The Epic of Gilgamesh | Study Guide


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The Epic of Gilgamesh | Prologue | Summary



The narrator describes Gilgamesh as a man who "suffered all and accomplished all." Gilgamesh's journey allowed him to experience a wide spectrum of emotions and to learn secrets and mysteries. After his journey, Gilgamesh carved his story on tablets of lapis lazuli and placed them in a copper box inside Uruk's cornerstone. The narrator praises Uruk, a well-built and beautiful city whose lively people do business in many shops, worship in great temples, and enjoy lush gardens and orchards, all within the city's protective walls. He invites readers to take the tablets from the cornerstone and read about how Gilgamesh became a great king.


The Prologue provides a perspective from the end of Gilgamesh's story, yet it's given first to introduce the story. In one sense, the perspective removes suspense: readers know Gilgamesh survives his adventures and returns to rule wisely. The Prologue gives away the positive ending. In another sense, however, the perspective creates suspense by making readers wonder what Gilgamesh suffered, how it changed him, and what he was like before this transformation. Although Gilgamesh is semidivine, readers will learn that he was not a good king at first. Readers will witness, through the epic, the king's oppression of his people, but, the Prologue assures them, Gilgamesh did learn how to rule. All is well.

Uruk receives special attention in the Prologue. The great city with its massive walls is the story's starting point and its end. The city and its lively scenes are testimony to Gilgamesh's eventual success. The narrator guides the reader on a tour of Uruk by issuing an invitation to walk on the city's walls: "Climb the stone staircases." He urges readers to "inspect ... how masterfully everything is made" to endure, how pleasant the gardens are, and how lively is the community within the walls. Uruk is Gilgamesh's legacy.

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