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The Epic of Gilgamesh

A team of British and Assyrian archaeologists uncovered a series of stone tablets, engraved in the Akkadian language, and dated to BC. On these tablets is perhaps the oldest recorded narrative known to man. Since , older versions of the story have been found, written perhaps 3, years ago in Sumerian — showing that the story had survived the downfall of one empire and the rise of another, and had continued in popularity across cultures.

Neo-Assyrian clay tablet. Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet The story follows Gilgamesh, a young and handsome Uruk.


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Gilgamesh was the son of Ninsun, a goddess, and Lugalbanda, a priest-king. Wanting for nothing, he grew up spoiled, arrogant and cruel.


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He spends his time beating the other men of Uruk in fights and taking many women to bed, including the wives of other men — as royalty and the son of a goddess, he feels he is entitled. The people of Uruk, terrorized by Gilgamesh, and unable to do anything because of his royal and divine status, cry out to the king of heaven, Anu, to help them with the young king. In response, the gods send Enkidu, a wild man who lives in the desert, to Uruk. Enkidu lives in the wilds, side by side with the animals when he encounters a priestess named Shamhat, who partially civilized him — she teaches him how to eat like a human being.

Enkidu then heads to Uruk. There, he meets Gilgamesh and challenges him to a fight. They fight day and night, but eventually Gilgamesh wins. However, in the process, he begins to learn humility and becomes best friends with Enkidu. Possible representation of Gilgamesh as Master of Animals, grasping a lion in his left arm and snake in his right hand, in an Assyrian palace relief, from Dur-Sharrukin, now held in the Louvre.

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The pair then decide to go on a great adventure. They then encounter Ishtar, the goddess of love, war and sex, and who reputedly can seduce any man alive — but not Gilgamesh, who rejects her advances. Fragment of a stone plaque from the temple of Inanna at Nippur showing a Sumerian goddess, possibly Inanna c. This he does, but Gilgamesh and Enkidu team up and kill the Bull after a mighty struggle. This angers all of the gods, for the Bull is their mightiest creature, and as punishment, they cause Enkidu to die of the injuries sustained in the fight.

Gilgamesh almost dies of grief at the loss of his friend. This relief decorated the lower course of the exterior wall of the temple palace of King Kapara. Two heroes pin down a bearded foe, while grabbing at his pronged headdress. The context may be related to the Gilgamesh epic, and display Gilgamesh and Enkidu in their fight with Humbaba.

The Epic of Gilgamesh

The death of Enkidu not only wounds Gilgamesh but causes him to worry about his own immortality. The tale revolves around a legendary hero named Gilgamesh Bilgames in Sumerian , who was said to be the king of the Sumerian city of Uruk. His father is identified as Lugalbanda, king of Uruk , and his mother is the wise cow goddess Ninsun.

The Epic of Gilgamesh

No contemporary information is known about Gilgamesh, who, if he was in fact an historical person, would have lived around B. Nor is there any preserved early third-millennium version of the poem. During the twenty-first century B. He sponsored a revival of older literature and established academies of scholars at his capital Ur and at the holy city of Nippur.

Epic of Gilgamesh - Wikipedia

Shulgi claimed Lugalbanda as his father and Gilgamesh as his brother. Although little of the courtly literature of the Shulgi academies survives, and Sumerian ceased to be a spoken language soon after the end of his dynasty, Sumerian literature continued to be studied in the scribal schools of the following Old Babylonian period. Five Sumerian stories about Gilgamesh were copied in these schools. These tales, which were not part of an epic cycle, were originally oral narratives sung at the royal court of the Third Dynasty of Ur. Seeking revenge, the goddess sends the Bull of Heaven to kill Gilgamesh, but the hero, with the assistance of Enkidu, slays the monster.

Enkidu descends into the depths to find them and, upon his return to life, describes the horrid fate that awaits the dead. They decide that he, like all of humankind, shall not be granted eternal life. In addition to the Sumerian compositions, young scribes studying in the Old Babylonian schools made copies of different oral stories about the hero Gilgamesh. One noteworthy tale was sung in Akkadian rather than in Sumerian. Only fragments of this composition survive. By the end of the eighteenth century B. A shift in political power and culture took place under the newly ascendant Babylonian dynasties centered north of Sumer.

Hundreds of years later, toward the end of the second millennium B. Differing versions of classic compositions, including the Akkadian Gilgamesh story, proliferated, and translations and adaptations were made by poets in various lands to reflect local concerns. Some time in the twelfth century B. Not content to merely copy an old version of the tale, this scholar most likely assembled various versions of the story from both oral and written sources and updated them in light of the literary concerns of his day, which included questions about human mortality and the nature of wisdom.

The new version of the epic explains that Gilgamesh, although he is king of Uruk, acts as an arrogant, impulsive, and irresponsible ruler. Two-thirds human and one-third deity, the hero as king is unaware of his own strengths and weaknesses.

The Epic of Gilgamesh – History’s Oldest Great Work of Literature

He oppresses his own people. After an initial confrontation, Gilgamesh and Enkidu become friends and decide to make a name for themselves by journeying to the Cedar Forest to fight against Humbaba, the giant whom the gods have placed as guardian of the sacred trees. The two kill the monster and take cedar back to Uruk as their prize.

Repulsed, the headstrong goddess sends the Bull of Heaven to destroy Uruk and punish Gilgamesh. But Gilgamesh and Enkidu meet the challenge and Gilgamesh slays the bull. The gods retaliate by causing Enkidu to fall ill and die.