Chapter 17

A Levi-Straussian Analysis of the Epic of Gilgamesh
G. S. Kirk

Chapter 2 represented the different uses that scholars find for mythic material. In this chapter, you see the application of the theories of Claude Levi-Strauss, the French sociologist and linguistics scholar. Levi-Strauss, whose theories are elaborated in Chapter 20, finds that mythology helps show the nature of a culture: how it is organized, what its values are, what sorts of issues concern its people.

In this chapter, G. S. Kirk, a classics scholar, applies the ideas of Levi-Strauss to the Epic of Gilgamesh. You may want to read Chapter 16, the text of the story of Gilgamesh, before this one. Kirk's analysis shows aspects of the relationship between the two main characters, one of whom represents nature and the other, culture. As you read, you may want to consider how the nature-versus-culture motif relates to the mortality theme in the Epic of Gilgamesh.

In addition to seeing Levi-Strauss' theory in action, you can get a better sense of his view of myth as a fundamental mode of human communication. As you read Kirk's analysis, compare it with the perspective on the myth provided by Campbell in the marginalia of Chapter 16.

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