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C O U R S E 
Masterpieces of World Literature
Martin Puchner, Harvard University
C O U R S E   L E C T U R E 
Themes from the Epic of Gilgamesh
Notes taken on October 5, 2017 by Edward Tanguay
how does Gilgamesh have such an intimate sense to it
it is the first longer literature text
you would expect as a first literary text
an awkward, first attempt at literary excellence
the scribes would have tried a lot of things and not really understood what is required to create a successful literary text
the history of the text
dates from around 1200 BCE
attributed to a scribe name Sin-leqi-unninni
he is working in a long tradition that goes back at least 800 years written tradition and 500 years oral tradition
back to the historical Gilgamesh in 2500-2600 BCE
historical Gilgamesh
his city Uruk is a major center
very likely the place where full-blown literary writing first developed
so you luck out if you're the king of that town where they start to write
older Sumerian literature
goes back to around 2000 BCE
King Shulgi of Ur (reigned 2029–1982 BCE)
first known patron of literature
lived not that far away from Gilgamesh's city of Uruk
Shulgi starts to commission poems about Gilgamesh
identifies him as a kind of brother figure
Enkidu is just a servant who goes down to the underworld, Gilgamesh brings him back
there is an early form of the epic in what is called the Old Babylonian Period
around 1600 BCE
fragments survive of this
more straight-forward
more of a rock-'em, sock-'em tale
400 years later we get this final version
it takes a tradition to raise a masterpiece
Gilgamesh masterpiece
one thing that is striking is that it is much shorter than the Odyssey or the Iliad
it's very economically constructed, very dramatic
one difference from the epics we know from the Greek tradition that are much more
Gilgamesh was 3,000 lines long
we have 2,000 lines surviving
relatively short, e.g. 50 pages as opposed to 300 pages for the Homeric epics
and the Sanskrit epics are vastly larger than the Homeric epics
Gilgamesh has all the epic qualities
a quest
a foundation of a city
relation between gods and humans
it's the longest story in the Ancient Near East that we know about
earlier traditions were all shorter poems
300-500 lines
earlier stories are reincorporated
flood story
different cultures emphasize different forms
what mattered in the Near East were lyric poems and omen texts
interpreting dreams
interpreting what you find when you slaughter a sheep and read the signs in its intestines
Ashurbanipal's library had many of these
for Homer, there was little competition of a written sort
it was elaborated much by memory
if you are in the Assyrian or Babylonian court, you have masses of texts to draw from
the medium to some degree shapes the form