The Epic of Gilgamesh

by: Lauren Hawkins, Clare Frederick, and Ashley Sanfilippo

How does the Epic of Gilgamesh Fit the Story of the Archetypal Hero?

Hero is Introduced in the Ordinary World

Gilgamesh was created by the Gods. He has a special birth. He is ⅔ God and ⅓ man.

Gilgamesh seems like he is an unlikely hero because he is kind of a bad guy; he steals the virtues of young women and takes people’s sons.

Call to Adventure

Gilgamesh is an adventurous, and slightly selfish, person. He goes on his quests because he wants to live forever and he wants people to remember him.

Refusal of the Call (to Adventure)

Gilgamesh doesn't refuse the call to his quests; he creates these adventures for himself.

Hero is Encouraged by Mentor, Receives Supernatural Aid

In the first half of the story, Shamash is Gilgamesh’s supernatural aid and mentor. Anytime that Gilgamesh needs help, Shamash is there to aid him. He aids him along the journey, sends Enkidu and him dreams, and helps him during his battle.


In the second half of the story, Urshanabi aids Gilgamesh in his quest. He is the ferryman and helps him get to Utnapishtim, he helps him clean up after his test, and helps him return home. He also seems to be older and wiser than Gilgamesh.

The Hero Crosses the First Threshold

In the first half of the story, Enkidu and Gilgamesh go to battle Humbaba and succeed.


In the second half of the story, Gilgamesh wanders through the pitch black forest for twelve leagues to get to the land of the Gods so that he can find Utnapishtim.

Hero Encounters Tests/Obstacles and Gains Faithful Companions

In the first half of the story,
  • Ishtar decides to kill Gilgamesh after he refuses her marriage proposal and insults her past mistakes. She sends the Bull of Heaven after Gilgamesh, and it destroys the city. Enkidu and Gilgamesh kill it.

  • Enkidu must die because they killed the Bull of Heaven, and Gilgamesh goes into a deep depression and sits by Enkidu’s body for seven days and nights before deciding to go out and find immortality.

In the second half of the story,

  • Gilgamesh must go out and make a new protection for the boat to cross the death waters after he destroys the original.

  • Gilgamesh goes with Urshanabi and crosses the death waters to get to Utnapishtim.
  • Gilgamesh reaches the land where Utnapishtim lives and demands that he tell him how to reach eternal life. Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh that he has to first endure a test - if he thinks he can stay alive for a whole eternity, surely he can stay awake for a week. Gilgamesh immediately fails his test, so Utnapishtim tells him to wash up and go home.

Hero Reaches the Innermost Cave or "Belly of the Whale"

Utnapishtim’s wife tells Gilgamesh where immortality is hidden, in a plant at the bottom of the ocean. Gilgamesh ties boulders to his feet so that he can sink down and cut this plant out. Gilgamesh finds this plant.

Hero Endures the Supreme Ordeal

Gilgamesh loses his flower, and this finally shows him that he cannot have immortality. At this moment, he is facing death, and he knows that he will die at some point in his life. He is at an emotional low point in the story, and it takes this event to truly teach him the lesson of immortality.

Hero Gains a Reward/Treasure or "Boon"

The plant of immortality is Gilgamesh's reward. Gilgamesh doesn't initially eat the plant, because he is weary of it.

The Road Back

One night as Gilgamesh is camping, the snake steals his youth plant. Gilgamesh had to lose the plant because he can't have it. He can't be immortal and it took him losing the plant to show him that he can't have it.

Resurrection

Gilgamesh returns home a mortal man, but he feels better about the thought of dying. He knows that he cannot be immortal, but humans and his story will live on forever.

Return with the Elixir

Gilgamesh realizes that the city he built is a beautiful, historic thing, and that his story and legacy will live on forever. He knows that doing something amazing and being remembered for it is the closest thing that a human can do to being immortal. The elixir that he brings back is the story of his quest and the knowledge that humans should not go out searching for things that they do not have. He also returns to the city a better man and leader.