Comparing the Epic of Gilgamesh, Hesiod's Theogony, and Ovid's Metamorphoses

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Comparing the Epic of Gilgamesh, Hesiod's Theogony, and Ovid's Metamorphoses

There are many parallels between the Epic of Gilgamesh, Hesiod's Theogony, and Ovid's Metamorphoses. The first similarity is immediately apparent: structure. We can view the structure of the Gilgamesh story as three concentric circles: a story within a story within a story. In the outer circle, a narrator prepares the audience for the primary narrative, contained within the second circle: the tale of Gilgamesh's adventures. Within this second circle a third narrative, the flood story, is told to Gilgamesh by Utanapishtim. Ovid's Metamorphoses is told in a similar way: Ovid starts out by telling of his intention and invoking the gods' help to tell the story.
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In Metamorphoses, Ovid tells the reader his intention--"to tell of bodies changed / to different forms"--and invokes the gods to help him with the poem.

This method of framing the tale does another thing: it gives an oral quality to the work. These myths began as oral tales passed from one generation to the next, which were eventually written down. It is interesting that the way they are written down reflects the oral nature of the original versions--a storyteller telling a story to an audience. It lends an immediacy to the work, leading us to look for its applicability to our own times. Because of this immediacy, there is an unintended irony that occurs in the reading of Gilgamesh. The narrator begins, "Notice the strong walls of our city of Uruk! These walls were built by Gilgamesh . . . Now study the inner walls of our city. Examine the fine brickwork. These walls, too, surpass all others!" (28). The irony is that these walls are probably deeply buried and cannot be seen, or if excavated, must be merely crumbled remnants of the once-impermeable wall.

Another similarity is in the structure of the mythological world. In all three mythologies, the gods reside in the sky, whether in the heavens or on a mountaintop. Below the sky rests the earth, and below that, the Underworld. Even the god structure is similar between the Sumerian mythology and the Greco-Roman tradition. There is a usurped sky god (Uranus or Ouranos in Greek
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