The Epic of Gilgamesh | Study Guide


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The Epic of Gilgamesh | Quotes


He had seen everything, had experienced all emotions, / from exaltation to despair.

Narrator, Prologue

The narrator praises Gilgamesh as a wise king of a great city. Because Gilgamesh made his journey to the ends of the earth, returning "exhausted but whole," he became a king his people loved.


Is this how you want your king to rule? / Should a shepherd savage his own flock?

The gods, Book 1

The gods bring the people's complaints about Gilgamesh to Anu, father of the gods, and ask him to curb the king's oppressive treatment of Uruk's people. Intercession and prayer are central to the epic's plot.


Enkidu sat down at Shamhat's feet. / ... and he understood all the words she was speaking.

Narrator, Book 1

Enkidu has just made love to Shamhat for seven days, and he has discovered that something in him has changed. This moment, when he discovers that he understands her speech, marks the transition from the wild man running with the wild animals and understanding what wild things know to becoming human and knowing things "that an animal can't know."


I am the mightiest! I am the man / who can make the world tremble!

Enkidu, Book 2

When Enkidu learns that Gilgamesh sleeps with all men's brides before they do, his rage at this unjust situation compels him to challenge the king. His audacious claims suggest he is what Shamash hopes for—a man who can stand up to and thus balance Gilgamesh.


I will make a lasting name ... / I will stamp my fame on men's minds forever.

Gilgamesh, Book 3

As he explains his plan to kill Humbaba, Gilgamesh reveals to Enkidu his primary motivation—not to rid the forest of evil, as he first claimed, but to secure his own lasting reputation through mighty deeds.


What happened?... Did a god pass by? / What makes my skin creep? Why am I cold?

Gilgamesh, Book 4

Each time Gilgamesh asks for and is granted a dream, he speaks these words on awakening. Dreams in the epic are associated with the gods' guidance and influence, yet interactions with the gods are unnerving, even to the semidivine king.


Two boats lashed together will never sink. / A three-ply rope is not easily broken.

Gilgamesh, Book 5

As the heroes face Humbaba, Enkidu becomes greatly frightened and Gilgamesh uses this saying to reassure him. Later, when Gilgamesh loses heart, Enkidu repeats the saying to encourage him. They are a team, working to support and hearten each other in the battle. Their victory, however, is as much the result of Shamash's help as it is of teamwork.


Which of your husbands did you love forever? / Which could satisfy your endless desires?

Gilgamesh, Book 6

When Ishtar tries to tempt Gilgamesh to be her "sweet man" and husband, he wisely recalls how she has treated former husbands and unwisely flings her reputation in her face, setting off the chain of events that leads to Enkidu's death.


Might / you not have provoked this? ... Or did he ... start / insulting you for no reason?

Anu, Book 6

Ishtar has run to her father, Anu, and is pleading with him for vengeance against Gilgamesh who has just insulted her. Anu guesses the truth—his daughter tried to seduce him and was turned down. What readers cannot fail to notice in this exchange between the gods is that they are far from perfect beings. In fact, they are all too humanlike in words, actions, and desires. This quality of the gods influences events throughout the epic and gives a glimpse into the values and beliefs of the ancient Sumerians.


What Enlil has decided cannot be changed. / ... There is nothing you can do.

Enkidu, Book 7

When Enkidu falls ill, Gilgamesh is desperate to deny the gods' judgment against them for their offenses. He tries to pray and sacrifice his way out of the punishment of losing his friend—the very curse Humbaba issued before Gilgamesh killed him. Enkidu, however, is resigned—no one escapes death, and no one offends the gods without consequence.


You were the axe at my side, / in which my arm trusted.

Gilgamesh, Book 8

This metaphor is one of many Gilgamesh uses in his long lament for Enkidu as he tries to express his love for his friend and the depth of his loss. The metaphor is apt because the two fought together. It is also pertinent because Gilgamesh killed Humbaba with an axe, offending the gods and bringing punishment upon himself and his friend.


He veiled Enkidu's face like a bride's. / ... he tore out clumps of his hair.

Narrator, Book 8

This is a key moment in Gilgamesh's story. He realizes that even in his greatness, he could not forestall the death of his dearest friend. The depth of his feelings is seen in how he covers Ekindu's face with a veil like that of a bride. This event hits him hard, but he will grow from it into a better king and a better man.


How can I bear this sorrow / that gnaws at my belly, this fear of death?

Gilgamesh, Book 9

As he wanders the wilderness grieving Enkidu's death, Gilgamesh confronts his own mortality. Earlier in the story, he claimed to welcome a courageous death in battle. Fame seemed a fair trade for death. Now, having watched Enkidu suffer and die, he's changed his opinion about death. This quest's goal is not fame but an escape from the fact of human mortality.


Man's life is short, at any moment / it can be snapped, like a reed.

Utnapishtim, Book 10

Although it's not true for Utnapishtim, who is immortal, the old man encourages Gilgamesh to value every day of life because time is precious to mortals. But because Gilgamesh is still deep in grief and fear, he can't hear the wisdom in Utnapishtim's words.


This is / the wall of Uruk, which no city on earth can equal. / ... its ramparts gleam.

Gilgamesh, Book 11

When Gilgamesh returns to Uruk with Urshanabi, he sees the city and its walls with new eyes and appreciates what his people have achieved. His praise of the city suggests he has gained wisdom about what matters to mortals.

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