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Summary

Tablet 10

Gilgamesh sees a tavern on the edge of the garden and tries to go inside. However, Siduri, the owner, will not allow him to come in because he is dirty. Gilgamesh tells Siduri his story, and she tells him that all humans must die and that only gods can be immortal. Gilgamesh refuses to accept that and insists on knowing where he can find Utanapishtim. Siduri gives him instructions, telling him he must travel over the Waters of Death with the ferryman, Urshanabi. When Gilgamesh finds Urshanabi, he instructs him to make three hundred punting poles. No one can touch the Waters of Death, or they will die; therefore, they need the poles to make it across. Unfortunately, they run out of poles before reaching the other shore. So, Gilgamesh uses his cloak as a sail. When he arrives at the far shore, he finds Utanapishtim. Utanapishtim tells him that he has wasted his time because all humans die, the only question being when.

Tablet 11

Gilgamesh asks Utanapishtim how he became immortal. Utanapishtim tells the story of how Ea came to his village and said that Enlil was going to destroy humanity. Ea said someone should build a ship. Utanapishtim built the ship with help from workmen in the village. When the flood was over, there was arguing between the gods. To deflect the accusation that he was trying to destroy humanity, Enlil gave Utanapishtim and his wife immortality. Utanapishtim tells Gilgamish that he cannot be immortal because he cannot stay awake for six days and seven nights as Utanapishtim and his wife did. Gilgamesh says he can, but he promptly falls asleep. Utanapishtim has his wife bake a loaf of bread each day Gilgamesh is asleep to prove he slept. When Gilgamesh wakes, he is disappointed and turns to go with nothing. However, Utanapishtim’s wife insists they should give Gilgamesh something. For this reason, Utanapishtim tells Gilgamesh about a plant that will make him young again.

Gilgamesh finds the plant and heads for home. Gilgamesh stops to take a bath. While he is gone, a snake slips into his camp and eats the plant. Gilgamesh is upset, but he continues home, arriving triumphantly telling the virtues of Uruk.

Analysis

Gilgamesh is worried about death coming for him. So, he has gone in search of someone he knows is immortal to find out how he might achieve immortality. However, Gilgamesh is told repeatedly that immortality is only for gods. When Gilgamesh finally finds his immortal ancestor, Utanapishtim, he learns his story. Utanapishtim’s story strongly resembles that of Noah from the Christian Bible. Utanapishtim had advance warning that the gods were going to flood the world to rid it of the bad humans. Utanapishtim built a boat to save those that he could. When the flood is over, the gods fight over whose fault it is and the guilty party, Enlil, gives Utanapishtim and his wife immortality to prove he never meant harm to humans.

Gilgamesh, who has always been stronger and faster than everyone else, insists that he is strong enough to be immortal. However, when Utanapishtim challenges him to stay awake for six days and seven nights, Gilgamesh fails. For this reason, Gilgamesh must leave empty handed. However, Utanapishtim’s wife has pity on him and makes her husband give Gilgamesh a consolation prize. Gilgamesh has impressed Utanapishtim’s wife with the dangers he faced to find Utanapishtim. The reader must note that although Gilgamesh became frightened in the fight with Humbaba and had to be encouraged by Enkidu through the whole thing, he has shown a great amount of courage since Enkidu’s death. So Gilgamesh gets a plant that will make him young again, but he promptly loses it.

The ending of this poem closely resembles the beginning in which the narrator extols the virtues of Uruk. This brings the narration full circle, returning Gilgamesh to basically the same place he was when the poem began.

Discussion Question 1

Why is Gilgamesh suddenly afraid for his life? What brought this fear to the surface?

Discussion Question 2

Why does Gilgamesh want to find Utanapishtim? What will this provide for him?

Discussion Question 3

How does Gilgamesh lose the plant that is supposed to make him young? Why did he not eat it?

Vocabulary

Midway, thrones, dumbfounded, confusion, heeded, vanish, fragment, appeasement, reference, conquered, barbarity, subdued, seared, terrifying, seize, palace, servant, brought, roar, glory, exalted.

This section contains 740 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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