World Literature 1

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Welcome to World Literature 1

World Literature 1 guides you through what are considered by many scholars to be the most important foundation literary texts for all human cultures. Once you have read and thought about all these texts, you will have learnt a lot about the way we tell stories and the themes (constant ideas) and images (imaginary pictures) that have influenced writing around the world.

The following course uses the Norton Anthology of World Literature. You can buy or borrow any edition of the book, and begin with volume 1.

Unit 1. The Beginning of Narrative: The Epic of Gilgamesh. Read the introduction to ancient literatures of the Middle East, and then tackle the Gilgamesh. It's probably easiest to read it chapter by chapter.

As you are reading, make notes to yourself about how the story works. Which characters and plot devices seem familiar to you from other stories? In particular you might compare the Gilgamesh to the plot and characters of STAR WARS and/or SPIDERMAN or BATMAN BEGINS. What characters and/or plot developments seem different?

Unit 1 a. The Old Testament. Compare the style of writing with the Gilgamesh. Eric Auerbach argues that the Old Testament is written in a short-hand kind of style, because it's addressed to an audience who already know the stories thoroughly and therefore they need brief "reminders", which the tellers of the stories can then expand upon in discussion.

One of the themes in the epic of Gilgamesh is the meaning of life. Gilgamesh at the beginning is depicted as a tyrant but transforms into a good king after his first battle with Enkidu showing that one has the chance to transform their way of life. He’s then driven by the aspiration of making his name remembered forever, ultimately leading to Enkidu’s death as punishment for his arrogance. This makes Gilgamesh face his mortality making him obsessed with seeking the secret to immortality, ending up losing his key to an everlasting life thus accepting his mortality. Civilization: Enkidu, though a mirror to Gilgamesh, he is an innocent version of mankind living in harmony with nature like an animal. Enkidu’s sexual encounter with Shamhat for seven days and six nights plays a civilizing role as she teaches him the way of love, language and other human characters Pride: From the beginning, Gilgamesh is depicted to proud and this can be attributed to him being one-third man and two-third god leading to the gods deciding to teach him a lesson by sending Enkidu, his mirror, to humble him. Even after forming a friendship with Enkidu, though he transforms to be a good king, his quest to the forest whereby they killed Humbaba is motivated by pride which leads to Enkidu’s death.

Various archetypes that can be found in the narrative, some of them include the; ruler, hero, explorer, villain, and the sidekick. Gilgamesh at the beginning of the narrative is a tyrannical ruler; he forced his subjects to excessive labor, ordered them to go on battle constantly, and raped every woman he was interested in. Although flawed so much, he can transform into a good king and all this is due to his encounter/ friendship that ensued with Enkidu. Thus Enkidu can be depicted as the hero type as he challenged Gilgamesh enabling him to be a good person and generally a king. Gilgamesh is also depicted as an explorer; he was the one with the idea of going into the “land of Cedars” and together with Enkidu they traveled to the forest; after Enkidu’s death, he went on a mission to seek immortality which he, unfortunately, did not achieve. Humbaba, the forest protector is depicted as the villain as he cast mortals (by killing them) out of the forest, thus being taken as the evil character though that is his role as the guardian of the forest. One may say that Enkidu is a sidekick. He was on Gilgamesh side during battles, and without him, Gilgamesh would not have been able to defeat any of the people/ creatures he fought. Enkidu did do a lot of work and took little credit for them and when the narrative needed a scapegoat, he was used as one even though the mistake being punished was not his doing. These archetypes aid us to understand the Gilgamesh way of life; his reasoning on a decision . Gilgamesh should be included in a college course on World Literature as it is a significant literary work since it is the world’s oldest surviving written poems and can, therefore, be termed as a source of ancient events. The story is dated to about more than 4,000 years ago giving a picture of how Mesopotamia was in the Ancient days: the narrative gives details of civilization in that era. Mesopotamia is known as the “cradle of human civilization” since the first cities began there. Gilgamesh portrays civilization to have both positives and negatives helping one to realize the ambiguity in civilization during that era and determine if it still applies to this era. The narrative also shows the reader the way of life which is depicted by Gilgamesh life and his seek of immortality. The author depicts how in life people search for wholeness and in the midst of it become confused; showing that life, death, and one’s realization should be united. The epic of Gilgamesh is also a captivating source of the Great Floods and Human beliefs. The narrative mentions the Great Floods which are also mentioned in the Bible which is an interesting detail for historians in determining whether this event was real or not. The belief and inclusion of the gods in the poem gives the idea of human beliefs being there from ancient times.