Gilgamesh

Gilgamesh

Overview
Gilgamesh (ˈɡɪl.ɡə.mɛʃ, Akkadian cuneiform
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...

: [], Gilgameš, also known as Bilgames in the earliest Sumerian texts) was the fifth 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...

, modern day Iraq (Early Dynastic II, first dynasty of Uruk), placing his reign ca. 2500 BC. According to the Sumerian king list
Sumerian king list
The Sumerian King List is an ancient manuscript originally recorded in the Sumerian language, listing kings of Sumer from Sumerian and neighboring dynasties, their supposed reign lengths, and the locations of "official" kingship...

 he reigned for 126 years. In the Tummal Inscription, Gilgamesh, and his son Urlugal, rebuilt the sanctuary of the goddess Ninlil
Ninlil
In Sumerian religion, Ninlil , also called Sud, in Assyrian called Mullitu, is the consort goddess of Enlil. Her parentage is variously described. Most commonly she is called the daughter of Haia and Nunbarsegunu...

, in Tummal, a sacred quarter in her city of Nippur
Nippur
Nippur was one of the most ancient of all the Sumerian cities. It was the special seat of the worship of the Sumerian god Enlil, the "Lord Wind," ruler of the cosmos subject to An alone...

.
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Gilgamesh (ˈɡɪl.ɡə.mɛʃ, Akkadian cuneiform
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...

: [], Gilgameš, also known as Bilgames in the earliest Sumerian texts) was the fifth 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...

, modern day Iraq (Early Dynastic II, first dynasty of Uruk), placing his reign ca. 2500 BC. According to the Sumerian king list
Sumerian king list
The Sumerian King List is an ancient manuscript originally recorded in the Sumerian language, listing kings of Sumer from Sumerian and neighboring dynasties, their supposed reign lengths, and the locations of "official" kingship...

 he reigned for 126 years. In the Tummal Inscription, Gilgamesh, and his son Urlugal, rebuilt the sanctuary of the goddess Ninlil
Ninlil
In Sumerian religion, Ninlil , also called Sud, in Assyrian called Mullitu, is the consort goddess of Enlil. Her parentage is variously described. Most commonly she is called the daughter of Haia and Nunbarsegunu...

, in Tummal, a sacred quarter in her city of Nippur
Nippur
Nippur was one of the most ancient of all the Sumerian cities. It was the special seat of the worship of the Sumerian god Enlil, the "Lord Wind," ruler of the cosmos subject to An alone...

. Gilgamesh is the central character in the Epic of Gilgamesh
Epic of Gilgamesh
Epic of Gilgamesh is an epic poem from Mesopotamia and is among the earliest known works of literature. Scholars believe that it originated as a series of Sumerian legends and poems about the protagonist of the story, Gilgamesh king of Uruk, which were fashioned into a longer Akkadian epic much...

,
the greatest surviving work of early Mesopotamian literature. In the epic his father was Lugalbanda
Lugalbanda
Lugalbanda is a character found in Sumerian mythology and literature. His name is composed of two Sumerian words meaning "young king" . Lugalbanda is listed in the postdiluvian period of the Sumerian king list as the second king of Uruk, saying he ruled for 1,200 years, and providing him with the...

 and his mother was Ninsun
Ninsun
In Sumerian mythology, Ninsun or Ninsuna is a goddess, best known as the mother of the legendary hero Gilgamesh, and as the tutelary goddess of Gudea of Lagash. Her parents are the deities Anu and Uras.-Myths:...

 (whom some call Rimat Ninsun), a goddess. In Mesopotamian mythology, Gilgamesh is a demigod
Demigod
The term "demigod" , meaning "half-god", is commonly used to describe mythological figures whose one parent was a god and whose other parent was human; as such, demigods are human-god hybrids...

 of superhuman strength who built the city walls of Uruk to defend his people from external threats, and travelled to meet the sage Utnapishtim, who had survived the Great Deluge. He is usually described as two-thirds god and one third man.

Cuneiform references



In the Epic of Gilgamesh
Epic of Gilgamesh
Epic of Gilgamesh is an epic poem from Mesopotamia and is among the earliest known works of literature. Scholars believe that it originated as a series of Sumerian legends and poems about the protagonist of the story, Gilgamesh king of Uruk, which were fashioned into a longer Akkadian epic much...

, Gilgamesh is credited with the building of the legendary walls 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...

. An alternative version has Gilgamesh telling Urshanabi, the ferryman, that the city's walls were built by the Seven Sages
Seven Sages
The Seven Sages may refer to:* Saptarishi or Seven Sages of ancient India* Seven Sages of Greece* Apkallu, the Seven Sages in Ancient Mesopotamian tradition* Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove in China...

. In historical times, Sargon of Akkad
Sargon of Akkad
Sargon of Akkad, also known as Sargon the Great "the Great King" , was an Akkadian emperor famous for his conquest of the Sumerian city-states in the 23rd and 22nd centuries BC. The founder of the Dynasty of Akkad, Sargon reigned in the last quarter of the third millennium BC...

 claimed to have destroyed these walls to prove his military power.

Fragments of an epic text found in Me-Turan (modern Tell Haddad) relate that at the end of his life Gilgamesh was buried under the river bed. The people of Uruk diverted the flow of the Euphrates
Euphrates
The Euphrates is the longest and one of the most historically important rivers of Western Asia. Together with the Tigris, it is one of the two defining rivers of Mesopotamia...

 passing Uruk for the purpose of burying the dead king within the river bed. In April 2003, a German
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 expedition claimed to have discovered his last resting place.

It is generally accepted that Gilgamesh was a historical figure, since inscriptions have been found which confirm the historical existence of other figures associated with him: such as the kings 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...

 and Aga
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...

 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 ....

. If Gilgamesh was a historical king, he probably reigned in about the 26th century BC. Some of the earliest Sumerian texts spell his name as Bilgames. Initial difficulties in reading cuneiform resulted in Gilgamesh's making his re-entrance into world culture in 1872 as "Izdubar".

In most texts, Gilgamesh is written with the determinative
Determinative
A determinative, also known as a taxogram or semagram, is an ideogram used to mark semantic categories of words in logographic scripts which helps to disambiguate interpretation. They have no direct counterpart in spoken language, though they may derive historically from glyphs for real words, and...

 for divine beings (DINGIR
Dingir
Dingir is a cuneiform sign, most commonly the determinative for "deity" although it has related meanings as well. As a determinative, it is not pronounced, and is conventionally transliterated as a superscript "D" as in e.g. DInanna...

) - but there is no evidence for a contemporary cult, and the Sumerian Gilgamesh myths suggest that deification was a later development (unlike the case of the Akkad
Akkad
The Akkadian Empire was an empire centered in the city of Akkad and its surrounding region in Mesopotamia....

ian god kings). Over the centuries there was a gradual accretion of stories about him, some probably derived from the real lives of other historical figures, in particular Gudea
Gudea
Gudea was a ruler of the state of Lagash in Southern Mesopotamia who ruled ca. 2144 - 2124 BC. He probably did not come from the city, but had married Ninalla, daughter of the ruler Urbaba of Lagash, thus gaining entrance to the royal house of Lagash...

, the Second Dynasty ruler of Lagash
Lagash
Lagash is located northwest of the junction of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers and east of Uruk, about east of the modern town of Ash Shatrah. Lagash was one of the oldest cities of the Ancient Near East...

 (2144–2124 BC).

Later (non-cuneiform) references


In the Qumran
Qumran
Qumran is an archaeological site in the West Bank. It is located on a dry plateau about a mile inland from the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, near the Israeli settlement and kibbutz of Kalia...

 scroll known as Book of Giants (ca. 100 BC) the names of Gilgamesh and Humbaba
Humbaba
In Akkadian mythology Humbaba or Huwawa , also Humbaba the Terrible was a monstrous giant of immemorial age raised by Utu, the Sun...

 appear as two of the antediluvian
Antediluvian
The antediluvian period meaning "before the deluge" is the period referred to in the Bible between the Creation of the Earth and the Deluge . The narrative takes up chapters 1-6 of Genesis...

 giants (in consonantal form), rendered as glgmš and ḩwbbyš. This same text was later used in the Middle East by the Manichaean sects, and the Arabic form Jiljamish survives as the name of a demon according to the Egyptian cleric Al-Suyuti
Al-Suyuti
Jalaluddin Al-Suyuti also known as Ibn al-Kutub was an Egyptian writer, religious scholar, juristic expert and teacher whose works deal with a wide variety of subjects in Islamic theology. He was precocious and was already a teacher in 1462. In 1486, he was appointed to a chair in the mosque of...

 (ca. 1500).

The name Gilgamesh appears once in Greek, as "Gilgamos" (Γίλγαμος), in Aelian
Claudius Aelianus
Claudius Aelianus , often seen as just Aelian, born at Praeneste, was a Roman author and teacher of rhetoric who flourished under Septimius Severus and probably outlived Elagabalus, who died in 222...

, De Natura Animalium (On animals) 12.21 (ca. AD 200). In Aelian's story, the King of Babylon, Seuechorus or Euechorus, determined by oracle
Oracle
In Classical Antiquity, an oracle was a person or agency considered to be a source of wise counsel or prophetic predictions or precognition of the future, inspired by the gods. As such it is a form of divination....

 that his grandson Gilgamos would kill him, so he threw him out of a high tower. An eagle broke his fall, and the infant was found and raised by a gardener, eventually becoming king.

Theodore Bar Konai
Theodore Bar Konai
Theodore Bar Konai was a distinguished exegete and apologist of the Church of the East, who seems to have flourished at the end of the eighth century...

 (ca. AD 600), writing in Syriac, also mentions a king Gligmos, Gmigmos or Gamigos as last of a line of 12 kings who were contemporaneous with the patriarchs from Peleg to Abraham; this occurrence is also considered a vestige of Gilgamesh's former memory.

Original cuneiform text


Text translations



Translations for several legends of Gilgamesh in the Sumerian language
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...

 have been written by:
  • Black, J.A.,
  • Cunningham, G.,
  • Fluckiger-Hawker, E,
  • Stephen Mitchell
    • Stripped Books: Stephen Mitchell on Gilgamesh - a comic-book adaptation of a talk by Stephen Mitchell about the epic poem.
    • Mitchell's translation was also adapted as a radio play for Radio 3
      BBC Radio 3
      BBC Radio 3 is a national radio station operated by the BBC within the United Kingdom. Its output centres on classical music and opera, but jazz, world music, drama, culture and the arts also feature. The station is the world’s most significant commissioner of new music, and its New Generation...

       by Jeremy Howe
      Jeremy Howe
      Jeremy Howe is a professional Australian rules footballer currently playing with the Melbourne Football Club in the Australian Football League and their affiliate club, Casey Scorpions in the Victorian Football League....

      , first broadcast on Sunday 11 June 2006 from 19:30-21:30 http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/dramaon3/pip/gci75/
  • Robson, E.
    Eleanor Robson
    Eleanor Robson is a Reader in History and Philosophy of Science at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge University, vice-chair of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq and a Quondam Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford....

    ,
  • Zólyomi, G.,

Translation of The epic of Gilgamesh in Malayalam
  • Dr.A.Rajagopal Kamath

Readings

  • Recordings of modern scholars reading extracts from the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh in the original language (http://www.speechisfire.com).


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