The Epic of Gilgamesh Summary - Detailed and Concise

The Epic of Gilgamesh Summary


The Epic of Gilgamesh Summary

The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the earliest and most intriguing works of literature in human history. It was written in ancient Mesopotamia over 4000 years ago. It talks about the narrative of Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk, and his quest for immortality. The outstanding nature of this epic has allowed it to inspire multiple adaptations and interpretations. The writer of this epic is unknown, but the narrative has been passed down generations through word of mouth until the mid-19th century when it was printed.

Assyriologist George Smith of Britain did the first publication in the 19 century. Smith translated it from the original cuneiform tablets. Since then, the epic has had countless other translations and editions printed by diverse global publishers and scholars. The epic has also been adapted into other forms of literature, like plays, video games, and operas.

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Overview of The Epic of Gilgamesh

The Epic of Gilgamesh focuses on a mighty king known as Gilgamesh, who tyrannically rules the city of Uruk. The prominent themes in this story include friendship and mortality. Gilgamesh is half man and half god. The gods confront him due to his cruel ruling and, in the process, made to face his own mortality. He embarks on becoming immortal but shockingly discovers that death cannot be cheated. In this pursuit, he forms a deep friendship with Enkidu. The story concludes with Gilgamesh concluding that he is mortal, and he returns to his city with more wisdom, and he becomes a just ruler.

The Epic of Gilgamesh Characters

Some of the characters in The Epic of Gilgamesh who have had an immense impact are:

  • Gilgamesh
  • Enkidu
  • Shamhat
  • Utnapishtim
  • Ea
  • Humbaba
  • Aruru
  • Ishtar


Gilgamesh is the protagonist of this narrative. He is the ruler of Uruk. His profound physical attribute is that he is strong. Most of his key personality traits are negative; for example, he is cruel and arrogant towards his subjects, and this causes the people of Uruk to fear him. However, his friendship with Enkidu softens his character as he becomes more considerate and introspective. His goal of seeking eternal life fails, making him a wise and just ruler who now values human life.


Enkidu is a wild man created by god Aruru. He is created to tame Gilgamesh's unjust ruling. Enkidu is covered with hair, and in the story's first scenes, he lives in the wilderness with the animals. Enkidu and Gilgamesh become good friends, and they embark on several adventures. Enkidu’s death makes Gilgamesh seek a cure for mortality.

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Shamhat is a temple prostitute whose mission is to domestic Enkidu. She is a beautiful woman and skilled at her craft. Shamhat transforms Enkidu into a civilized man. Although she is not a key character, she plays a critical part in developing the plot.


Utnapishtim is a wise man that has been made immortal by the gods. He is old and wrinkled. His significant role in the story is to teach Gilgamesh about the inevitability of death and the importance of living a meaningful life.


Ea is the god of creation and wisdom in the Mesopotamian pantheon. He is all-knowing and greatly impacts the plot through his interactions with other characters, like Gilgamesh and Utnapishtim. He assists and guides heroes on their quests. For instance, he helps Gilgamesh comprehend the value of living a meaningful life instead of seeking internal life.


Humbaba is a monster that protects the Cedar Forest. He has a fearsome appearance, with a lion-like face with teeth like a dragon. Humbaba’s key role is to serve as an obstacle for Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Nonetheless, these two friends kill Humbaba, enhancing their reputation and solidifying their friendship.


Aruru is one of the Mesopotamian pantheons and the goddess of creation. She is described as creative and powerful. Aruru creates Enkidu from clay, bringing about the plot's motion.


Another member of the Mesopotamian pantheon that has a huge impact on The Epic of Gilgamesh is Ishtar. She is the goddess of love and fertility. She is labeled as being beautiful but also unpredictable and treacherous. Ishtar gets attracted to Gilgamesh and pursues him, leading to disastrous events and, eventually, her downfall.

The Epic of Gilgamesh Setting

The setting of The Epic of Gilgamesh is in ancient Mesopotamia, particularly in the cities of Uruk and Cedar Forest. Vivid imagery is offered for the setting, as the landscape is described as a world of rugged mountains, wide plains, and dense forests. Experts believe the period was around 2100 BCE when the area was inhabited by Sumerian culture. The setting changes severally as the plot develops. This mainly happens when Gilgamesh explores the ends of the world in search of immortality.

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The Plot of The Epic of Gilgamesh

The Epic of Gilgamesh plot talks about the life of Gilgamesh, the ruler of Uruk, and his pursuit of eternal life. The plot begins by explaining the tyranny of Gilgamesh that makes his subjects fear and hate him. Later on in the first scenes, Enkidu is created by the gods to stop Gilgamesh’s tyranny. Gilgamesh and Enkidu enter into a physical fight that makes them good friends. From here on, the two engage in a series of dangerous adventures together.

Their first adventure is to fight Humbaba, the protector of the Cedar Forest. They fight a fierce battle and succeed in killing Humbaba. The people of Uruk consider themselves heroes when they return to Uruk from the forest. After a while, Ishtar falls in love with Gilgamesh, though Gilgamesh rejects her. Ishtar feels betrayed, and revenge by sending the Bull of Heaven to destroy Uruk. Gilgamesh and Enkidu face the monster and defeat it.

The gods eventually kill Enkidu through a painful death, leaving Gilgamesh devastated. Gilgamesh thus embarks on a quest for immortality so as to cheat death. He decides to go to Utnapishtim, the only person that has managed to have eternal life. Gilgamesh faces multiple dangers while journeying to Utnapishtim, such as the terrifying scorpion man and the hazardous trip through the darkness. On meeting Utnapishtim, he discovers that eternal life is not easily attained and death is inevitable. He returns home a disappointed man and wiser. The people of Uruk hail him as a hero, and he now rules them justly.

The Genre of The Epic of Gilgamesh

The Epic of Gilgamesh is an epic poem. This type of poem consists of a long narrative that tells a story of heroic deeds and epic battles. The Epic of Gilgamesh is deemed one of the oldest examples of this genre, with its origins being around the age of ancient Mesopotamia. The poem combines elements of history, legend, and myth to tell the life of Gilgamesh and his far-fetched goal of cheating death. It also examines themes such as mortality, friendship, and the search for meaning in life.

Another popular book centered on an epic storyline is The Odyssey. Open this link to view The Odyssey Summary.

Themes in The Epic of Gilgamesh

What are the prevalent The Epic of Gilgamesh themes?

  • Death is inevitable
  • Friendship
  • Courage
  • Pride and punishment
  • Civilization

Death Is Inevitable

The theme that death is inevitable is widespread in The Epic of Gilgamesh. Foremost, a lot of deaths occur in the story. For instance, the death of Humbaba, the Bull of Heaven. In addition, there is the death of Enkidu, which devastates Gilgamesh to the core. After Enkidu’s death, Gilgamesh set out for a cure to cheat death. However, he was shocked to realize that such a cure is almost impossible to find. He discovered that death is inevitable and became much wiser in his quest for the cure.


Have you ever formed a strong bond with your enemy? The Epic of Gilgamesh shows how the two adversaries became best friends and never broke their bond. Gilgamesh and Enkidu formed a strong friendship that stood all obstacles. They both went on dangerous adventures together, such as fighting Bull of Heaven and Humbaba.

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Another prevalent theme in this epic is courage. Both Gilgamesh and Enkidu possess an extraordinary level of courage. Their bravado is evident in multiple instances. For starters, both kill two terrifying monsters: Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven. Gilgamesh further shows his courage by battling the scorpion man and journeying through the darkness.

Pride and Punishment

Gilgamesh has a high level of pride, which has corrupted him. He is a despot ruler. He mistreats men and women without any compassion. For instance, he kidnaps brides before they get married and defiles them. Due to this, the gods punish him. They create and send Enkidu to tame Gilgamesh. Enkidu cannot tame Gilgamesh directly, though his death instills humanity in Gilgamesh. At last, Gilgamesh becomes a good ruler who values human life for everyone.


The two major characters – Gilgamesh and Enkidu – become civilized after a series of events.  At the beginning of the story, Gilgamesh is cruel to his people. The gods thus send Enkidu to tame Gilgamesh. Luckily, Gilgamesh is civilized with the death of Enkidu. In the case of Enkidu, he is created by the gods as a wild man, and he is even made to live in a forest. However, Shamhat, the temple prostitute, sets out to domesticate him, and she succeeds.

The Epic of Gilgamesh Symbols

Foremost, what are symbols? Symbols are items, figures, and colors used to indicate abstract concepts and ideas. There are several symbols in The Epic of Gilgamesh. The most dominant ones are:

  • Snake
  • Doors and gates
  • Monsters
  • Religious symbols


Towards the end of the plot, a snake steals from Gilgamesh the plant for eternal life. The snake serves as a symbol of how hard it is to find an immortality cure. It tries to show that, even if you find it, you will not use it as someone or something will deceive you. And this was part of the brutal truth that Gilgamesh came to learn. That death is inevitable.

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Doors and Gates

Doorways and gateways are mentioned multiple times in The Epic of Gilgamesh. Some instances where it they are mentioned include: when Enkidu stands in front of a door before fighting Gilgamesh; when these two friends stare at a terrifying monster at the gate of the Cedar Forest; an entrance is opened to the underworld by the Bull of Heaven, and Gilgamesh passes the scorpion man’s gate. Most of the doors and gates, such as the ones highlighted above, symbolize how the characters transitioned from the physical world to a supernatural one.


Monsters in The Epic of Gilgamesh may symbolize the desire Gilgamesh and Enkidu have for power and fame. In the epic, these two friends take on the two most important monsters – Humbaba and Bull of Heaven – to show their strength. They as well reap a lot of fame from defeating the monsters. After Enkidu’s death, Gilgamesh continues to seek power by searching for an immortality cure. He fights other monsters, such as the Scorpion man, so that he can get this cure.


The Epic of Gilgamesh is filled with religious symbolism. For instance, the number seven is used numerous times in the book, like when it mentioned that Enkidu and Shamhat made love for seven days. The Sumerians, one of the earliest civilizations in Mesopotamia, used the number seven on many occasions, mainly when conducting their rituals. Also, the story has practically all the religious rituals that existed in Mesopotamia, such as festivals, sacrifices, and dream interpretation.

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Frequently Asked Questions

1. What Is the Main Point of The Epic of Gilgamesh?

Two key takeaway points from The Epic of Gilgamesh are that death is inevitable and love can make us do unimaginable things. Gilgamesh learned about the certainty of death the hard way, while Enkidu was domesticated because of his love for Shamhat.

2. What Happens at The End of The Epic of Gilgamesh?

Gilgamesh accepts the hard truth that death is inevitable, and he returns to his city wiser. He starts to value human life and feel empathy for his subjects; thus, he begins to rule justly.

3. What Is the Moral of Gilgamesh's Story?

The moral is that there is no cheating death, and we should treat everyone fairly. Gilgamesh had to face uncountable risks to realize these two morals. He fought monsters and traveled to the ends of the world, only to be educated about these morals.

4. What Is the Story of Gilgamesh in The Bible?

Two outstanding events happened in the stories of The Epic of Gilgamesh and the bible. The occasions are about the massive boat that was built and a snake that deceives people. In the epic, Utnapisthim created a gigantic boat to escape the floods, similar to what Noah did in the bible. A snake deceives Gilgamesh and steals the plant for eternal life from him, while a snake deceives Adam and Eve from the bible into eating the forbidden fruit. 

Bottom Line

Are you looking for The Epic of Gilgamesh essay summary guide? Then, this article will considerably assist you. It discusses several elements of this book, such as the characters, plot, genre, themes, and symbols. In addition, it highlights the moral of the epic and how the epic relates to the bible. We have great news if you are finding it problematic to write a summary of The Epic of Gilgamesh. Simply place an order, and we will write the summary on your behalf. We are available around the clock, and we deliver nothing but the best.

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