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Themes

Even the most sporadic Sunday School attendee can catch the similarities between The Epic of Gilgamesh and the stories in the Hebrew Bible. The flood story is probably the most obvious, but, what about that snake that deprives Gilgamesh of youthful (eternal?) life? Or the idea that sex introduces you to human life—which is both good and bad? Sounds an awful lot like the Garden of Eden to us Shmoopers! And, of course, there is the consistent theme that disobedience to the gods (or the God) means there is big, big trouble in your future. And one other major similarity: religion is a hugely important part of everyday life.

Questions About Religion

  1. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, characters sometimes take sides with one god against another. Based on your reading of the poem, would you say this is a safe practice? Or is it best just to avoid ticking anybody off? Does it help or hurt to be a specific god's darling bootlicker?
  2. Even though his father was mortal, Gilgamesh's mother is a goddess. Does this make him different from other mortals in the poem in the way he relates to the gods? If so, how? 
  3. How do the gods—as a whole—impact the worldview of the Sumerians? Can we draw any conclusions about the way that Sumerians may have thought about their day-to-day lives, their futures, the nature or meaning of suffering, based on their description and understanding of divinities?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Many of the gods in the epic are frivolous and mean-spirited; thus, characters respect them only because they fear them.

Because he deliberately acts against the will of the gods, tries to fool them, and throws the leg of the Bull of Heaven in Ishtar's face, Enkidu stands out as the least religious character in the epic.

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