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The Development and Meaning of the Epic of Gilgamesh: An Interpretive Essay

Tzvi Abusch
Journal of the American Oriental Society
Vol. 121, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 2001), pp. 614-622
DOI: 10.2307/606502
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/606502
Page Count: 9
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The Development and Meaning of the Epic of Gilgamesh: An Interpretive Essay
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Abstract

This essay traces the history of the several major versions (Old Babylonian, eleven-tablet, and twelve-tablet) of the Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh and examines the development of meaning from one version to the next. The focus is on the underlying conflict or conflicts that define and impart power to the work, that is, the conflict between the extraordinary and the normal. We will notice that in the Epic there is a constant conflict between the heroic values that the warrior-hero Gilgamesh represents and those other existential values that defined Mesopotamian culture and that appear in the Epic in the form of Gilgamesh's several non-heroic identities: in the Old Babylonian version, the conflict is that of hero versus man; in the eleven-tablet version that of hero versus king; and in the twelve-tablet version that of hero versus god.

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