Civilizations throught history have often used literature to express a variety of cultural values. One of the most ancient examples, The Epic of Gilgamesh, comes to us from four thousand years in the past. This remarkably preserved story demonstrates its historical value in many ways. The level of advancement that influenced the ancient Mesopotamian civilization is evident several places. The relgious life and beliefs of the Mesopotamian people is reflected as the story unfolds. Additionally, The social structure of the society and its values can be seen through the actions of Gilgamesh and his people.
The story itself has been recovered from the writings of students who used the story as practice material. It begins with Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, who treats his subjects poorly. Wanting to be protected from the king's cruel intentions, the people call upon the gods to create someone equal in strength to Gilgamesh so that he might let the people of Uruk rest. In response, the gods create Enkidu. Wild in nature, Enkidu must be civilized and sent to Gilgamesh. A prostitue named Shamhat is sent to accomplish this task and Enkidu is transformed. No longer able to lead his former lifestyle, he follows Shamhat back to the city where he meets Gilgamesh. Enkidu and Gilgamesh battled, but it seems neither could win. They become fast friends and embark on a quest to harvest a forest. This forest, however, is protected by a guardian named Humbaba, whom Enkidu knows something about. Together, they defeat this creature and harvest the forest. Immediately following this, Gilgamesh insults the goddess Ishtar, who in turn attempts to kill him. Gilgamesh and Enkidu further insult the goddess by killing the great bull sent to kill them. For these actions, Enkidu was sentenced to die by wasting away. Enkidu's death prompts Gilgamesh's evaluation of his own mortality. He knows of a couple who have achieved immortality and seeks to find their secret.