Teaching the Epic of Gilgamesh

So I have a confession, until this past summer I had not actually read the Epic of Gilgamesh, yet I had taught it 3 times 🙂 So this summer I made it a priority to read it; I felt it was only right being a Humanities teacher and all.

176b2ee70b667681e2b05c1878585eb4_originalEvery year I have taught it I taught it differently but I think this year I got it down…probably because I actually read it for once.

To start off, I have my students read the article “Death and Dying in Gilgamesh” by Fr. Kurt Messick to introduce them to the overarching theme of the story and prepare them for our week of study. After the article and questions, I play a short YouTube video from Star Trek Next Generation in which Picard retells the story to an alien. It provides a nice connection to pop culture.

The next few days are filled with some intense reading! We do a whole class reading of Tablet I going over literary allusions, themes, and motifs while introducing major characters and gods. After we go over Tablet I together, I split the students into 11 groups (the remaining Tablets of the story) in which they are going to perform an analysis of their assigned tablet to the whole class over the next two days. The groups are to model their discussion and analysis to what I led with Tablet I. They are provided with guided questions to help them along.

The next day or two is spent in deep analysis and discussion over the Epic of Gilgamesh in which the story is revealed to in a student-led discussion.

I end the week with a fabulous video from Annenberg Learner series, an Invitation to World Literature, that neatly sums up and provides new insight to the age-old story. This video is only 25 minutes long so it is perfect for half a class and then the second half of class we do something so fun and perfect 🙂

I have the students take any epic film and relate it character by character to the Epic of Gilgamesh. Gandalf becomes Shamash, Han Solo mirrors Enkidu’s wildness, Hermione is the civilizing force like Shamhat (although by  different means haha!), and so forth. The kids brains really start ticking here as they demonstrate they not only understand the complexity of the roles of the individual characters, but can relate it to the movies of modern-day.



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