The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the greatest pieces of literature from the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia known to modern scholars. It was found among ruins in Ninevah in the form of twelve large tablets, dating from 2,000 B. C. This heroic poem is named for its hero, Gilgamesh, a tyrannical Babylonian king who ruled the city of Uruk. According to the myth, the gods responded to prayers and sent a wild brutish man, Enkidu, to challenge Gilgamesh to a wrestling match. When the contest ends, neither is victorious and the two become friends. They journey together and share many adventures. On an expedition to the west, they confront an evil monster, Humbaba. Enkidu slays Humbaba and in return the gods take Enkidu's life. Gilgamesh the mighty hero is then transformed into Gilgamesh the broken mortal. The pursuit of immortality leads Gilgamesh into further adventures. The most famous is his encounter with Utnapishtim, and ancient hero who had survived a tragic flood. His tale, recounted in the epic, bears many resemblances to the biblical story of the flood. Gilgamesh, following Utnapishim's advice, finds a plant capable of rendering him immortal, only to have it stolen by a snake while he sleeps, exhausted from his quest. On this note, the epic ends. Gilgamesh's search for immortality ends in vain, however his accounts were written on the walls of his great city. The tale of Gilgamesh is interesting because it addresses many of humanity's eternal questions, including the meaning of friendship and the desire to be immortal. It also reflects ancient history, religion, and culture.
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