The Epic of Gilgamesh
Wisdom and Knowledge Theme
When it starts off "He Who Has Seen the Deep," you know it's either a really hardcore black metal song … or an ancient Mesopotamian epic. In this case, it's The Epic of Gilgamesh: an ancient Mesopotamian epic about a man who knew everything—the whole enchilada. And then, a few paragraphs in, it become rather obviously that, well, either the Sumerians themselves didn't know much, or this Gilgamesh fella was going to have a serious turn-around before the end of the poem. Thankfully, it's the latter. Gilgamesh's adventures start off as macho-man contests, but develop into searches for wisdom and knowledge. It's comforting to know that even someone as big of a mess-up as Gilgamesh can eventually pull it together.
Questions About Wisdom and Knowledge
- Who is the wisest character in The Epic of Gilgamesh? What is it about that character that makes him or her the most wise?
- In the Epic of Gilgamesh, how do people attain wisdom? Is it through something they hear someone else say, or must they experience it for themselves?
- What kind of knowledge is Gilgamesh most interested in? Is it only knowledge of how to become immortal? Is it knowledge of what death actually is? Or about what exactly happens to a person when he dies?
- Assuming that there is a difference between Wisdom and Knowledge, are the gods wise? Does Enkidu gain Knowledge or Wisdom in his transformation—or both?
Chew on This
The Epic of Gilgamesh portrays wisdom and knowledge as two different things. Otherwise, Enkidu would not have unwisely told Gilgamesh to kill Humbaba even though he knew that Enlil had appointed Humbaba as the guardian of the Cedar Forest.
In the Epic of Gilgamesh, wisdom has to come through experience, not just through hearing about it. Otherwise, Gilgamesh would have been convinced by the wise advice that many people gave him.