Epic of Gilgamesh

Epic of Gilgamesh

Overview
Epic of Gilgamesh is an epic poem
Epic poetry
An epic is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily concerning a serious subject containing details of heroic deeds and events significant to a culture or nation. Oral poetry may qualify as an epic, and Albert Lord and Milman Parry have argued that classical epics were fundamentally an oral poetic form...

 from Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia is a toponym for the area of the Tigris–Euphrates river system, largely corresponding to modern-day Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and southwestern Iran.Widely considered to be the cradle of civilization, Bronze Age Mesopotamia included Sumer and the...

 and is among the earliest known works of literature
Ancient literature
The history of literature begins with the history of writing, in Bronze Age Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt.Writing develops out of proto-literate sign systems by the 30th century BC, although the oldest literary texts that have come down to us are several centuries younger, dating to the 27th or...

. Scholars believe that it originated as a series of Sumer
Sumer
Sumer was a civilization and historical region in southern Mesopotamia, modern Iraq during the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age....

ian legends and poems about the protagonist of the story, Gilgamesh
Gilgamesh
Gilgamesh was the fifth king of Uruk, modern day Iraq , placing his reign ca. 2500 BC. According to the Sumerian king list he reigned for 126 years. In the Tummal Inscription, Gilgamesh, and his son Urlugal, rebuilt the sanctuary of the goddess Ninlil, in Tummal, a sacred quarter in her city of...

 king of Uruk
Uruk
Uruk was an ancient city of Sumer and later Babylonia, situated east of the present bed of the Euphrates river, on the ancient dry former channel of the Euphrates River, some 30 km east of modern As-Samawah, Al-Muthannā, Iraq.Uruk gave its name to the Uruk...

, which were fashioned into a longer Akkadian
Akkadian language
Akkadian is an extinct Semitic language that was spoken in ancient Mesopotamia. The earliest attested Semitic language, it used the cuneiform writing system derived ultimately from ancient Sumerian, an unrelated language isolate...

 epic much later. The most complete version existing today is preserved on 12 clay tablets from the library collection
Library of Ashurbanipal
-External links:. In our time discussion programme. 45 minutes....

 of 7th-century BC Assyria
Assyria
Assyria was a Semitic Akkadian kingdom, extant as a nation state from the mid–23rd century BC to 608 BC centred on the Upper Tigris river, in northern Mesopotamia , that came to rule regional empires a number of times through history. It was named for its original capital, the ancient city of Assur...

n king Ashurbanipal
Ashurbanipal
Ashurbanipal |Ashur]] is creator of an heir"; 685 BC – c. 627 BC), also spelled Assurbanipal or Ashshurbanipal, was an Assyrian king, the son of Esarhaddon and the last great king of the Neo-Assyrian Empire...

. The epic was originally titled in Akkadian Sha naqba īmuru ("He who Saw the Deep") or Shūtur eli sharrī ("Surpassing All Other Kings"), the opening words
Incipit
Incipit is a Latin word meaning "it begins". The incipit of a text, such as a poem, song, or book, is the first few words of its opening line. In music, it can also refer to the opening notes of a composition. Before the development of titles, texts were often referred to by their incipits...

 in different versions.

The story revolves around a relationship between Gilgamesh and his close male companion, Enkidu
Enkidu
Enkidu is a central figure in the Ancient Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh. Enkidu was first created by Anu, the sky god, to rid Gilgamesh of his arrogance. In the story he is a wild-man raised by animals and ignorant of human society until he is bedded by Shamhat...

.
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Encyclopedia
Epic of Gilgamesh is an epic poem
Epic poetry
An epic is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily concerning a serious subject containing details of heroic deeds and events significant to a culture or nation. Oral poetry may qualify as an epic, and Albert Lord and Milman Parry have argued that classical epics were fundamentally an oral poetic form...

 from Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia is a toponym for the area of the Tigris–Euphrates river system, largely corresponding to modern-day Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and southwestern Iran.Widely considered to be the cradle of civilization, Bronze Age Mesopotamia included Sumer and the...

 and is among the earliest known works of literature
Ancient literature
The history of literature begins with the history of writing, in Bronze Age Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt.Writing develops out of proto-literate sign systems by the 30th century BC, although the oldest literary texts that have come down to us are several centuries younger, dating to the 27th or...

. Scholars believe that it originated as a series of Sumer
Sumer
Sumer was a civilization and historical region in southern Mesopotamia, modern Iraq during the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age....

ian legends and poems about the protagonist of the story, Gilgamesh
Gilgamesh
Gilgamesh was the fifth king of Uruk, modern day Iraq , placing his reign ca. 2500 BC. According to the Sumerian king list he reigned for 126 years. In the Tummal Inscription, Gilgamesh, and his son Urlugal, rebuilt the sanctuary of the goddess Ninlil, in Tummal, a sacred quarter in her city of...

 king of Uruk
Uruk
Uruk was an ancient city of Sumer and later Babylonia, situated east of the present bed of the Euphrates river, on the ancient dry former channel of the Euphrates River, some 30 km east of modern As-Samawah, Al-Muthannā, Iraq.Uruk gave its name to the Uruk...

, which were fashioned into a longer Akkadian
Akkadian language
Akkadian is an extinct Semitic language that was spoken in ancient Mesopotamia. The earliest attested Semitic language, it used the cuneiform writing system derived ultimately from ancient Sumerian, an unrelated language isolate...

 epic much later. The most complete version existing today is preserved on 12 clay tablets from the library collection
Library of Ashurbanipal
-External links:. In our time discussion programme. 45 minutes....

 of 7th-century BC Assyria
Assyria
Assyria was a Semitic Akkadian kingdom, extant as a nation state from the mid–23rd century BC to 608 BC centred on the Upper Tigris river, in northern Mesopotamia , that came to rule regional empires a number of times through history. It was named for its original capital, the ancient city of Assur...

n king Ashurbanipal
Ashurbanipal
Ashurbanipal |Ashur]] is creator of an heir"; 685 BC – c. 627 BC), also spelled Assurbanipal or Ashshurbanipal, was an Assyrian king, the son of Esarhaddon and the last great king of the Neo-Assyrian Empire...

. The epic was originally titled in Akkadian Sha naqba īmuru ("He who Saw the Deep") or Shūtur eli sharrī ("Surpassing All Other Kings"), the opening words
Incipit
Incipit is a Latin word meaning "it begins". The incipit of a text, such as a poem, song, or book, is the first few words of its opening line. In music, it can also refer to the opening notes of a composition. Before the development of titles, texts were often referred to by their incipits...

 in different versions.

The story revolves around a relationship between Gilgamesh and his close male companion, Enkidu
Enkidu
Enkidu is a central figure in the Ancient Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh. Enkidu was first created by Anu, the sky god, to rid Gilgamesh of his arrogance. In the story he is a wild-man raised by animals and ignorant of human society until he is bedded by Shamhat...

. Enkidu is a wild man created by the gods as Gilgamesh's equal to distract him from oppressing the citizens of Uruk. Together they undertake dangerous quests that incur the displeasure of the gods. Firstly, they journey to the Cedar Mountain to defeat Humbaba, its monstrous guardian. Later they kill the Bull of Heaven that the goddess Ishtar has sent to punish Gilgamesh for spurning her advances.

The latter part of the epic focuses on Gilgamesh's distressed reaction to Enkidu's death, which takes the form of a quest for immortality. Gilgamesh attempts to learn the secret of eternal life by undertaking a long and perilous journey to meet the immortal flood hero, Utnapishtim
Gilgamesh flood myth
The Gilgamesh flood myth is a deluge story in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Many scholars believe that the flood myth was added to Tablet XI in the "standard version" of the Gilgamesh Epic by an editor who utilized the flood story from the Epic of Atrahasis...

. Ultimately the poignant words addressed to Gilgamesh in the midst of his quest foreshadow the end result: "The life that you are seeking you will never find. When the gods created man they allotted to him death, but life they retained in their own keeping." Gilgamesh, however, was celebrated by posterity for his building achievements, and for bringing back long-lost cultic knowledge to Uruk as a result of his meeting with Utnapishtim. The story is widely read in translation, and the protagonist, Gilgamesh, has become an icon of popular culture.

History



Many original and distinct sources exist over a 2,000-year timeframe, but only the oldest and those from a late period have yielded significant enough finds to enable a coherent intro-translation. Therefore, the old Sumerian
Sumerian language
Sumerian is the language of ancient Sumer, which was spoken in southern Mesopotamia since at least the 4th millennium BC. During the 3rd millennium BC, there developed a very intimate cultural symbiosis between the Sumerians and the Akkadians, which included widespread bilingualism...

 poems, and a later Akkadian
Akkadian language
Akkadian is an extinct Semitic language that was spoken in ancient Mesopotamia. The earliest attested Semitic language, it used the cuneiform writing system derived ultimately from ancient Sumerian, an unrelated language isolate...

 version, which is now referred to as the standard edition, are the most frequently referenced. The standard edition is the basis of modern translations, and the old version only supplements the standard version when the lacunae
Lacuna (manuscripts)
A lacunaPlural lacunae. From Latin lacūna , diminutive form of lacus . is a gap in a manuscript, inscription, text, painting, or a musical work...

 — or gaps in the cuneiform tablet — are great.

Note that although revised versions based on newly discovered information have been published, the epic is not complete.

The earliest Sumerian poems are now considered to be distinct stories rather than constituting a single epic. They date from as early as the Third Dynasty of Ur
Third Dynasty of Ur
The Third Dynasty of Ur, also known as the Neo-Sumerian Empire or the Ur III Empire refers simultaneously to a 21st to 20th century BC Sumerian ruling dynasty based in the city of Ur and a short-lived territorial-political state that some historians regard as a nascent empire...

 (2150-2000 BC). The earliest Akkadian versions are dated to the early second millennium , most likely in the eighteenth or seventeenth century BC, when one or more authors used existing literary material to form the epic of Gilgamesh. The "standard" Akkadian version, consisting of 12 tablets, was edited by Sin-liqe-unninni
Sin-liqe-unninni
Sîn-lēqi-unninni was an incantation/exorcist priest who lived in Mesopotamia in the period between 1300 BC and 1000 BC. He is the compiler of the best preserved version of the Epic of Gilgamesh. His name is listed in the text itself, which is unusual for works written in cuneiform...

 sometime between 1300 and 1000 BC and was found in the library of Ashurbanipal
Ashurbanipal
Ashurbanipal |Ashur]] is creator of an heir"; 685 BC – c. 627 BC), also spelled Assurbanipal or Ashshurbanipal, was an Assyrian king, the son of Esarhaddon and the last great king of the Neo-Assyrian Empire...

 in Nineveh
Nineveh
Nineveh was an ancient Assyrian city on the eastern bank of the Tigris River, and capital of the Neo Assyrian Empire. Its ruins are across the river from the modern-day major city of Mosul, in the Ninawa Governorate of Iraq....

.

The Epic of Gilgamesh was discovered by Hormuzd Rassam
Hormuzd Rassam
Hormuzd Rassam , was a native Assyrian Assyriologist, British diplomat and traveller who made a number of important discoveries, including the clay tablets that contained the Epic of Gilgamesh, the world's oldest literature...

 in 1853 and is widely known today. The first modern translation of the epic was published in the early 1870s by George Smith
George Smith (assyriologist)
George Smith , was a pioneering English Assyriologist who first discovered and translated the Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest-known written work of literature.-Early life and early career:...

. More recent translations into English include one undertaken with the assistance of the American novelist John Gardner, and John Maier, published in 1984. In 2001, Benjamin Foster produced a reading in the Norton Critical Edition Series that fills in many of the blanks of the standard edition with previous material.

The most definitive translation is contained in a two-volume critical work by Andrew George
Andrew R. George
Andrew R. George is a British academic best known for his translations of The Epic of Gilgamesh. Andrew George is Professor of Babylonian, Department of the Languages and Cultures of Near and Middle East at the University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies.-Books by Andrew...

. This represents the fullest treatment of the standard edition material. George discusses at length the archaeological state of the material, provides a tablet-by-tablet exegesis
Exegesis
Exegesis is a critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially a religious text. Traditionally the term was used primarily for exegesis of the Bible; however, in contemporary usage it has broadened to mean a critical explanation of any text, and the term "Biblical exegesis" is used...

, and furnishes a dual language side-by-side translation. This translation was also published in a general reader edition under the Penguin Classics imprint in 2000. In 2004, Stephen Mitchell released a controversial edition, which is his interpretation of previous scholarly translations into what he calls "a new English version", published by FreePress, a division of Simon and Schuster. The first direct Arabic translation from the original tablets was in the 1960s by the Iraqi archeologist Taha Baqir
Taha Baqir
Taha Baqir was an Iraqi archaeologist, author, cuneiformist, linguist, historian, and former curator of the National Museum of Iraq.Baqir is considered one of Iraq's most eminent archaeologists...

.

The discovery of artifacts (ca. 2600 BC) associated with Enmebaragesi
Enmebaragesi
Enmebaragesi was a king of Kish, according to the Sumerian king list. The list states that he subdued Elam, reigned 900 years, and was captured single-handedly by Dumuzid "the fisherman" of Kuara, predecessor of Gilgamesh.He is the earliest ruler on the king list whose name is attested directly...

 of Kish
Kish (Sumer)
Kish is modern Tell al-Uhaymir , and was an ancient city of Sumer. Kish is located some 12 km east of Babylon, and 80 km south of Baghdad ....

, who is mentioned in the legends as the father of one of Gilgamesh's adversaries, has lent credibility to the historical existence of Gilgamesh.

Standard Akkadian version


The standard version was discovered by Austen Henry Layard
Austen Henry Layard
Sir Austen Henry Layard GCB, PC was a British traveller, archaeologist, cuneiformist, art historian, draughtsman, collector, author, politician and diplomat, best known as the excavator of Nimrud.-Family:...

 in the library of Ashurbanipal
Library of Ashurbanipal
-External links:. In our time discussion programme. 45 minutes....

 in Nineveh
Nineveh
Nineveh was an ancient Assyrian city on the eastern bank of the Tigris River, and capital of the Neo Assyrian Empire. Its ruins are across the river from the modern-day major city of Mosul, in the Ninawa Governorate of Iraq....

 in 1849. It was written in standard Babylonian, a dialect of Akkadian that was only used for literary purposes. This version was compiled by Sin-liqe-unninni
Sin-liqe-unninni
Sîn-lēqi-unninni was an incantation/exorcist priest who lived in Mesopotamia in the period between 1300 BC and 1000 BC. He is the compiler of the best preserved version of the Epic of Gilgamesh. His name is listed in the text itself, which is unusual for works written in cuneiform...

 sometime between 1300 and 1000 BC out of older legends.

The standard version and earlier old Babylonian version are differentiated based on the opening words, or incipit
Incipit
Incipit is a Latin word meaning "it begins". The incipit of a text, such as a poem, song, or book, is the first few words of its opening line. In music, it can also refer to the opening notes of a composition. Before the development of titles, texts were often referred to by their incipits...

. The older version begins with the words "Surpassing all other kings", while the standard version's incipit is "He who saw the deep" (ša nagba īmuru). The Akkadian word nagbu, "deep", is probably to be interpreted here as referring to "unknown mysteries". However, Andrew George believes that it refers to the specific knowledge that Gilgamesh brought back from his meeting with Uta-Napishti (Utnapishtim): he gains knowledge of the realm of Ea
Enki
Enki is a god in Sumerian mythology, later known as Ea in Akkadian and Babylonian mythology. He was originally patron god of the city of Eridu, but later the influence of his cult spread throughout Mesopotamia and to the Canaanites, Hittites and Hurrians...

, whose cosmic realm is seen as the fountain of wisdom. In general, interpreters feel that Gilgamesh was given knowledge of how to worship the gods, of why death was ordained for human beings, of what makes a good king, and of the true nature of how to live a good life. Utnapishtim, the hero of the flood myth, tells his story to Gilgamesh, which is related to the Babylonian Epic of Atrahasis.

The 12th tablet is appended to the epic representing a sequel to the original 11, and was most probably added at a later date. This tablet has commonly been omitted until recent years. It has the startling narrative inconsistency of introducing Enkidu alive, and bears seemingly little relation to the well-crafted and finished 11-tablet epic; indeed, the epic is framed around a ring structure in which the beginning lines of the epic are quoted at the end of the 11th tablet to give it at the same time circularity and finality. Tablet 12 is actually a near copy of an earlier Sumerian tale, a prequel, in which Gilgamesh sends Enkidu to retrieve some objects of his from the Underworld, but Enkidu dies and returns in the form of a spirit to relate the nature of the Underworld to Gilgamesh.
Tablet one

The story starts with the introduction of Gilgamesh, king of Uruk
Uruk
Uruk was an ancient city of Sumer and later Babylonia, situated east of the present bed of the Euphrates river, on the ancient dry former channel of the Euphrates River, some 30 km east of modern As-Samawah, Al-Muthannā, Iraq.Uruk gave its name to the Uruk...

. Gilgamesh, two-thirds god and one-third man, oppresses the city's citizens who cry out to the gods for help. For the young women of Uruk this oppression takes the form of a droit de seigneur
Droit de seigneur
Droit du seigneur is an alleged legal right allowing the lord of a medieval estate to take the virginity of his serfs' maiden daughters. There is no historical evidence that such a right ever existed.-Terminology:...

 — or "lord's right" — to newly married brides on their wedding night. For the young men it is conjectured that Gilgamesh exhausted them through games, tests of strength, or perhaps forced labour on building projects. The gods respond to the citizens' plea for intervention by creating an equal to Gilgamesh who will distract him from these objectionable activities. They create a primitive man, Enkidu
Enkidu
Enkidu is a central figure in the Ancient Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh. Enkidu was first created by Anu, the sky god, to rid Gilgamesh of his arrogance. In the story he is a wild-man raised by animals and ignorant of human society until he is bedded by Shamhat...

, who is covered in hair and lives in the wild with the animals. He is spotted by a trapper, as he has been uprooting traps and thus ruining the trapper's livelihood. The trapper tells Gilgamesh of the man and seduces Enkidu with a skilled harlot. His seduction by Shamhat
Shamhat
Shamhat is the name of a female character who appears in Tablets I/and II of the Epic of Gilgamesh-." Shamhat plays the integral role in Tablet I, of taming the wild man Enkidu, who was created by the gods as the rival to the mighty Gilgamesh...

, a temple prostitute, is the first step in his civilization, and she proposes to take him back to Uruk after making love for seven days. Gilgamesh, meanwhile, has been having dreams that relate to the imminent arrival of a new companion.
Tablet two

Shamhash brings Enkidu to the shepherds' camp where he is introduced to a human diet and becomes the camp's night watchman. Learning from a passing stranger about Gilgamesh's treatment of new brides, Enkidu is incensed and travels to Uruk to intervene at a wedding. When Gilgamesh attempts to visit the wedding chamber, Enkidu blocks his way and they fight. After a fierce battle, Enkidu acknowledges Gilgamesh's superior strength and they become friends. Gilgamesh proposes that they journey together to the Cedar Forest to slay the monstrous demi-god Humbaba
Humbaba
In Akkadian mythology Humbaba or Huwawa , also Humbaba the Terrible was a monstrous giant of immemorial age raised by Utu, the Sun...

, in order to gain fame and renown. Despite warnings from both Enkidu and the council of elders, Gilgamesh will not be deterred.
Tablet three

Enkidu was afraid to embark on the quest to the cedar forest to kill Humbaba with Gilgamesh. He advised Gilgamesh against it but Gilgamesh made up his mind that he was going to kill Humbaba and nothing was going to stop him. Gilgamesh and Enkidu made a vow to always protect each other so because of this vow Enkidu didnt want to let his friend and brother down. Gilgamesh calmed Enkidu down by saying that "There is nothing we should fear" Before they left, the elders of Uruk had to give them their blessings even though they knew that this quest was dangerous and there was a possibility that both of them would not make it back alive. Seeing that their king Gilgamesh and Enkidu were so confident and passionate about defeating Humbaba they had no choice but to back them up. After they left Uruk, they visited Ninsun, Gilgamesh's mother was also afraid for her sons. (She had adopted Enkidu as her son as well; she prayed for both their returns.
Tablet four

Gilgamesh and Enkidu journey to the Cedar Forest
Cedar Forest
The Cedar Forest is the glorious realm of the gods of Mesopotamian mythology. It is guarded by the demigod Humbaba and was once entered by the hero Gilgamesh who dared cut down trees from its virgin stands during his quest for immortality...

. Every few days they make camp on a hill or mountain to perform a dream ritual. Gilgamesh has five terrifying dreams that involve falling mountains, thunderstorms, wild bulls, and a thunderbird that breathes fire. Despite similarities between the dream figures and earlier descriptions of Humbaba, Enkidu interprets all of the dreams as good omens, denying that any of the frightening images represent the forest guardian. As they approach the cedar mountain, they hear Humbaba bellowing and have to encourage each other not to be afraid.
Tablet five

The heroes enter the cedar forest and their fears return. Humbaba
Humbaba
In Akkadian mythology Humbaba or Huwawa , also Humbaba the Terrible was a monstrous giant of immemorial age raised by Utu, the Sun...

, the ogre-guardian of the Cedar Forest, insults and threatens them. He accuses Enkidu of betrayal, then vows to disembowel Gilgamesh and feed his flesh to the birds. Gilgamesh is afraid, but with some encouraging words from Enkidu the battle commences. The mountains quake with the tumult and the sky turns black. The god Shamash
Shamash
Shamash was a native Mesopotamian deity and the sun god in the Akkadian, Assyrian and Babylonian pantheons. Shamash was the god of justice in Babylonia and Assyria, corresponding to Sumerian Utu...

 sends his 13 winds to bind Humbaba and he is captured. The monster pleads for his life, and Gilgamesh pities him. Enkidu, however, is enraged and asks Gilgamesh to kill the beast. Humbaba curses them both and Gilgamesh dispatches him with a blow to the neck. The two heroes cut down many cedars, including a gigantic tree that Enkidu plans to fashion into a gate for the temple of Enlil. They build a raft and return home along the Euphrates with the giant tree and the head of Humbaba.
Tablet six

Gilgamesh rejects the advances of the goddess Ishtar
Ishtar
Ishtar is the Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of fertility, love, war, and sex. She is the counterpart to the Sumerian Inanna and to the cognate north-west Semitic goddess Astarte.-Characteristics:...

 because of her mistreatment of previous lovers like Dumuzi. Ishtar asks her father Anu
Anu
In Sumerian mythology, Anu was a sky-god, the god of heaven, lord of constellations, king of gods, Consort of Antu, spirits and demons, and dwelt in the highest heavenly regions. It was believed that he had the power to judge those who had committed crimes, and that he had created the stars as...

 to send Gugalanna
Gugalanna
In Mesopotamian mythology, Gugalanna In Mesopotamian mythology, Gugalanna In Mesopotamian mythology, Gugalanna (lit. "The Great Bull of Heaven" In Mesopotamian mythology, Gugalanna (lit. "The Great Bull of Heaven" In Mesopotamian mythology, Gugalanna (lit...

 the "Bull of Heaven
Bull (mythology)
The worship of the Sacred Bull throughout the ancient world is most familiar to the Western world in the biblical episode of the idol of the Golden Calf. The Golden Calf after being made by the Hebrew people in the wilderness of Sinai, were rejected and destroyed by Moses and his tribe after his...

" to avenge her. When Anu rejects her complaints, Ishtar threatens to raise the dead who will "outnumber the living" and "devour them". Anu becomes frightened and gives in. The bull of heaven is led to Uruk by Ishtar, and causes widespread devastation. It dries up the reed beds and marshes, then dramatically lowers the level of the Euphrates river. It opens up huge pits in the ground that swallow 300 men. Enkidu and Gilgamesh attack and slay the beast without any divine assistance and offer up its heart to Shamash. When Ishtar cries out in agony, Enkidu hurls one of the bull's hindquarters at her. The city of Uruk celebrates, but Enkidu has an ominous dream.
Tablet seven

In Enkidu's dream, the gods decide that one of the heroes must die for slaying the Bull of Heaven and Humbaba. Despite the protestations of Shamash, Enkidu is marked for death. Enkidu considers the great door he fashioned for Enlil's temple, and curses it. He also curses Shamhat and the trapper for removing him from the wild. Then Shamash speaks from heaven, reminding Enkidu of how Shamhat fed and clothed him, and introduced him to Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh will bestow great honors upon him at his funeral, and will later wander the wild consumed with grief. Enkidu regrets his curses and blesses Shamhat, temporarily calmed. In a second dream, however, he sees himself being taken captive to the Netherworld by a terrifying Angel of Death. The underworld is a "house of dust" and darkness whose inhabitants eat clay and are clothed in bird feathers, supervised by terrifying beings. For twelve days, Enkidu's condition worsens. Finally, after a last lament that he could not meet a heroic death in battle, he dies.
Tablet eight

Gilgamesh delivers a long lamentation for Enkidu, in which he calls upon forests, mountains, fields, rivers, wild animals, and all of Uruk to mourn for his friend. Recalling their adventures together, Gilgamesh tears at his hair and clothes in grief. He commissions a funerary statue and provides valuable grave gifts from his treasury to ensure a favourable reception for Enkidu in the realm of the dead. A great banquet is held where the treasures are ceremonially offered to the gods of the Netherworld. There is a possible reference to the damming of a river before the text breaks off, which might suggest a riverbed burial as in the corresponding Sumerian poem, The Death of Gilgamesh.
Tablet nine

Tablet nine opens with Gilgamesh grieving for Enkidu and roaming the wild clothed in animal skins. Fearful of his own death, his object is to find the legendary Utnapishtim ("the Faraway"), and learn the secret of eternal life. Among the few survivors of the Great Flood, Utnapishtim and his wife are the only humans to have been granted immortality by the gods. Early in his travels, Gilgamesh crosses a mountain pass at night and encounters a pride of lions. He prays for protection to the moon god Sin before sleeping. Then, waking from an encouraging dream, he slays the lions and takes their skins for clothing. Eventually, after a long and perilous journey, Gilgamesh comes to the twin peaks of Mount Mashu
Mashu
Mashu, as described in the Epic of Gilgamesh of Mesopotamian mythology, is a great cedar mountain through which the hero-king Gilgamesh passes via a tunnel on his journey to Dilmun after leaving the Cedar Forest, a forest of ten thousand leagues span. The corresponding location in reality has been...

 at the ends of the earth. The entrance, which no man has ever crossed, is guarded by two terrible scorpion-men. After questioning him and recognising his semi-divine nature, they allow Gilgamesh to pass and travel through the mountains along the Road of the Sun. He follows it for twelve "double hours" in complete darkness. Managing to complete the trip before the sun catches up to him, Gilgamesh arrives in a garden paradise full of jewel-laden trees.
Tablet ten

Gilgamesh meets the alewife Siduri
Siduri
Siduri is a character in the Epic of Gilgamesh. She is an "alewife", a wise female divinity associated with fermentation. In the Old Babylonian version of the Epic, she attempts to dissuade Gilgamesh in his quest for immortality, urging him to be content with the simple pleasures of life Siduri is...

, who first believes Gilgamesh is a murderer from his dishevelled appearance, and tells her the purpose of his journey. Siduri attempts to dissuade him from his quest but sends him to Urshanabi
Urshanabi
Urshanabi was the ferryman of the Hubur, river of the dead in Mesopotamian mythology. His equivalent in Greek Mythology was Charon.He is first mentioned in the myth of Enlil and Ninlil, where he is called SI.LU.IGI and described as a man. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Urshanabi is a companion of...

, the ferryman, to help him cross the sea to Utnapishtim. Urshanabi is in the company of stone-giants. Gilgamesh considers them hostile and kills them. When he tells Urshanabi his story and asks for help, he is told that he just killed the only creatures able to cross the Waters of Death. The Waters of Death, analogous to the River Styx
Styx
In Greek mythology the Styx is the river that forms the boundary between the underworld and the world of the living, as well as a goddess and a nymph that represents the river.Styx may also refer to:-Popular culture:...

 of Greek mythology, are deadly to the touch, so Urshanabi asks him to cut 300 trees and fashion them into punting poles. Finally, they reach the island of Utnapishtim. Utnapishtim sees that there is someone else in the boat and asks Gilgamesh who he is. Gilgamesh tells him his story and asks for help, but Utnapishtim reprimands him because fighting the common fate of humans is futile and diminishes life's joys.
Tablet eleven

Gilgamesh observes that Utnapishtim seems no different from himself, and asks him how he obtained immortality. Utnapishtim tells an ancient story of how the gods decide to send a great flood. The god Ea, however, warns him to build a boat and save himself. Precise dimensions are given, and it is sealed with pitch and bitumen. Utnapishtim's family go aboard, along with his craftsmen and 'all the animals of the field'. Next, a violent storm arises that causes the terrified gods to retreat to the heavens. Ishtar laments the wholesale destruction of humanity and the other gods weep beside her. The storm lasts six days and seven nights, after which 'all the human beings [have] turned to clay'. Utnapishtim, looking out, also weeps in response to the overwhelming destruction. The boat lodges on a mountain and, after seven more days, he releases a dove, a swallow, and a raven. When the latter fails to return, he opens the ark and releases its inhabitants. Utnapishtim offers sacrifice to the gods who smell the sweet savor and gather around. Belitili vows that, just as she will never forget the brilliant necklace that hangs around her neck, she will always remember this time. After she condemns the chief god Enlil for instigating the flood without thinking, he suddenly arrives, angry that anyone has survived. Then Ea speaks up and castigates him for sending a disproportionate punishment. Enlil, apparently contrite, blesses Utnapishtim and his wife, and rewards them with eternal life. This story is based on the flood myth that concludes the Epic of Atrahasis (see also Gilgamesh flood myth
Gilgamesh flood myth
The Gilgamesh flood myth is a deluge story in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Many scholars believe that the flood myth was added to Tablet XI in the "standard version" of the Gilgamesh Epic by an editor who utilized the flood story from the Epic of Atrahasis...

).

The main point seems to be that Utnapishtim was granted eternal life in unique, never to be repeated circumstances. As if to demonstrate this point, Utnapishtim challenges Gilgamesh to stay awake for six days and seven nights. However, as soon as Utnapishtim finishes speaking Gilgamesh falls asleep. Utnapishtim instructs his wife to bake a loaf of bread for every day he is asleep so that Gilgamesh cannot deny his failure. Gilgamesh, who wants to overcome death, cannot even conquer sleep! After instructing his ferryman to wash Gilgamesh and clothe him in royal robes, Utnapishtim sends the pair back to Uruk.

As they are leaving, Utnapishtim's wife asks her husband to offer a parting gift. Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh of a boxthorn
Boxthorn
Boxthorn is a genus of the nightshade family , containing about 90 species of plants native throughout much of the temperate and subtropical zones of the world...

-like plant at the very bottom of the ocean that will make him young again. Gilgamesh obtains the plant by binding stones to his feet so he can walk on the bottom of the sea. He recovers the plant and plans to test it on an old man when he returns to Uruk. Unfortunately, when Gilgamesh stops to bathe it is stolen by a serpent
Serpent (symbolism)
Serpent in Latin means: Rory Collins :&, in turn, from the Biblical Hebrew word of: "saraf" with root letters of: which refers to something burning-as, the pain of poisonous snake's bite was likened to internal burning.This word is commonly used in a specifically mythic or religious context,...

 that sheds its skin as it departs. Gilgamesh weeps at the futility of his efforts, having now lost all chance of immortality. He then returns to Uruk, where the sight of its massive walls prompts him to praise this enduring work to Urshanabi.
Tablet twelve

This tablet is to a large extent an Akkadian translation of an earlier Sumerian poem, Gilgamesh and the Netherworld (also known as "Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Netherworld" and variants), although it has been suggested that it is based on an unknown version of that story. The contents of this last tablet are inconsistent with previous ones: Enkidu is still alive, despite having been killed off earlier in the epic. Because of this, its lack of integration with the other tablets, and the fact that it is almost a copy of an earlier version, it has been referred to as an 'inorganic appendage' to the epic. Alternatively, it has been suggested that "its purpose, though crudely handled, is to explain to Gilgamesh (and the reader) the various fates of the dead in the Afterlife" as "an awkward attempt to bring closure", a connection between the Gilgamesh in the epic and the Gilgamesh as King of the Netherworld in Mesopotamian religion, or even "a dramatic capstone whereby the twelve-tablet epic ends on one and the same theme, that of "seeing" (= understanding, discovery, etc.), with which it began."

Gilgamesh complains to Enkidu that various objects he possessed (the tablet is unclear exactly what — different translations include a drum and a ball) fell into the underworld. Enkidu offers to bring them back. Delighted, Gilgamesh tells Enkidu what he must and must not do in the underworld in order to come back. Enkidu does everything he was told not to do. The underworld keeps him. Gilgamesh prays to the gods to give him his friend back. Enlil
Enlil
Elizabeth Barrett Browning was one of the most prominent poets of the Victorian era. Her poetry was widely popular in both England and the United States during her lifetime. A collection of her last poems was published by her husband, Robert Browning, shortly after her death.-Early life:Members...

 and Suen don’t bother to reply but Ea
Enki
Enki is a god in Sumerian mythology, later known as Ea in Akkadian and Babylonian mythology. He was originally patron god of the city of Eridu, but later the influence of his cult spread throughout Mesopotamia and to the Canaanites, Hittites and Hurrians...

 and Shamash
Shamash
Shamash was a native Mesopotamian deity and the sun god in the Akkadian, Assyrian and Babylonian pantheons. Shamash was the god of justice in Babylonia and Assyria, corresponding to Sumerian Utu...

 decide to help. Shamash cracks a hole in the earth and Enkidu's ghost jumps out of it. The tablet ends with Gilgamesh questioning Enkidu about what he has seen in the underworld.

Old-Babylonian versions


All tablets except for the second and third are from different origins than the above, so this summary is made up out of different versions.
  1. Tablet missing
  2. Gilgamesh tells his mother Ninsun about two dreams he had. His mother explains that they mean that a new companion will soon arrive at Uruk. In the meanwhile Enkidu and the harlot (here called Shamkatum) are making love. She civilizes him in company of the shepherds by offering him bread and beer. Enkidu helps the shepherds by guarding the sheep. They travel to Uruk where Gilgamesh and Enkidu finally meet. Enkidu and Gilgamesh battle but Gilgamesh breaks off the fight. Enkidu praises Gilgamesh as a special person.
  3. The tablet is broken here but it seems that Gilgamesh has offered the plan to go the Pine Forest to cut trees and kill Humbaba (known here as Huwawa). Enkidu protests, he knows Huwawa and is aware of his power. Gilgamesh talks Enkidu into it with some words of encouragement but Enkidu remains reluctant. They start preparation and call for the elders. The elders also protest but after Gilgamesh talks to them they wish him good luck.
  4. 1(?) tablet missing
  5. Fragments from two different versions/tablets tell how Enkidu encourages Gilgamesh to slay Humwawa. Notable here is mention of Huwawa's "seven auras" that are not referred to in the standard version. When Gilgamesh slays Huwawa they cut part of the forest. Enkidu cuts a door of wood for Enlil
    Enlil
    Elizabeth Barrett Browning was one of the most prominent poets of the Victorian era. Her poetry was widely popular in both England and the United States during her lifetime. A collection of her last poems was published by her husband, Robert Browning, shortly after her death.-Early life:Members...

     and lets it float down the Euphrates.
  6. Tablets missing
  7. Gilgamesh argues with Shamash the futility of his quest. The tablet is damaged. We then find Gilgamesh talking with Siduri about his quest and his journey to meet Ut-Napishtim (here called Uta-na’ishtim). Siduri also questions his goals. Gilgamesh smashes the stone creatures and talks to the ferryman Urshanabi (here called Sur-sunabu). After a short discussion Sur-sunabu asks Gilgamesh to cut 300 oars so that they may cross the waters of death without the crew of stone creatures. The rest of the tablet is damaged.
  8. Tablet(s)

The Sumerian poems


There are five extant Gilgamesh poems in Sumerian. These probably circulated independently, rather than in the form of a unified epic. Note that the names of some of the main characters in these poems differ slightly from later Akkadian names, and that there are some significant differences in the underlying stories (e.g. in Sumerian, Enkidu is simply Gilgamesh's servant):
  1. Gilgamesh and Humbaba (corresponds to the Cedar Forest
    Cedar Forest
    The Cedar Forest is the glorious realm of the gods of Mesopotamian mythology. It is guarded by the demigod Humbaba and was once entered by the hero Gilgamesh who dared cut down trees from its virgin stands during his quest for immortality...

     episode (tablets 3-5) in the Akkadian version).
  2. Gilgamesh and the Bull of Heaven (corresponds to the Bull of Heaven episode (tablet 6) in the Akkadian version. The Bull's voracious appetite causes drought and hardship in the land).
  3. Gilgamesh and Aga (Gilgamesh vs. Aga of Kish
    Aga of Kish
    Aga is listed on the Sumerian King List as the last king in the first Dynasty of Kish.Aga is mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh as having besieged Uruk...

    , no corresponding episode in the epic, but the themes of whether to show mercy to captives, and cautious counsel from the city elders reoccur in the standard version of the Humbaba story).
  4. Gilgamesh, Enkidu and the Netherworld (corresponds to tablet 12 in the Akkadian version).
  5. The Death of Gilgamesh (this is the story of Gilgamesh's, rather than Enkidu's, death).

Relationship to the Bible



Various themes, plot elements, and characters in the Epic of Gilgamesh can also be found in the Hebrew Bible in the stories of Adam and Eve
Adam and Eve
Adam and Eve were, according to the Genesis creation narratives, the first human couple to inhabit Earth, created by YHWH, the God of the ancient Hebrews...

 in the Garden of Eden
Garden of Eden
The Garden of Eden is in the Bible's Book of Genesis as being the place where the first man, Adam, and his wife, Eve, lived after they were created by God. Literally, the Bible speaks about a garden in Eden...

 (both stories involve a serpent) and the story of Noah
Noah
Noah was, according to the Hebrew Bible, the tenth and last of the antediluvian Patriarchs. The biblical story of Noah is contained in chapters 6–9 of the book of Genesis, where he saves his family and representatives of all animals from the flood by constructing an ark...

 and the Flood.

The parallels between the stories of Enkidu/Shamhat and Adam/Eve have been long recognized by scholars. In both, a man is created from the earth in the image of God (Anu in Gilgamesh). He lives in a natural setting with animals for companions. A woman is introduced who tempts him and there are specific references to sexual relations. The woman feeds the man, they clothe themselves to cover their nakedness, and become "wise" and "like god". Eventually, they leave to enter into a new phase of existence, unable to return to their former state.

Most scholars accept the priority of the Mesopotamian flood story. Andrew R. George
Andrew R. George
Andrew R. George is a British academic best known for his translations of The Epic of Gilgamesh. Andrew George is Professor of Babylonian, Department of the Languages and Cultures of Near and Middle East at the University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies.-Books by Andrew...

, known for his translations of the epic, notes that "...the Flood episode in Gen. 6-8 matches the older Babylonian myth so well in plot, and particularly, in details, few doubt that Noah's story is descended from a Mesopotamian account". What is particularly noticeable, according to another scholar, is the way the Genesis flood story follows the Gilgamesh flood tale "point by point and in the same order", even when the logic of the story permits other alternatives.

Other parallels


Matthias Henze suggests that the story of Nebuchadnezzar's madness in the biblical book of Daniel draws on the Epic of Gilgamesh. He argues that the author of Daniel uses elements from the description of primitive, uncivilized Enkidu to paint a sarcastic and mocking portrait of the king of Babylon.

A number of scholars also propose influence on the book of Ecclesiastes. The speech of Sidhuri in an old Babylonian version of the epic is so similar to Ecclesiastes 9:7-10 that direct literary influence is a genuine possibility. A similar case involves a saying about the strength of a triple stranded rope, apparently unique to Gilgamesh and Ecclesiastes (4:12).

Influence on later literature



According to the Greek scholar Ioannis Kakridis
Ioannis Kakridis
Ioannis Kakridis was a Greek classical scholar.He was born in Athens in 1901 and received his PhD at the University of Athens. He went on to become a professor at the universities of Athens, Thessaloniki, Tübingen, Stockholm, Lund and Uppsala. Kakridis was a Homer scholar and one of most...

, there are a large number of parallel verses as well as themes or episodes which indicate a substantial influence of the Epic of Gilgamesh on the Odyssey
Odyssey
The Odyssey is one of two major ancient Greek epic poems attributed to Homer. It is, in part, a sequel to the Iliad, the other work ascribed to Homer. The poem is fundamental to the modern Western canon, and is the second—the Iliad being the first—extant work of Western literature...

, the Greek epic poem ascribed to Homer
Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

.

The Alexander the Great myth in Islam
Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

ic and Syria
Syria
Syria , officially the Syrian Arab Republic , is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest....

n cultures is also considered to be influenced by the Gilgamesh story. Alexander wanders through a region of darkness and terror in search of the water of life
Fountain of Youth
The Fountain of Youth is a legendary spring that reputedly restores the youth of anyone who drinks of its waters. Tales of such a fountain have been recounted across the world for thousands of years, appearing in writings by Herodotus, the Alexander romance, and the stories of Prester John...

. He faces strange encounters, reaches the water but, like Gilgamesh, fails to become immortal. He also comes to the spot at which the sun rises from the Earth.

In popular culture


The Epic of Gilgamesh has directly inspired almost a hundred manifestations of literature, art, music, and popular culture, as identified by Theodore Ziolkowski
Theodore Ziolkowski
Theodore Ziolkowski, born 1932 in Birmingham, Alabama, is a scholar in the fields of German studies and comparative literature. He received an A.B. from Duke University in 1951, an A.M. from Duke in 1952 and, following studies at the University of Innsbruck, his Ph.D from Yale University in 1957...

 in the book Gilgamesh Among Us: Modern Encounters With the Ancient Epic (2011). It was only during and after the First World War that the first reliable translations of the epic appeared that reached a wide audience, and it was only after the Second World War that the epic of Gilgamesh began to make itself felt more broadly in a variety of genres.

See also


  • List of artifacts significant to the Bible
  • Sumerian literature
    Sumerian literature
    Sumerian literature is the literature written in the Sumerian language during the Middle Bronze Age. Most Sumerian literature is preserved indirectly, via Assyrian or Babylonian copies....

  • Babylonian literature
    Babylonian literature
    Akkadian literature is the ancient literature written in the Akkadian language written in Mesopotamia  during the period spanning the Middle Bronze Age to the Iron Age .Drawing on the traditions of Sumerian literature, the Babylonians compiled a substantial textual tradition of mythological...

  • Atra-Hasis
    Atra-Hasis
    The 18th century BCE Akkadian epic of Atra-Hasis is named after its protagonist. An "Atra-Hasis" appears on one of the Sumerian king lists as king of Shuruppak in the times before the flood. The Atra-Hasis tablets include both a creation myth and a flood account, which is one of three surviving...

  • Sumerian creation myth
    Sumerian creation myth
    The earliest record of the Sumerian creation myth and flood myth is found on a single fragmentary tablet excavated in Nippur, sometimes called the Eridu Genesis. It is written in the Sumerian language and datable by its script to 2150 BC, during the first Babylonian dynasty, where the language of...

  • Deluge (mythology)
  • Gilgamesh flood myth
    Gilgamesh flood myth
    The Gilgamesh flood myth is a deluge story in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Many scholars believe that the flood myth was added to Tablet XI in the "standard version" of the Gilgamesh Epic by an editor who utilized the flood story from the Epic of Atrahasis...

  • Girugamesh
    Girugamesh
    is a Japanese visual kei rock band, formed in 2003. The name is derived from the ancient king Gilgamesh, and is sometimes typeset with a metal umlaut as girugämesh.-2004-2006: Formation:...

  • Panbabylonism
    Panbabylonism
    Panbabylonism is a school of thought within Assyriology and Religious Studies that considers the Hebrew Bible and Judaism as directly derived from Babylonian culture and mythology...

  • The Tower of Druaga
  • Book of Giants
  • Cattle in Religion

Editions

Glossary, Appendices, Appendix (Chapter XII=Tablet XII). A line-by-line translation (Chapters I-XI). First published in 1970 by Houghton Mifflin; Mentor Books paperback published 1972.
  • Sandars, N. K. (2006). The Epic of Gilgamesh (Penguin Epics). ISBN 0141026286 — re-print of the Penguin Classic translation (in prose) by N. K. Sandars 1960 (ISBN 014044100X) without the introduction.

External links