Title: The Epic of Gilgamesh
Author: Translated by N. K. Sandars
Publisher: Penguin Classics
I found SparkNotes helpful.
This is the grandmama of all written epic stories, the progenitor of familiar quest stories and tropes through the ages. It’s also based on the historical Mesopotamian king Gilgamesh
Gilgamesh is 2/3 god, 1/3 human and has no equal. As such, his arrogance and hubris get the better of him while he literally rapes and pillages his way through his own land, Uruk.
The gods create Enkidu from clay (completely mortal) as a balance to Gilgamesh’s excesses. When they meet, they fight each other but once they discover they are equals, they become great friends.
Because Gilgamesh is restless, he and Enkidu go on a quest which includes stealing cedars from a forest forbidden to mortals. After they kill the demon Humbaba, Ishtar tries to entice Gilgamesh into a love affair with her. He flatly turns her down, which enrages her and she calls down the Bull of Heaven to kill him.
Enkidu dies from a protracted illness because the gods must punish one of them for killing the Bull of Heaven. Gilgamesh is bereft and leaves Uruk in search of Utnapishtim, the man who survived the Great Deluge and was given eternal life.
In his travels to the end of the world and back, he finally accepts that life is not eternal, but the impact on those he comes in contact can be.
I first read Gilgamesh for a class about ethics towards animals (Enkidu was raised among the animals). Reading it is the start of many familiar stories, like the Great Deluge, considered to be the genesis of the Flood story and Noah in the Bible.
For more about the genesis of myths which have become common knowledge around the world, read my review of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.