Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (BOLLI)

The Walls and a Life Made Clay: Reading the Gilgamesh Epic

Course Number


Study Group Leader (SGL)

Joel Christensen


This course will take place virtually on Zoom. Participation in this course requires a device (ideally a computer or tablet, rather than a cell phone) with a camera and microphone in good working order and basic familiarity with using Zoom and accessing email.

5-Week Course

April 4 - May 9. No Class April 25.


The Gilgamesh Epic—often referred to as the Gilgamesh poems—represents a transcultural poetic tradition that started nearly 4000 years ago in Babylon and persisted through Sumerian, Akkadian, Assyrian, and Hittite translations. The fragments tell the story of the god king of Uruk who travels to defeat a wild man, Enkidu, only to befriend him and spiral into a rage over mortality after his death. As the oldest long narrative in recorded human history, the Gilgamesh Epic showcases themes and motifs familiar to modern readers of the Hebrew Bible and Ancient Greek Epic. This course will introduce participants to the history of the texts and provide an opportunity to work closely through their contents, considering especially why the poem was popular for so long and what it still has to teach us today.

Group Leadership Style

Roughly the same amount of lecture and discussion.

Course Materials

Gilgamesh: A New Translation of the Ancient Epic, by Sophus Helle 2022. Yale. ISBN: 9780300268096.  

Preparation Time

1-2 hours per week.


Joel Christensen (he/his) is Professor and Chair of Classical and Early Mediterranean Studies at Brandeis University. In addition to articles on language, myth and literature in the Homeric epics, he has published a Beginner’s Guide to Homer (One World, 2013) and Homer’s Thebes (CHS, 2019) with Elton T. E. Barker as well as A Commentary on the Homeric Battle of Frogs and Mice (Bloomsbury, 2018) with Erik Robinson. He has recently published The Many-Minded Man: The Odyssey, Psychology, and the Therapy of Epic with Cornell University Press.