INTRODUCTION – EPIC OF GILGAMESH – due date SEP 10
Reading again the Introduction to the Epic of Gilgamesh, once you are
done with this reading step back for a moment and ponder:
-which of the various points the author N. K. Sandars is making in this
introduction you found the most helpful in understanding the remote world
of this epic, and why? Then draw a list of the most important points that
you highlighted and write a short essay discussing them.
-Which parts of the introduction did you highlight?
-What are they telling you about the epic you are about to immerse into?
-How did they help you gain an insight into the world of Gilgamesh, but
also into the world of epic poetry in general?
Think small, you don’t have to list every single topic the author makes!
Choose a few central points you isolated and discuss them in your own
Cite specific quotes from the text to illustrate your points.
Write a short essay of about 300 words laid out in three paragraphs.
The introduction by N. K. Sandars provides valuable context for understanding the ancient epic poem of Gilgamesh. Several insights stood out as particularly helpful for gaining perspective on this remote work and the genre of epic poetry.
One important point highlighted was how the epic explores profound questions about life and death that still resonate today (Sandars, pg. xiii). Gilgamesh’s quest for immortality illustrates humankind’s eternal struggle to find meaning and purpose in the face of mortality. As Sandars notes, “Gilgamesh is one of those works in which humanistic themes have been given some of the most powerful and enduring expressions known to our culture” (pg. xiii). This universal theme helps modern readers connect to the ancient text on a deeper level.
Another key insight was how the epic blends history with legend to tell the story of a great king (Sandars, pg. xii). As one of the earliest known works of literature, it serves as a valuable primary source on Mesopotamian culture yet also uses supernatural elements to explore timeless philosophical questions. The introduction notes how some characters were likely based on real historical figures while others represent archetypes (Sandars, pg. xii). This fusion of fact and fiction is part of what gives epics their enduring power and appeal.
In addition, Sandars provides useful context on the epic’s structure, composition, and discovery. She explains how it was compiled from various sources into a unified poem, with some parts dating back to the early second millennium BCE (Sandars, pg. x). Finding copies of the text in the ruins of Nineveh in the 19th century added to understanding of Mesopotamian culture.
In sum, Sandars’ introduction offers valuable insights into the Epic of Gilgamesh that provide historical and cultural context for modern readers to better appreciate this seminal work. Her perspectives on the epic’s themes, blending of history and myth, and background give a helpful framework to understand this remote yet still compelling ancient text.
Sandars, N. K. The Epic of Gilgamesh. Penguin Classics, 1960.