The Epic of Gilgamesh Study Guide Character / Setting Identification


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Name ________________________ Literature Section

The Epic of Gilgamesh

Study Guide
Character / Setting Identification

As we read the epic, fill out the chart below using the list of characters in the epic. On the right hand side of the chart, write a description that will help you remember each character.

Characters/Settings in the Epic

Defining Characteristic(s)

Gilgamesh (gel' - g - mesh')

Anu (a' noo)

Ea (a' )

Aruru (a' roo - roo)

Ninurta (n - nur' - ta)

Ninsun (n - son)

Enlil (en - lil')

Enkidu (en'- ke - doo)

Humbaba (hoom – ba – ba)

Shamash (sha’ – mash’)

Ishtar (ish' - tar)

Siduri (s - doo' - re)

Urshanabi (ur' sh - na' - be)

Utnapishtim (oot - n - pesh' - tem)

Uruk (oo – rook)

Dilmun (dil – mun)

Shurrupak (shoo – roo – pk)

Summary of Story: Upon completion of the story, write a concise summary for future reference.

Literary Terms: Reviewing the following epic conventions / literary devices and record examples:

Literary Devices/Epic Conventions

Examples from text (include pg. number)

Elevated tone / style


Epic Similes


Foil Characters

Direct Characterization

Indirect Characterization

Foreshadowing / Flashback


Archetypes *

* Archetypes should also be traced on a separate chart for the hero’s journey.

Prologue & The Coming of Enkidu

  1. According to the Prologue, what combination of god and man is Gilgamesh? How might this combination affect him as a leader?

  1. Why does the goddess Aruru create Enkidu?

  1. What was the significance of the dream that Gilgamesh shares with the wise goddess Ninsun? What two symbols did he see in his dream, and what do you think they represent?

  1. Give an example of the direct characterization of Gilgamesh in Part 1? The indirect characterization?

  1. Give an example of the direct characterization of Enkidu in Part 1? The indirect characterization?

  1. How are Gilgamesh and Enkidu both similar and different? Why might they eventually become friends?

The Forest Journey

  1. After Gilgamesh dreams of Enlil’s decree about him, Enkidu says, “The father of the gods has given you kingship . . . everlasting life is not your destiny.” Based on Enkidu’s consoling words, why might Gilgamesh be upset?

  1. When Gilgamesh and Enkidu discuss their mission to conquer the sacred cedar forest of the gods, how do their views and attitudes differ regarding the feat?

  2. What do the repeated references to cedar trees and Humbaba’s offer of them in exchange for his life suggest about their value to Sumerian culture? What else is significant about the forest?

  3. Gilgamesh, at Enkidu's insistence, slays Humbaba after the guardian pleads for mercy and promises to serve Gilgamesh. What do Gilgamesh's exploits with Enkidu suggest about Gilgamesh's character?

  4. While Shamash gives aid to Gilgamesh in battle, the high god Enlil becomes angered when Gilgamesh slays Humbaba. What does this suggest about the gods that the Sumerians worshipped?

  5. Epic of Gilgamesh is known for its references to the symbolic numerology (the numbers held sacred in Sumerian culture). What is the first sacred number referenced and what is your guess about significance?

Ishtar & The Death of Enkidu

  1. Why is Ishtar attracted to Gilgamesh and what does she offer in exchange for marriage? Why does Gilgamesh reject Ishtar? What happens as a result?

  2. With Ishtar’s behavior in mind, how have the gods been portrayed up to this point in the story?

  3. What is the role of Enkidu in the slaying of the Bull? What do his actions reveal about his character?

  4. Why do the gods decide that Enkidu must die?  Which god takes Enkidu's side?  What had Enkidu done, according to Enkidu, to secure the favor of Enlil after the slaying of Humbaba?

  5. What is the significance and role of the dreams of Enkidu just before his death? What does he see in his vision of the Underworld? What does this imply for people like Gilgamesh and Enkidu?

  6. How does Gilgamesh mourn his friend?

The Search for Everlasting Life

  1. Why does Gilgamesh plan to seek Utnapishtim? Why do people call Utnapishtim the "Faraway?"

  1. What animals does Gilgamesh encounter first on his journey, and how does he react? What creatures does he meet next, and why does he react differently?

  1. Who does Gilgamesh first meet in the garden of the gods by the edge of the sea? What message does this individual have for Gilgamesh?

  1. Who is Siduri, and what advice does she give to Gilgamesh?

  1. Who is Urshanabi? Why does Gilgamesh smash this man's sacred stones, and what does this action reveal about Gilgamesh's humanity rather than his superhuman qualities?

  1. When Gilgamesh explains his quest to Utnapishtim and asks him for the secret of eternal life, the old man's reply is not what Gilgamesh expects. What does Utnapishtim tell Gilgamesh?

7. What is the purpose of the repetition during the account of Gilgamesh’s journey through Mashu and his own

explanations of his appearance to Shamash, Siduri, Urshnabi, and Utnapishtim?

8. In the last line of this section, Utnapishtim offers to tell Gilgamesh “a secret of the gods.” The secret will

not be revealed for several more pages. What do you imagine the secret will be?

9. Based on your comparison reading, what similarities do you find between the Genesis account of the

Garden of Eden and the Sumerian account of the Garden of the Gods?

The Story of the Flood

  1. Relative to other events in Gilgamesh, when did the flood happen? Which god cause a flood and why?

  1. Find four similes used to describe the storm and its effects. (You may record these in the introductory question on epic similes.)

  1. Note Utanapishtim's description of landing and searching for viable land. What is the effect of his sacrifice?

  1. After the storm, Utnapishtim says “…..all mankind was turned to clay.” Why is this image appropriate?

  1. How do the gods react to the flood? How does Enlil act upon discovering the survivors? Again, how does the epic characterize the nature of the Sumerian gods?

  1. Why does Utnapishtim tell Gilgamesh this story? What point is he trying to make to Gilgamesh?

The Return / The Death

  1. Why do you think that sleep suddenly overtook Gilgamesh after hearing Utnapishtim tell the

story of the flood? What might the "sleep" represent?

  1. Why does Utnapishtim feel the need to prove to Gilgamesh that he has had a prolonged sleep?

What is Gilgamesh's reaction once he realizes just how long he has been asleep?

  1. Why does Utnapishtim become angry with Urshanabi, the ferryman? What does he instruct

the ferryman to do regarding Gilgamesh?

  1. What might Gilgamesh's ritual bath, hair washing, and donning of new clothes symbolize?

  1. What does Gilgamesh's pursuit of the magic flower reveal about his character / state of mind?

  1. How does Utnapishtim's "gift" of the information about the flower tie into the hero's journey?

  1. In the ancient Middle East, snakes were believed to be immortal. How does the story explain the origins of the serpent's supposed gift of immortality? Why does this make sense?

  1. Were you surprised that Gilgamesh did not pursue the plant after it floated away? How could

you explain this behavior? In other words, what might it suggest about Gilgamesh?

9. On returning to Uruk, what does Gilgamesh do? Why was this a significant action for the hero?

10. What is Gilgamesh’s fate according to the last section and what are the epic similes used to describe it?

Final Discussion Questions

  • How does Gilgamesh grow or change as an individual by the end of the story? Find support from text.

  • Identify three qualities or beliefs in Gilgamesh that the Sumerians and Babylonians seem to value. Use the text and your knowledge of Mesopotamian culture to support these connections.

  • What personal quest(s) set by people today could be considered a type of search for immortality?


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