Who Was Gilgamesh? - Hero, King & Character

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  • 0:00 Who Was Gilgamesh?
  • 1:32 Gilgamesh, the Hero
  • 3:43 Gilgamesh, the King
  • 5:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Mary Deering

Mary has a Master's Degree in History with 18 advanced hours in Government. She has taught college History and Government courses.

Learn about Gilgamesh, a hero in an ancient Babylonian epic poem. Explore the world of this legendary hero and experience two of his amazing adventures.

Who Was Gilgamesh?

Gilgamesh is the main character and hero of the Ancient Babylonian epic poem, 'Gilgamesh.' The poem was written by a priest named Sin-leqi-unninni on clay tablets in cuneiform, a wedge-shaped script.

Historians believe Sin-leqi-unninni compiled the story of Gilgamesh from ancient legends about a great king as well as stories of Babylonian gods and a great flood. Some historians believe that Gilgamesh was a real king of the city of Uruk between 2700 and 2500 B.C.E.

According to the story, Gilgamesh was part god and part man. His mother was Ninsun, a goddess, and his father, Lugalbanda, was the half-god king of Uruk. When Gilgamesh was a young man he was incredibly strong and handsome, and although his people loved him dearly, they also feared the willful arrogance of their young ruler. He was unafraid of man or beast, and he did whatever he wished even when it hurt his people.

The people of Uruk became distressed, and they asked the gods to intervene and teach their young ruler to be a kind and wise king. The gods of Ancient Babylon listened and they created Enkidu, a wild beast-like man, to become Gilgamesh's companion and guide. Although he looked like a wild animal, Enkidu had many traits Gilgamesh lacked, such as kindness and loyalty.

Gilgamesh, the Hero

When Enkidu and Gilgamesh met, they initially fought, each man trying to outdo the other; however they quickly found that they were equally matched in strength and speed. The two young men agreed that they had met their equal, and they became the best of friends.

One day Enkidu complained to his friend that he was bored with life in the city of Uruk, so the two friends decided to go on an adventure. Gilgamesh proposed that the two heroes set out to defeat Humbaba, a giant who lived in the Cedar Forest of Lebanon. Humbaba guarded his territory against any animals or humans who tried to enter. Enkidu was initially reluctant to go on the journey, but Gilgamesh reminded him that if they defeated the giant, they would receive honor and fame even if they died.

Before they left on their journey, Gilgamesh asked the god Shamash for help. Shamash agreed to make the heroes' journey go smoothly and to keep away any storms or poisonous snakes that might disrupt their travels. In addition, Gilgamesh and Enkidu asked for the blessing of Gilgamesh's mother, the goddess Ninsun. With the blessing of the gods, Gilgamesh and Enkidu set out for the Cedar Forest with 50 of the strongest and bravest young men in the city of Uruk.

With Shamash guiding them, the adventurers made it to the Cedar Forest in a matter of days. When they entered the forest, Gilgamesh cut down one of the giant's cedar trees. Humbaba was enraged that someone had entered his forest and cut down his tree, and he came to confront Gilgamesh and Enkidu. When he saw the two heroes, the giant became filled with fear, because he knew that they had come to kill him.

Humbaba begged Gilgamesh to spare his life and offered to allow the men to take as many of his cedar trees as they wished if only they would let him live. Enkidu reminded Gilgamesh that Humbaba was a treacherous monster and would turn on them if he was allowed to live. With that, Gilgamesh struck off the head of the giant and defeated the last great monster in Babylonian mythology.

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