Study Guide

The Epic of Gilgamesh Pride

By Sinleqqiunninni


Chapter 1, Tablet 1

Enkidu spoke to the harlot:
"Come, Shamhat, take me away with you
to the sacred Holy Temple, the residence of Anu and Ishtar,
the place of Gilgamesh, who is wise to perfection,
but who struts his power over the people like a wild bull.
I will challenge him …
Let me shout out in Uruk: 'I am the mighty one!'
Lead me in and I will change the order of things;
he whose strength is mightiest is the one born in the wilderness!" (1.196-204)

Gilgamesh and Enkidu sure seem to think the same way. The only problem is their shared interests—extreme pride and love of power—set them on a course to do battle with each other before they can become friends. Does this mean that Enkidu must swallow his pride after Gilgamesh beats him? Or is knowing that Gilgamesh is extremely powerful (as Enkidu shows he does, in these lines) just the thing that lets Enkidu make friends?

He walks around in the enclosure of Uruk,
like a wild bull he makes himself mighty, head raised (over others).
There is no rival who can raise his weapon against him.
His fellows stand (at the alert), attentive to his (orders?),
and the men of Uruk become anxious in …
Gilgamesh does not leave a son to his father,
day and night he arrogantly(?) … (1.51-58)

Here, the narrator transitions from fawning over Gilgamesh's great strength and handsomeness and accomplishment to telling the citizens to ask the god Anu to save them from Gilgamesh's horrible behavior. Is this a coincidence? Not likely. What could be more typical of an immature ruler like Gilgamesh than letting your gifts and possessions go to your head, resulting in prideful, arrogant behavior? Thus, these lines set the stage for one of the major issues in the story: how Gilgamesh learns that he is basically the same as other humans, for all that 2/3 divine parentage business.

Chapter 2, Tablet 2

"I will go in front of you,
and your mouth can cry out: 'Go on closer, do not be afraid!'
Should I fall, I will have established my fame.
(They will say:) 'It was Gilgamesh who locked in battle with Humbaba the Terrible!'" (2.228-237)

Here, we see how important pride is to Gilgamesh at the beginning of the story. First of all, it looks like pride is the whole reason why he wants to go to the Cedar Forest to fight Humbaba. Knowing that humans can't live forever, Gilgamesh is determined to do great deeds that will live on in people's memory after he is dead. But what good is that to him, if he won't be around to appreciate it?

Chapter 5, Tablet 5

"Erect an eternal monument proclaiming …
how Gilgamesh killed(?) Humbaba." (5.241-248)

Here, Enkidu tries to convince Gilgamesh to kill Humbaba by saying that the deed will make him really, really famous. Hm, it sounds like Enkidu knows the way to Gilgamesh's heart. Or something.


"An idiot and a moron should give advice to each other,
but you, Gilgamesh, why have you come to me?
Give advice, Enkidu, you 'son of a fish,' who does not even know his own father,
to the large and small turtles who do not suck their mother's milk!

… Gilgamesh, throat and neck,
I would feed your flesh to the screeching vulture, the eagle, and the vulture!" (5.75-85)

It looks like even fierce monsters have feelings of pride. At least, that's one interpretation of this trash-talk Humbaba dishes out to Gilgamesh and Enkidu before doing battle with them in the Cedar Forest. But isn't it much more likely that insulting these two warriors' pride will make them all the more spoiling for a fight?

Chapter 6, Tablet 6

"Father, Gilgamesh has insulted me over and over,
Gilgamesh has recounted despicable deeds about me,
despicable deeds and curses!"
Anu addressed Princess Ishtar, saying:
"What is the matter? Was it not you who provoked King Gilgamesh?" (6.82-97)

Basically, Ishtar's dad here is saying that she deserves the insults she got—but Ishtar's pride can't take it. Wounded pride: it's not just for humans.

Chapter 8, Tablet 8

"May the brothers go into mourning over you like sisters;
… the lamentation priests, may their hair be shorn off on your behalf." (8.27-28)

In the patriarchal society of The Epic of Gilgamesh, do you think that "brothers" would normally take kindly to being described as "sisters"? And, given the pride people in the poem take in their appearance, do you think the lamentation priests would really like their "hair to be shorn off"? And yet, Gilgamesh thinks people should undergo these humiliating procedures "on … behalf" of Enkidu. What is the point of these blows to one's pride? Could it be designed to show solidarity with the dead, who have suffered the ultimate blow to their pride, the destruction of their bodies?

Chapter 9, Tablet 9

Gilgamesh said to the tavern-keeper:
"I am Gilgamesh, I killed the Guardian!
I destroyed Humbaba who lived in the Cedar Forest,
I slew lions in the mountain passes!
I grappled with the Bull that came down from heaven, and killed him." (9.29-33)

Here, we can see how, even after all his travels and sufferings, Gilgamesh still clings to his pride as a doer of great deeds. But there's a difference. Gilgamesh originally claimed to want to do those deeds so that his fame would live on after his death. But now that doesn't seem good enough for him; now, death seems all too real. How does Gilgamesh's sense of pride change as he comes to accept death in the closing books of the epic?

Chapter 11, Tablet 11

"It was a field in area,
its walls were each 10 times 12 cubits in height,
the sides of its top were of equal length, 10 times 12 cubits each.
I laid out its (interior) structure and drew a picture of it (?).
I provided it with six decks,
thus dividing it into seven (levels).
The inside of it I divided into nine (compartments).
I drove plugs (to keep out) water in its middle part.
I saw to the punting poles and laid in what was necessary.
Three times 3,600 (units) of raw bitumen I poured into the bitumen kiln,
three times 3,600 (units of) pitch … into it,
there were three times 3,600 porters of casks who carried (vegetable) oil,
apart from the 3,600 (units of) oil which they consumed (?)
and two times 3,600 (units of) oil which the boatman stored away.
I butchered oxen for the meat(?),
and day upon day I slaughtered sheep.
I gave the workmen(?) ale, beer, oil, and wine, as if it were river water,
so they could make a party like the New Year's Festival." (11.55-72)

4x4 drive, voice-activated GPS, full leather interior … oh, wait, sorry: we thought Utanapishtim was bragging about his sweet new ride. But really, isn't this detailed description of the specs of his boat pretty much the same deal? What's the point of all this boasting?


At twenty leagues they broke for some food,
at thirty leagues they stopped for the night.
They arrived in Uruk-Haven.
Gilgamesh said to Urshanabi, the ferryman:
"Go up, Urshanabi, onto the wall of Uruk and walk around.
Examine its foundation, inspect its brickwork thoroughly—
is not (even the core of) the brick structure of kiln-fired brick,
and did not the Seven Sages themselves lay out its plan?
One league city, one league palm gardens, one league lowlands, the open area(?) of the Ishtar
three leagues and the open area(?) of Uruk it (the wall) encloses." (11.310-319)

The end. These are the last lines of the entire epic, when Gilgamesh welcomes Urshanabi, the ferryman of the underworld, to Uruk. Clearly, Gilgamesh takes a lot of pride in his city. But is it the same sort of pride he felt at the beginning of the epic? Notice how Gilgamesh points out that the "Seven Sages themselves" laid out the plan of the city. In other words, Gilgamesh isn't taking credit for all the good stuff in Uruk—he is giving credit where credit is due. How might this change in focus be connected to the main arc of Gilgamesh's character over the course of the epic?