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Word Count: 996
The Epic of Gilgamesh Western literature has few epics of any real greatness Of these The Epic of Gilgamesh is by far the oldest The standard version of the epic preceded Homers Iliad and Odyssey by centuries And the story of Gilgameshs deeds is much older then that maybe as old as the cult religion that worshipped Gilgamesh as a deity around 2600 BCE But what does it mean to call Gilgamesh an epic The epic form itself is sometimes traced to Homer to define five common features to epics 1 there is a hero of great national or even universal importance 2 there is a vast canvas a setting that may be the whole world or larger 3 the plot involves battles involving superhuman deeds or a long difficult journey 4 gods or other supernatural beings are interested and involved 5 there is a ritualized performative aspect a style more ceremonial than ordinary speech In Gilgamesh we have a story older than Homer which fulfills all of these criteria Gilgamesh is the mightiest of ancient kings a cultural hero and like Achilles the son of a goddess Gilgameshs narrative spans not just the known world of Mesopotamia but also the sea beyond the worlds end and the tunnels through which the sun travels back to its resting place We have superhuman achievements in battle the defeat of Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven and also a lengthy and difficult journey We have the active involvement of much of the Babylonian pantheon of gods including Ea Enlil Ishtar and Shamash And we certainly have a ceremonial style Formally Gilgamesh is a verse poem It is about 3000 lines long divided in 11 sections according to how it was originally recorded on 11 clay tablets It is divided into verses or lines which are often connected by parallel meaning or otherwise into couplets There are no stanzas in Gilgamesh properly speaking its translators arrange the verses
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