Marcella Kampman

Author of Inanna, Goddess of Love: Great Myths and Legends from Sumer

Literature – The Hero’s Journey

Description: Literature uses symbolism as a means of making the unfamiliar familiar. Myths and legends from Sumer, written approximately 5000 years ago, are filled with metaphors, allegory, and symbolism. Not only are these stories the oldest known stories in recorded history, but they are stories that share with us historical information on how the ancient Sumerians lived, what they believed, but more importantly, what was their enduring legacy. In studying the stories left us by the ancient Sumerians, who lived in the region known as Mesopotamia, we will not only learn about these far distant peoples, but we will also discover much about ourselves – how we became the people we are today.

Goals: The overall goal of these lesson plans is for students to gain an appreciation and interest in history, in ancient history in particular, through the medium of myth as well as to develop an enjoyment for literature from cultures different from their own.

Objectives: in general, benefits realized from this set of lessons will be:

  1. To broaden students’ reading horizons along with their vocabulary skills.
  1. To allow students to become familiar with devices such as metaphors, similes, allegory, and personification.
  2. To give students a greater understanding of moral issues and central themes.
  3. To allow students to better understand mythology; to explore a myth’s deeper purpose as well as its meaning in the context of a given culture.
  4. To gain knowledge of other cultures. Not only will they learn about the differences between cultures, but in the course of their reading they will also discover that there are very basic yet important similarities that we share with people everywhere.
  5. To permit students to explore their own creativity by letting them express their own ideas in writing.
  6. And ultimately to encourage students to engage in critical thinking.


  1. Inanna, Goddess of Love: Great Myths & Legends from Sumer by Marcella Kampman is the main resource to be used throughout. To purchase a copy of this book, please check out my Web Store on the above menu.
  1. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler would be helpful as it formulates the idea of the ‘Hero’s Journey’ in literature.


  1. Overheads of pictures from a movie such as Avatar, written and directed by James Cameron in 2009, can be used to illustrate the image of a ‘hero’ as well as pictures of the illustrations from the second half of Inanna, Goddess of Love.
  2. Begin by reading the introduction from Inanna, Goddess of Love titled “Man and His Legends” on page 131 out loud to the class.
  3. Then read the first legend from Inanna, Goddess of Love titled “Inanna and the Willow Tree,” from pages 133-139 out loud.
  4. What do we learn about Gilgamesh? That he is tall, dark and handsome is probably a given, but more importantly that he is courageous and brave and that he is favoured by the gods, in particular by Inanna, who chooses to set him above other men, to make him a king. So far, Gilgamesh has all the makings of a hero. What other traits must a hero have? What sets a hero apart from ordinary men?
  5. Now read the next legend from Inanna, Goddess of Love titled “The King’s Companion” on page 141.This story introduces Enkidu as the ‘sidekick’. Where would Sherlock Holmes be without Watson, or Batman without Robin? Or even Harry Potter without Ronald Weasley? Even the ancients knew that the hero needed to be measured against someone who was no more and no less than ‘every man’, the ordinary man. In these legends, everyman Enkidu serves as the sidekick to the hero Gilgamesh. This second legend also shows us that Gilgamesh is far from perfect. We can see that he falls short, and has a lot of ‘growing up’ to do in order to become a true hero. In this second story, we see that Gilgamesh is ready to embark upon his own personal ‘Hero’s Journey.’
  6. Have the students read the rest of the Gilgamesh legends. The story of Gilgamesh is the oldest known heroic tale in recorded history. It is the oldest form of the hero’s journey which we still know and love. This formula was literally carved in stone 5000 years ago, and it is a formula we still follow in popular genres of today. Compare and discuss how Gilgamesh, over the course of his adventures, learns, grows, and finally changes for the better just as Jake Sully does in the blockbuster movie Avatar.
  7. For further reading, the teacher may wish to have a copy of The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler on hand for older students. Refer to pages 12-27 of this book. An example of how to analyze a myth or story using the ‘Hero’s Journey’ is given as follows:
  1. The Hero is introduced and shown in his Ordinary World (Gilgamesh is wandering about as a young warrior looking for action – Jake Sully is a paraplegic ex-marine looking to regain his former life)
  2. The Hero receives his Call to Adventure (Gilgamesh and Enkidu meet and after giving each other a good thrashing they become best of friends and go off in search of adventure – Jake Sully’s brother dies and he is whisked off in his place to a new planet where he befriends Norm, who becomes his ‘everyman’ sidekick, and he’s given his very own Avatar to command)
  3. The Hero is encouraged by a Mentor (Gilgamesh is given guidance by Utana-pishtim on his journey – Jake Sully is mentored by two vastly different individuals, the unfriendly Dr. Grace Augustine, the scientist, and the supposedly-fatherly figure of Col. Miles Quaritch, the Corporation’s chief of security)
  4. The Hero encounters Tests, Allies, and Enemies (Gilgamesh is constantly tested by Inanna and because he spurned her she has now become his enemy – Jake Sully is tested by having to learn how to survive on Pandora, but as he gets to know the ways of the Na’vi he finds out that Col. Quaritch is now his enemy)
  5. The Hero is within reach of his Reward (Gilgamesh & Enkidu have many wonderful adventures together but still Gilgamesh is not ready to settle down and be the king he should be, and so Inanna continues to plot against him – Jake Sully falls in love with Neytiri and life has now become one grand adventure for him, except that the Corporation is plotting to unleash horror behind his back)
  6. The Hero is forced to Suffer the Ordeal (Gilgamesh loses his best friend, Enkidu, who is killed by a plague sent from Inanna – Jake Sully is forced to betray the Na’vi, and when they learn of his duplicity they cast him out from their society)
  7. The Hero must take the Long Road Back (Gilgamesh travels on a long and dangerous journey as he searches for the secret to life – Jake Sully must escape prison, flee from his own kind, and find a way to help the innocent Na’vi from the disaster he helped launch against them when their Tree of Souls was destroyed)
  8. The Hero must experience the Resurrection, this means he has been Transformed by his Adventures (Gilgamesh finally comes to learn that the secret to life is to live the best life you can in the time given to you, and so he chooses to return to his people and be the wisest king he can be in the time allotted him – Jake Sully decides the only way he can help the Na’vi is by fully becoming one of ‘the people’ and by believing in the power of Eywa, the source of the living planet)
  9. The Hero finally Receives the Reward (Gilgamesh returns home and is proclaimed king by his people. Inanna sees that he is now worthy of her and she agrees to ‘marry’ him which will ensure that the lands will be fertile and the kingdom safe – Jake Sully returns to lead the Na’vi to victory, they oust the evil humans, and he becomes fully integrated with his ‘avatar’ body)


These assessments will all be age dependant. The teacher will know best how to grade the class. Class assignments will be evaluated in the following areas:

  1. For younger students read a story a day from the “Man and His Legends” section where all the various tales of Gilgamesh can be found and follow each reading with a discussion to encourage an understanding of the meaning of each story. In the book, after each story there is a brief explanation of the legend’s meaning and purpose. Discuss this meaning. Compare the story of Gilgamesh to the movie Avatar. Discuss character growth, how the hero learns and changes. Ask the students to list other books or movies they may have read or seen which follow the ‘Hero’s Journey’ format. Engage the students in ‘critical’ thinking.
  2. For older students, the teacher may assign the entire section of stories in the Gilgamesh section for reading homework and ask for a list detailing other books or movies where the ‘Hero’s Journey’ is obviously followed. Have the students write an essay detailing the development of the story or movie of their choice by using the basic ‘Hero’s Journey’ outline as suggested above. Stress the importance of symbolism. Virtually everything has more than one meaning as the stories were meant to work on many different levels. Have the students compile a list of metaphors , similes, and/or personifications and their meanings. A metaphor uses symbolism such as the sun’s light to represent something else such as justice. A simile suggests that something is ‘like’ something else. And personification means that a thing or abstraction is represented as actually being a person, as in the forces of nature being represented as gods (in human form).