Epic of Gilgamesh

Epic of Gilgamesh 
British Museum Flood Tablet.jpg
The Deluge tablet of the Gilgamesh epic in Akkadian
Writtenc. 2100 BC
Media typeclay tablet

The Epic of Gilgamesh (ʃ/)[1] is an epic poem from ancient Mesopotamia that is often regarded as the earliest surviving great work of literature. The literary history of Gilgamesh begins with five Sumerian poems about Bilgamesh (Sumerian for "Gilgamesh"), king of Uruk, dating from the Third Dynasty of Ur (c. 2100 BC). These independent stories were later used as source material for a combined epic in Akkadian. The first surviving version of this combined epic, known as the "Old Babylonian" version, dates to the 18th century BC and is titled after its incipit, Shūtur eli sharrī ("Surpassing All Other Kings"). Only a few tablets of it have survived. The later "standard" version dates from the 13th to the 10th centuries BC and bears the incipit Sha naqba īmuru ("He who Saw the Abyss", in modern terms: "He who Sees the Unknown"). Approximately two thirds of this longer, twelve-tablet version have been recovered. Some of the best copies were discovered in the library ruins of the 7th-century BC Assyrian king Ashurbanipal.

The first half of the story discusses Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, and Enkidu, a wild man created by the gods to stop Gilgamesh from oppressing the people of Uruk. After Enkidu becomes civilized through sexual initiation with a prostitute, he travels to Uruk, where he challenges Gilgamesh to a test of strength. Gilgamesh wins the contest; nonetheless, the two become friends. Together, they make a six-day journey to the legendary Cedar Forest, where they plan to slay the Guardian, Humbaba the Terrible, and cut down the sacred Cedar.[2] The goddess Ishtar sends the Bull of Heaven to punish Gilgamesh for spurning her advances. Gilgamesh and Enkidu kill the Bull of Heaven after which the gods decide to sentence Enkidu to death and kill him.

In the second half of the epic, distress over Enkidu's death causes Gilgamesh to undertake a long and perilous journey to discover the secret of eternal life. He eventually learns that "Life, which you look for, you will never find. For when the gods created man, they let death be his share, and life withheld in their own hands".[3][4] However, because of his great building projects, his account of Siduri's advice, and what the immortal man Utnapishtim told him about the Great Flood, Gilgamesh's fame survived well after his death with expanding interest in the Gilgamesh story which has been translated into many languages and is featured in works of popular fiction.


Ancient Assyrian statue currently in the Louvre, possibly representing Gilgamesh

Distinct sources exist from over a 2000-year timeframe. The earliest Sumerian poems are now generally considered to be distinct stories, rather than parts of a single epic.[5]:45 They date from as early as the Third Dynasty of Ur (c. 2100 BC).[5]:41–42 The Old Babylonian tablets (c. 1800 BC),[5]:45 are the earliest surviving tablets for a single Epic of Gilgamesh narrative.[6] The older Old Babylonian tablets and later Akkadian version are important sources for modern translations, with the earlier texts mainly used to fill in gaps (lacunae) in the later texts. Although several revised versions based on new discoveries have been published, the epic remains incomplete.[7] Analysis of the Old Babylonian text has been used to reconstruct possible earlier forms of the Epic of Gilgamesh.[8] The most recent Akkadian version (c. 1200 BC), also referred to as the standard version, consisting of twelve tablets, was edited by Sin-liqe-unninni[9] and was found in the Library of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh.[10]

...this discovery is evidently destined to excite a lively controversy. For the present the orthodox people are in great delight, and are very much prepossessed by the corroboration which it affords to Biblical history. It is possible, however, as has been pointed out, that the Chaldean inscription, if genuine, may be regarded as a confirmation of the statement that there are various traditions of the deluge apart from the Biblical one, which is perhaps legendary like the rest

The New York Times, front page, 1872[11]

The Epic of Gilgamesh was discovered by Austen Henry Layard, Hormuzd Rassam, and W. K. Loftus in 1853.[12] The central character of Gilgamesh was initially reintroduced to the world as "Izdubar", before the cuneiform logographs in his name could be pronounced accurately. The first modern translation was published in the early 1870s by George Smith.[13] Smith then made further discoveries of texts on his later expeditions, which culminated in his final translation which is given in his book The Chaldaean Account of Genesis (1880).

The most definitive modern translation is a two-volume critical work by Andrew George, published by Oxford University Press in 2003. A book review by the Cambridge scholar, Eleanor Robson, claims that George's is the most significant critical work on Gilgamesh in the last 70 years.[14] George discusses the state of the surviving material, and provides a tablet-by-tablet exegesis, with a dual language side-by-side translation. In 2004, Stephen Mitchell supplied a controversial version that takes many liberties with the text and includes modernized allusions and commentary relating to the Iraq War of 2003.[15][16]

The first direct Arabic translation from the original tablets was made in the 1960s by the Iraqi archaeologist Taha Baqir.[citation needed]

The discovery of artifacts (c. 2600 BC) associated with Enmebaragesi of Kish, mentioned in the legends as the father of one of Gilgamesh's adversaries, has lent credibility to the historical existence of Gilgamesh.[5]:40–41

Other Languages
Alemannisch: Gilgamesch-Epos
العربية: ملحمة جلجامش
azərbaycanca: Gilqameş dastanı
башҡортса: Гилгәмеш эпосы
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Эпас пра Гільгамэша
български: Епос за Гилгамеш
Boarisch: Gilgamesch-Epos
bosanski: Ep o Gilgamešu
Fiji Hindi: Epic of Gilgamesh
हिन्दी: गिलगमेश
hrvatski: Gilgameš
Bahasa Indonesia: Epos Gilgames
íslenska: Gilgameskviða
kaszëbsczi: Epòs ò Gilgameszu
lietuvių: Gilgamešo epas
македонски: Гилгамеш (еп)
Bahasa Melayu: Epik Gilgamesh
Nederlands: Gilgamesj-epos
norsk: Gilgamesj
norsk nynorsk: Gilgamesj
ਪੰਜਾਬੀ: ਗਿਲਗਾਮੇਸ਼
پنجابی: گلگامش
Simple English: Epic of Gilgamesh
slovenčina: Epos o Gilgamešovi
slovenščina: Ep o Gilgamešu
српски / srpski: Еп о Гилгамешу
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Ep o Gilgamešu
suomi: Gilgameš
татарча/tatarça: Гилгәмеш дастаны
Tiếng Việt: Sử thi Gilgamesh
žemaitėška: Gėlgameša eps