Period 1 Primary Source Documents The Epic of Gilgamesh


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Period 1 Primary Source Documents
The Epic of Gilgamesh

Synopsis (Dr. Fidel Fajardo-Acosta):

The Epic of Gilgamesh is the story of King Gilgamesh of Uruk (ancient city in Mesopotamia) who oppresses his people. As punishment, the gods send him a companion, Enkidu, who is his mirror image and becomes his good friend. Together, Gilgamesh and Enkidu defy the gods by killing the giant Humbaba, cutting down the sacred cedar forest which he guards, and killing the Bull of Heaven. Enkidu has dreams of the destiny of tyrants who become slaves in the House of Death. Enkidu finally dies of an illness sent by the gods. Horrified by Enkidu's death and the prospect of his own death, Gilgamesh undertakes a quest for immortality which brings him to the abode (home) of Utnapishtim, a virtuous man who obeys the gods and was saved by them from the Great Flood. Utnapishtim puts Gilgamesh to various tests which he fails and eventually sends him away; assuring him that he cannot escape death. A humbled Gilgamesh returns to Uruk and orders his story to be inscribed in stone.

Excerpt from the Epic of Gilgamesh:

Utnapishtim spoke to Gilgamesh, saying:

"Gilgamesh, you came here exhausted and worn out.

What can I give you so you can return to your land?

I will disclose to you a thing that is hidden, Gilgamesh…

There is a plant... like a boxthorn,

whose thorns will prick your hand like a rose.

If your hands reach that plant you will become a young man again."

Hearing this, Gilgamesh opened a conduit … (to the Apsu)

and attached heavy stones to his feet.

They dragged him down; to the Apsu they pulled him.

He took the plant, though it pricked his hand,

and cut the heavy stones from his feet,

letting the waves(?) throw him onto its shores.

Gilgamesh spoke to Urshanabi, the ferryman, saying:

"Urshanabi, this plant is a plant against decay(!)

by which a man can attain his survival(!).

I will bring it to Uruk-Haven,

and have an old man eat the plant to test it.

The plant's name is 'The Old Man Becomes a Young Man.'"

Then I will eat it and return to the condition of my youth."

At twenty leagues they broke for some food,

at thirty leagues they stopped for the night.

Seeing a spring and how cool its waters were,

Gilgamesh went down and was bathing in the water.

A snake smelled the fragrance of the plant,

silently came up and carried off the plant.

While going back it sloughed off its casing.'

At that point Gilgamesh sat down, weeping…”

  • What does this excerpt tell you about life in Mesopotamia? What was important? What was valued?: ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  • Egypt

Daily life in ancient Egypt revolved around the Nile and the fertile land along its banks. The yearly flooding of the Nile enriched the soil and brought good harvests and wealth to the land. Most ancient Egyptians worked as field hands, farmers, craftsmen and scribes (people who copied manuscripts – could read and write). A small group of people were nobles. Together, these different groups of people made up the population of ancient Egypt.

With the rise of civilization came the rise of the class system or the hierarchy. Before the Neolithic Revolution, hunters and gatherers lived in societies with great equality. But with civilization came different classes: the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless.

Look at the table below: Compare and contrast the rich and the poor in ancient Egypt

A Nobleman’s Family

A Farmer’s Family

One bright morning in ancient Egypt, a nobleman woke up in a bed covered in fine linen sheets. He opened his eyes and looked around his bedroom. He saw the cabinet where his clothes were kept, his wife's cosmetic box, and a lamp for lighting the room in the evening. His thoughts were disturbed by the servant who entered the room. The servant helped him to wash and shave. Then, the nobleman dressed in a kilt made of fine linen and sandals made of leather. Meanwhile, the nobleman's wife got up. She washed and dressed with the help of another servant. The nobleman's wife wore a dress made of fine linen and jewelry made of glass. She applied some kohl to her eyelids and went downstairs. She applied some kohl to her eyelids and went downstairs. The nobleman and his wife had a small meal of bread and fruit. They sat on cushions and ate from a low table.

One bright morning in ancient Egypt, a farmer woke up in a bed covered in a coarse linen sheet that had been woven by his wife. He opened his eyes and looked around his bedroom. He saw the shelf where his clothes were kept and a basket. The farmer got out of bed and washed and shaved. Then, he dressed in a kilt made of coarse linen and sandals made of reeds. The farmer's wife was already awake. She had washed and dressed in the early morning light. Then she had gone into the next room to wake the children and begin her daily chores. She wore a dress made of coarse linen. Around her neck was an amulet of the goddess Tawaret on a piece of papyrus string. The farmer, his wife and their children sat down to a small meal of bread and fruit. They sat on a bench and ate on reed mats. Then, the farmer got up and went to work in the fields near his house.

~Adapted from

Create a list of differences between a nobleman’s family and farmer’s family:

  • ________________________________________________________________________

  • ________________________________________________________________________

  • ________________________________________________________________________

  • ________________________________________________________________________

  • ________________________________________________________________________

The Declaration of Innocence from the The Egyptian Book of the Dead

Ancient Egyptians believed that when they died, they made a journey to the afterlife, and so filled their tombs with the necessary objects of daily life such as food to aid them on their journey. One of these objects was the The Egyptian Book of the Dead, a guide for the journey. The Declaration of Innocence is made when the dead reached the Hall of the Two Truths where the god Osiris made the judgment about his destination in the afterlife.

1600-1500 BCE, Excerpts

I have not done crimes against people,

I have not mistreated cattle,...

I have not known what should not be known,

I did not begin a day by exacting more than my due,...
I have not blasphemed a god,
I have not robbed the poor.

I have not done what the god abhors,

I have not maligned a servant to his master.
I have not caused pain,
I have not caused tears.
I have not killed,
I have not ordered to kill,
I have not made anyone suffer.
I have not damaged the offerings in the temples,
I have not depleted the loaves of the gods,
I have not stolen the cakes of the dead...
I have not increased nor reduced the measure,...
I have not cheated in the fields.
I have not added to the weight of the balance,
I have not falsified the plummet of the scales.
I have not taken milk from the mouth of children,
I have not deprived cattle of their pasture...
I have not held back water in its season,
I have not dammed a flowing stream,
I have not quenched a needed fire.
I have not neglected the days of meat offerings,
I have not detained cattle belonging to the god,
I have not stopped a god in his procession.
I am pure, I am pure, I am pure, I am pure!

  • What does this excerpt tell you about the Egyptian afterlife?

  • Why did the Egyptians feel that it was important to write the above passage into their most sacred text, which would be handed down to future generations?


Some kind of centralized state, and extensive town planning, is suggested by the layout of the great cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro. The same kind of burnt brick appears to have been used in the construction of buildings in cities that were as much as several hundred miles apart. The weights and measures show a very considerable regularity. The Indus Valley people domesticated animals, and harvested various crops, such as cotton, sesame, peas, barley, and cotton. They may also have been a sea-faring people, and it is rather interesting that Indus Valley seals have been dug up in such places as Sumer. The Indus Valley people had a merchant class that, evidence suggests, engaged in extensive trading. ~ Adapted from

Complete the Chart on the Indus River Valley Civilization Using the Reading Above:

Evidence of a Centralized State (centralized means “under a single authority”):

Evidence of Experiencing a Neolithic Revolution:

Evidence of Long-Distance Trade:

Primary Source Document: The Rig Veda

Read the following excerpt from the Rig Veda and answer the questions. Note: Indra is the god of war. Kine means cow or cattle.

With all-outstripping chariot-wheel, O Indra, thou far-famed, hast overthrown the twice ten Kings of men, With sixty thousand nine-and-ninety followers, who came in arms to fight…Thou goest on from fight to fight intrepidly, Destroying castle after castle here with strength.

With Bow let us win kine, with Bow the battle, with Bow be victors in our hot encounters. The Bow brings grief and sorrow to the foeman: armed with the Bow may we subdue all regions. Close to his ear, as fain to speak, She presses, holding her well-loved Friend in her embraces.
Strained on the Bow, She whispers like a woman – this Bowstring that preserves us in the combat.

  1. Based on this reading, make a list of skills that you believe would have been important to Indo-Aryans during their migration from Central Europe to India?

  1. Based on your answer to question number one, what do you think happened once the nomadic Indo-Aryan migrants encountered the settled, farming Dravidians living in south Asia (India)? How would both change? What would be their relationship with each other?

  1. Why did the Aryans feel that it was important to write the above passage into their most sacred text, which would be handed down to future generations?

Using the Chart:

  • What is the title of the chart? __________________________

  • Define the word “cycle”. __________________________

  • What does a new dynasty receive? __________________________

  • What can a dynasty lose? __________________________

Analyzing the Chart: The Dynastic Cycle and the Mandate of Heaven

  • What does a new dynasty bring and/or do? _________________________________________________________________________________
  • By the new dynasty has become an old dynasty, what is occurring or happening? _________________________________________________________________________________

  • What does the old dynasty lose? _____________________________________________________________________

  • Another term for the “Mandate of Heaven” is the “right to rule”. What do you think this means? _________________________________________________________________________________

  • What are problems that occur as a dynasty becomes an old dynasty? _________________________________________________________________________________

  • After the old dynasty is overthrown, what does the new dynasty claim? _____________________________________________________________________

  • So, why is this called the dynastic cycle? ________________________________________________________________________________


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