The Epic of Gilgamesh
The epic poem of Gilgamesh, discovered amongst the ruins of the library of Ashurbanipal, the last great Assyrian king, tells the tale of its titular hero—a Mesopotamian king who combats the gods, befriends the wild man Enkidu, and seeks, in the realms of the dead, the secret to eternal life. First translated in the late 19th century, the epic of Gilgamesh immediately captured the attention of Biblical scholars, poets, novelists, psychoanalysts, and legions of readers. “In these fragments,” Rainier Maria Rilke wrote, “I have experienced measures and forms that belong with the supreme works that the conjuring Word has ever produced.” What explains our persistent fascination with Gilgamesh? What can the “oldest story in the world” teach us—about ancient literature and poetics, Mesopotamian religion, society, and politics, and contemporary questions of sexuality, friendship, myth, death, and mourning?
In this course, we will read and discuss the whole of the Standard Version of Gilgamesh, attributed to the scholar-priest Sîn-l?qi-unninni, taking up the epic’s great themes: kings and city-foundings, nature and culture, the roles of women, the contested relation of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, death and the trauma of grief, the sorrows of the hero and the recompenses of civic life. We’ll supplement our reading of Gilgamesh with a range of Near Eastern and pan-Mediterranean texts, including Enuma Elish and brief extracts from Genesis and from Homer. What can a comparative study of Gilgamesh teach us about ancient literature and Mesopotamian and Mediterranean civilization more broadly? About cultural exchange, migration, and difference? In what ways does Gilgamesh compel us to productively reread “canonic” ancient texts?
Course ScheduleWednesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
March 06 — March 27, 2024