Discussion Questions Regarding the Epic of Gilgamesh

  1. We know that a real King Gilgamesh lived thousands of years ago. Does the story we read seem to represent historical reality? If not, does it really matter? What is the cultural purpose of the Epic of Gilgamesh - to represent true historical facts or to provide lessons in values to ancient Mesopotamians? Why?
  2. Gilgamesh and Enkidu are meant to be examples, but not necessarily perfect models. What type of example do these two set for Mesopotamian men? What lessons do they teach? What are some key elements of a Mesopotamian "hero" that they represent?
  3. How do you think Gilgamesh, and possibly Enkidu, might fulfill the roles of epic heroes as presented in the first unit slides? What are their goals? How do they develop as the story moves along? Are they perfect (remember that Gilgamesh is 2/3 God, and Enkidu is a divine creation), or do they have flaws? Does a protagonist have to be "perfect" to fulfill the requirements of an epic hero?
  4. Does divine fate control the outcome of the story? Are the heroes' talents and weaknesses at least partly responsible for what happens? How much control do our mortal heroes actually seem to have over their lives? How much control do the gods have?
  5. How do the various divinities interact with our protagonists? What characteristics seem to separate the "mortals" (even amazing ones like Gilgamesh) from the gods?
  6. What do you think The Epic of Gilgamesh tells us about the attitudes of ancient Mesopotamian people toward their Gods and Goddesses? Toward life in general? Toward the afterlife?

Discussion Questions Regarding the Odyssey

  1. How do you think the characters in the Odyssey show us idealized models of conduct for ancient Greeks? Of ideal Greek manhood and/or womanhood? How is Odysseus (aka Ulysses) portrayed as an ideal Greek man? How does he represent Greek virtue (arete)? How does he line up with the epic hero elements presented in LectureOne Powerpoint slides?  How is Odysseus different than the hero(es) presented in Gilgamesh?
  2. How is Penelope presented as an ideal wife? How is she juxtaposed with other female figures in the Odyssey? How is Penelope presented differently than the women we met in Gilgamesh? Consider Ishtar, Shamhat, Calypso, and Circe.
  3. What do both the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Odyssey have in common? What do they teach us about ancient western civilizations in general? How are ancient Greek and Mesopotamian views regarding religion, divinity, and the afterlife similar? Different? Is the Greek attitude more or less optimistic than the Mesopotamian? Why or why not?
  4. What do you think are the main themes or lessons of these works? Are they comparable? How do the stories approach the concepts of love, loyalty, friendship/familial devotion, loss, and free will? Can men overcome divine obstacles to reach what they seek? When? Compare Gilgamesh’s ultimate goals with Odysseus,’ and explain why one could succeed while the other failed. Was it a matter of personal flaws? Did one simply have more ideal or ‘heroic’ qualities than the other? Was it a matter of ‘knowing one’s place’ when choosing/seeking the ultimate goal? Or is it simply a matter of cultural differences reflected in the folklore?