Gilgamesh[a] was a historical king of the Sumerian city-state of Uruk, a major hero in ancient Mesopotamian mythology, and the protagonist of the Epic of Gilgamesh, an epic poem written in Akkadian during the late second millennium BC. He probably ruled sometime between 2800 and 2500 BC and was posthumously deified. He became a major figure in Sumerian legends during the Third Dynasty of Ur (c. 2112 – c. 2004 BC). Tales of Gilgamesh's legendary exploits are narrated in five surviving Sumerian poems. The earliest of these is probably Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Netherworld, in which Gilgamesh comes to the aid of the goddess Inanna and drives away the creatures infesting her huluppu tree. She gives him two unknown objects called a mikku and a pikku, which he loses. After Enkidu's death, his shade tells Gilgamesh about the bleak conditions in the Underworld. The poem Gilgamesh and Agga describes Gilgamesh's revolt against his overlord King Agga. Other Sumerian poems relate Gilgamesh's defeat of the ogre Huwawa and the Bull of Heaven and a fifth, poorly preserved one apparently describes his death and funeral.
In later Babylonian times, these stories began to be woven into a connected narrative. The standard Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh was composed by a scribe named Sîn-lēqi-unninni, probably during the Middle Babylonian Period (c. 1600 – c. 1155 BC), based on much older source material. In the epic, Gilgamesh is a demigod of superhuman strength who befriends the wildman Enkidu. Together, they go on adventures, defeating Humbaba (the East Semitic name for Huwawa) and the Bull of Heaven, who, in the epic, is sent to attack them by Ishtar (the East Semitic equivalent of Inanna) after Gilgamesh rejects her offer for him to become her consort. After Enkidu dies of a disease sent as punishment from the gods, Gilgamesh becomes afraid of his own death, and visits the sage Utnapishtim, the survivor of the Great Flood, hoping to find immortality. Gilgamesh repeatedly fails the trials set before him and returns home to Uruk, realizing that immortality is beyond his reach.
Most classical historians agree that the Epic of Gilgamesh exerted substantial influence on both the Iliad and the Odyssey, two epic poems written in ancient Greek during the eighth century BC. The story of Gilgamesh's birth is described in a second-century AD anecdote from On the Nature of Animals by the Greek writer Aelian. Aelian relates that Gilgamesh's grandfather kept his mother under guard to prevent her from becoming pregnant, because he had been told by an oracle that his grandson would overthrow him. She became pregnant and the guards threw the child off a tower, but an eagle rescued him mid-fall and delivered him safely to an orchard, where he was raised by the gardener. The Epic of Gilgamesh was rediscovered in the Library of Ashurbanipal in 1849. After being translated in the early 1870s, it caused widespread controversy due to similarities between portions of it and the Hebrew Bible. Gilgamesh remained mostly obscure until the mid-twentieth century, but, since the late twentieth-century, he has become an increasingly prominent figure in modern culture.
|Predecessor||Dumuzid, the Fisherman (as Ensi of Uruk)|
Aga of Kish (as King of Sumer)
|Parents||Lugalbanda and Ninsun|
Most historians generally agree that Gilgamesh was a historical king of the Sumerian city-state of Uruk, who probably ruled sometime during the early part of the Early Dynastic Period (c. 2900 – 2350 BC). Stephanie Dalley, a scholar of the ancient Near East, states that "precise dates cannot be given for the lifetime of Gilgamesh, but they are generally agreed to lie between 2800 and 2500 BC." No contemporary mention of Gilgamesh has yet been discovered, but the 1955 discovery of the Tummal Inscription, a thirty-four-line historiographic text written during the reign of Ishbi-Erra (c. 1953 – c. 1920 BC), has cast considerable light on his reign. The inscription credits Gilgamesh with building the walls of Uruk. Lines eleven through fifteen of the inscription read:
Gilgamesh is also referred to as a king by King Enmebaragesi of Kish, a known historical figure who may have lived near Gilgamesh's lifetime. Furthermore, Gilgamesh is listed as one of the kings of Uruk by the Sumerian King List. 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 passing Uruk for the purpose of burying the dead king within the river bed.
It is certain that, during the later Early Dynastic Period, Gilgamesh was worshipped as a god at various locations across Sumer. In the twenty-first century BC, Utu-hengal, the king of Uruk, adopted Gilgamesh as his patron deity. The kings of the Third Dynasty of Ur (c. 2112 – c. 2004 BC) were especially fond of Gilgamesh, calling him their "divine brother" and "friend". King Shulgi of Ur (2029 – 1982 BC) declared himself the son of Lugalbanda and Ninsun and the brother of Gilgamesh. Over the centuries, there may have been a gradual accretion of stories about Gilgamesh, some possibly derived from the real lives of other historical figures, such as Gudea, the Second Dynasty ruler of Lagash (2144–2124 BC). Prayers inscribed in clay tablets address Gilgamesh as a judge of the dead in the Underworld.
During this period, a large number of myths and legends developed surrounding Gilgamesh.:95 Five independent Sumerian poems narrating various exploits of Gilgamesh have survived to the present. Gilgamesh's first appearance in literature is probably in the Sumerian poem Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Netherworld. The narrative begins with a huluppu tree—perhaps, according to the Sumerologist Samuel Noah Kramer, a willow, growing on the banks of the river Euphrates. The goddess Inanna moves the tree to her garden in Uruk with the intention to carve it into a throne once it is fully grown. The tree grows and matures, but the serpent "who knows no charm," the Anzû-bird, and Lilitu, the Sumerian forerunner to the Lilith of Jewish folklore, all take up residence within the tree, causing Inanna to cry with sorrow. Gilgamesh, who in this story is portrayed as Inanna's brother, comes along and slays the serpent, causing the Anzû-bird and Lilitu to flee. Gilgamesh's companions chop down the tree and carve its wood into a bed and a throne, which they give to Inanna. Inanna responds by fashioning a pikku and a mikku (probably a drum and drumsticks respectively, although the exact identifications are uncertain), which she gives to Gilgamesh as a reward for his heroism. Gilgamesh loses the pikku and mikku and asks who will retrieve them. Enkidu descends to the Underworld to find them, but disobeys the strict laws of the Underworld and is therefore required to remain there forever. The remaining portion of the poem is a dialogue in which Gilgamesh asks the shade of Enkidu questions about the Underworld.
Gilgamesh and Agga describes Gilgamesh's successful revolt against his overlord Agga, the king of the city-state of Kish. Gilgamesh and Huwawa describes how Gilgamesh and his servant Enkidu, aided by the help of fifty volunteers from Uruk, defeat the monster Huwawa, an ogre appointed by the god Enlil, the ruler of the gods, as the guardian of the Cedar Forest. Huwawa has the "teeth of a dragon, the face of a lion, a roar like the stormflood, a mouth like fire; his breath [is] death; no one [can] escape him." Gilgamesh and his fifty-one companions hew through seven cedar trees to reach Huwawa's chamber, where they corner him. Gilgamesh strikes Huwawa, loosening his teeth; Huwawa attempts to appeal for mercy to Gilgamesh and the sun-god Utu, but the heroes behead him anyway. In the end, the gods condemn Enkidu to death due to his lack of compassion for Huwawa.
In Gilgamesh and the Bull of Heaven, Gilgamesh and Enkidu slay the Bull of Heaven, who has been sent to attack them by the goddess Inanna. The plot of this poem differs substantially from the corresponding scene in the later Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh. In the Sumerian poem, Inanna does not seem to ask Gilgamesh to become her consort as she does in the later Akkadian epic. Furthermore, while she is coercing her father An to give her the Bull of Heaven, rather than threatening to raise the dead to eat the living as she does in the later epic, she merely threatens to let out a "cry" that will reach the earth. A poem known as the Death of Gilgamesh is very poorly preserved, but appears to describe a major state funeral followed by the arrival of the deceased in the Underworld. It is possible that the modern scholars who gave the poem its title may have misinterpreted it, and the poem may actually be about the death of Enkidu.
Eventually, according to Kramer, "Gilgamesh became the hero par excellence of the ancient world—an adventurous, brave, but tragic figure symbolizing man's vain but endless drive for fame, glory, and immortality". By the Old Babylonian Period (c. 1830 – c. 1531 BC), stories of Gilgamesh's legendary exploits had been woven into one or several long epics. The Epic of Gilgamesh, the most complete account of Gilgamesh's adventures, was composed in Akkadian during the Middle Babylonian Period (c. 1600 — c. 1155 BC) by a scribe named Sîn-lēqi-unninni. The most complete surviving version of the Epic of Gilgamesh is recorded on a set of twelve clay tablets dating to the seventh century BC, found in the Library of Ashurbanipal in the Assyrian capital of Nineveh. The epic survives only in a fragmentary form, with many pieces of it missing or damaged. Some scholars and translators choose to supplement the missing parts of the epic with material from the earlier Sumerian poems or from other versions of the Epic of Gilgamesh found at other sites throughout the Near East.
In the epic, Gilgamesh is introduced as "two thirds divine and one third mortal". At the beginning of the poem, Gilgamesh is described as a brutal, oppressive ruler. This is usually interpreted to mean either that he compels all his subjects to engage in forced labor or that he sexually oppresses all his subjects. As punishment for Gilgamesh's cruelty, the god Anu creates the wildman Enkidu. After being tamed by a prostitute named Shamhat, Enkidu travels to Uruk to confront Gilgamesh. In the second tablet, the two men wrestle and, although Gilgamesh wins the match in the end, he is so impressed by his opponent's strength and tenacity that they become close friends. In the earlier Sumerian texts, Enkidu is Gilgamesh's servant, but, in the Epic of Gilgamesh, they are companions of equal standing.
In tablets III through IV, Gilgamesh and Enkidu travel to the Cedar Forest, which is guarded by Humbaba (the Akkadian name for Huwawa). The heroes cross the seven mountains to the Cedar Forest, where they begin chopping down trees. Confronted by Humbaba, Gilgamesh panics and prays to Shamash (the East Semitic name for Utu), who blows eight winds in Humbaba's eyes, blinding him. Humbaba begs for mercy, but the heroes decapitate him regardless. Tablet VI begins with Gilgamesh returning to Uruk, where Ishtar (the Akkadian name for Inanna) comes to him and demands him to become her consort. Gilgamesh repudiates her, insisting that she has mistreated all her former lovers. In revenge, Ishtar goes to her father Anu and demands that he give her the Bull of Heaven, which she sends to attack Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh and Enkidu kill the Bull and offer its heart to Shamash. While Gilgamesh and Enkidu are resting, Ishtar stands up on the walls of Uruk and curses Gilgamesh. Enkidu tears off the Bull's right thigh and throws it in Ishtar's face, saying, "If I could lay my hands on you, it is this I should do to you, and lash your entrails to your side." Ishtar calls together "the crimped courtesans, prostitutes and harlots" and orders them to mourn for the Bull of Heaven. Meanwhile, Gilgamesh holds a celebration over the Bull of Heaven's defeat.
Tablet VII begins with Enkidu recounting a dream in which he saw Anu, Ea, and Shamash declare that either Gilgamesh or Enkidu must die as punishment for having slain the Bull of Heaven. They choose Enkidu and Enkidu soon grows sick. He has a dream of the Underworld and then he dies. Tablet VIII describes Gilgamesh's inconsolable grief over his friend's death and the details of Enkidu's funeral. Tablets IX through XI relate how Gilgamesh, driven by grief and fear of his own mortality, travels a great distance and overcomes many obstacles to find the home of Utnapishtim, the sole survivor of the Great Flood, who was rewarded with immortality by the gods.
The journey to Utnapishtim involves a series of episodic challenges, which probably originated as major independent adventures, but, in the epic, they are reduced to what Joseph Eddy Fontenrose calls "fairly harmless incidents." First, Gilgamesh encounters and slays lions in the mountain pass. Upon reaching the mountain of Mashu, Gilgamesh encounters a scorpion man and his wife; their bodies flash with terrifying radiance, but, once Gilgamesh tells them his purpose, they allow him to pass. Gilgamesh wanders through darkness for twelve days before he finally comes into the light. He finds a beautiful garden by the sea in which he meets Siduri, the divine barmaid. At first she tries to prevent Gilgamesh from entering the garden, but later she instead attempts to persuade him to accept death as inevitable and not journey beyond the waters. When Gilgamesh refuses to do this, she directs him to Urshanabi, the ferryman of the gods, who ferries Gilgamesh across the sea to Utnapishtim's homeland. When Gilgamesh finally arrives at Utnapishtim's home, Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh that, to become immortal, he must defy sleep. Gilgamesh fails to do this and falls asleep for seven days without waking.
Next, Utnapishtim tells him that, even if he cannot obtain immortality, he can restore his youth using a plant with the power of rejuvenation. Gilgamesh takes the plant, but leaves it on the shore while swimming and a snake steals it, explaining why snakes are able to shed their skins. Despondent at this loss, Gilgamesh returns to Uruk, and shows his city to the ferryman Urshanabi. It is at that this point that the epic stops being a coherent narrative. Tablet XII is an appendix corresponding to the Sumerian poem of Gilgamesh, Enkidu and the Netherworld describing the loss of the pikku and mikku. Numerous elements within this narrative reveal lack of continuity with the earlier portions of the epic. At the beginning of Tablet XII, Enkidu is still alive, despite having previously died in Tablet VII, and Gilgamesh is kind to Ishtar, despite the violent rivalry between them displayed in Tablet VI. Also, while most of the parts of the epic are free adaptations of their respective Sumerian predecessors, Tablet XII is a literal, word-for-word translation of the last part of Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Netherworld. For these reasons, scholars conclude this narrative was probably relegated to the end of the epic because it did not fit the larger narrative. In it, Gilgamesh sees a vision of Enkidu's ghost, who promises to recover the lost items and describes to his friend the abysmal condition of the Underworld.
Although stories about Gilgamesh were wildly popular throughout ancient Mesopotamia, authentic representations of him in ancient art are extremely rare. Popular works often identify depictions of a hero with long hair, containing four or six curls, as representations of Gilgamesh, but this identification is known to be incorrect. A few genuine ancient Mesopotamian representations of Gilgamesh do exist, however. These representations are mostly found on clay plaques and cylinder seals. Generally, it is only possible to identify a figure shown in art as Gilgamesh if the artistic work in question clearly depicts a scene from the Epic of Gilgamesh itself. One set of representations of Gilgamesh is found in scenes of two heroes fighting a demonic giant, certainly Humbaba. Another set is found in scenes showing a similar pair of heroes confronting a giant, winged bull, certainly the Bull of Heaven.
The Epic of Gilgamesh exerted substantial influence on the Iliad and the Odyssey, two epic poems written in ancient Greek during the eighth century BC. According to Barry B. Powell, an American classical scholar, early Greeks were probably exposed to Mesopotamian oral traditions through their extensive connections to the civilizations of the ancient Near East and this exposure resulted in the similarities that are seen between the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Homeric epics. Walter Burkert, a German classicist, observes that the scene in Tablet VI of the Epic of Gilgamesh in which Gilgamesh rejects Ishtar's advances and she complains before her mother Antu, but is mildly rebuked by her father Anu, is directly paralleled in Book V of the Iliad. In this scene, Aphrodite, the later Greek adaptation of Ishtar, is wounded by the hero Diomedes and flees to Mount Olympus, where she cries to her mother Dione and is mildly rebuked by her father Zeus.
Powell observes that the opening lines of the Odyssey seem to echo the opening lines of the Epic of Gilgamesh. The storyline of the Odyssey likewise bears numerous similarities to that of the Epic of Gilgamesh. Both Gilgamesh and Odysseus encounter a woman who can turn men into animals: Ishtar (for Gilgamesh) and Circe (for Odysseus). In the Odyssey, Odysseus blinds a giant Cyclops named Polyphemus, an incident which bears similarities to Gilgamesh's slaying of Humbaba in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Both Gilgamesh and Odysseus visit the Underworld and both find themselves unhappy whilst living in an otherworldly paradise in the presence of an attractive woman: Siduri (for Gilgamesh) and Calypso (for Odysseus). Finally, both heroes have an opportunity for immortality but miss it (Gilgamesh when he loses the plant, and Odysseus when he leaves Calypso's island).
In the Qumran scroll known as Book of Giants (c. 100 BC) the names of Gilgamesh and Humbaba appear as two of the antediluvian giants, rendered (in consonantal form) as glgmš and ḩwbbyš. This same text was later used in the Middle East by the Manichaean sects, and the Arabic form Gilgamish/Jiljamish survives as the name of a demon according to the Egyptian cleric Al-Suyuti (c. 1500).
The story of Gilgamesh's birth is not recorded in any extant Sumerian or Akkadian text, but a version of it is described in De Natura Animalium (On the Nature of Animals) 12.21, a commonplace book which was written in Greek sometime around 200 AD by the Hellenized Roman orator Aelian. According to Aelian's story, an oracle told King Seuechoros of the Babylonians that his grandson Gilgamos would overthrow him. To prevent this, Seuechoros kept his only daughter under close guard at the Acropolis of the city of Babylon, but she became pregnant nonetheless. Fearing the king's wrath, the guards hurled the infant off the top of a tall tower. An eagle rescued the boy in midflight and carried him to an orchard, where it carefully set him down. The caretaker of the orchard found the boy and raised him, naming him Gilgamos (Γίλγαμος). Eventually, Gilgamos returned to Babylon and overthrew his grandfather, proclaiming himself king. The birth narrative described by Aelian is in the same tradition as other Near Eastern birth legends, such as those of Sargon, Moses, and Cyrus. Theodore Bar Konai (c. AD 600), writing in Syriac, also mentions a king Gligmos, Gmigmos or Gamigos as last of a line of twelve kings who were contemporaneous with the patriarchs from Peleg to Abraham; this occurrence is also considered a vestige of Gilgamesh's former memory.
In 1880, the English Assyriologist George Smith (left) published a translation of Tablet XI of the Epic of Gilgamesh (right), containing the Flood myth, which attracted immediate scholarly attention and controversy due to its similarity to the Genesis flood narrative.
The Akkadian text of the Epic of Gilgamesh was first discovered in 1849 AD by the English archaeologist Austen Henry Layard in the Library of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh.:95 Layard was seeking evidence to confirm the historicity of the events described in the Christian Old Testament, which, at the time, was believed to contain the oldest texts in the world. Instead, his excavations and those of others after him revealed the existence of much older Mesopotamian texts and showed that many of the stories in the Old Testament may actually be derived from earlier myths told throughout the ancient Near East. The first translation of the Epic of Gilgamesh was produced in the early 1870s by George Smith, a scholar at the British Museum, who published the Flood story from Tablet XI in 1880 under the title The Chaldean Account of Genesis. Gilgamesh's name was originally misread as Izdubar.
Early interest in the Epic of Gilgamesh was almost exclusively on account of the flood story from Tablet XI. The flood story attracted enormous public attention and drew widespread scholarly controversy, while the rest of the epic was largely ignored. Most attention towards the Epic of Gilgamesh in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries came from German-speaking countries, where controversy raged over the relationship between Babel und Bibel ("Babylon and Bible"). In January 1902, the German Assyriologist Friedrich Delitzsch gave a lecture at the Sing-Akademie zu Berlin in front of the Kaiser and his wife, in which he argued that the Flood story in the Book of Genesis was directly copied off the one in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Delitzsch's lecture was so controversial that, by September 1903, he had managed to collect 1,350 short articles from newspapers and journals, over 300 longer ones, and twenty-eight pamphlets, all written in response to this lecture, as well as another lecture about the relationship between the Code of Hammurabi and the Law of Moses in the Torah. These articles were overwhelmingly critical of Delitzsch. The Kaiser distanced himself from Delitzsch and his radical views and, in fall of 1904, Delitzsch was forced to give his third lecture in Cologne and Frankfurt am Main rather than in Berlin. The putative relationship between the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Hebrew Bible later became a major part of Delitzsch's argument in his 1920-21 book Die große Täuschung (The Great Deception) that the Hebrew Bible was irredeemably "contaminated" by Babylonian influence and that only by eliminating the human Old Testament entirely could Christians finally believe in the true, Aryan message of the New Testament.
The first modern literary adaptation of the Epic of Gilgamesh was Ishtar and Izdubar (1884) by Leonidas Le Cenci Hamilton, an American lawyer and businessman. Hamilton had rudimentary knowledge of Akkadian, which he had learned from Archibald Sayce's 1872 Assyrian Grammar for Comparative Purposes. Hamilton's book relied heavily on Smith's translation of the Epic of Gilgamesh, but also made major changes. For instance, Hamilton omitted the famous flood story entirely and instead focused on the romantic relationship between Ishtar and Gilgamesh. Ishtar and Izdubar expanded the original roughly 3,000 lines of the Epic of Gilgamesh to roughly 6,000 lines of rhyming couplets grouped into forty-eight cantos. Hamilton significantly altered most of the characters and introduced entirely new episodes not found in the original epic. Significantly influenced by Edward FitzGerald's Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and Edwin Arnold's The Light of Asia, Hamilton's characters dress more like nineteenth-century Turks than ancient Babylonians. Hamilton also changed the tone of the epic from the "grim realism" and "ironic tragedy" of the original to a "cheery optimism" filled with "the sweet strains of love and harmony".
In his 1904 book Das Alte Testament im Lichte des alten Orients, the German Assyriologist Alfred Jeremias equated Gilgamesh with the king Nimrod from the Book of Genesis and argued that Gilgamesh's strength must come from his hair, like the hero Samson in the Book of Judges, and that he must have performed Twelve Labors like the hero Heracles in Greek mythology. In his 1906 book Das Gilgamesch-Epos in der Weltliteratur, the Orientalist Peter Jensen declared that the Epic of Gilgamesh was the source behind nearly all the stories in the Old Testament, arguing that Moses is "the Gilgamesh of Exodus who saves the children of Israel from precisely the same situation faced by the inhabitants of Erech at the beginning of the Babylonian epic." He then proceeded to argue that Abraham, Isaac, Samson, David, and various other biblical figures are all nothing more than exact copies of Gilgamesh. Finally, he declared that even Jesus is "nothing but an Israelite Gilgamesh. Nothing but an adjunct to Abraham, Moses, and countless other figures in the saga." This ideology became known as Panbabylonianism and was almost immediately rejected by mainstream scholars. The most stalwart critics of Panbabylonianism were those associated with the emerging Religionsgeschichtliche Schule. Hermann Gunkel dismissed most of Jensen's purported parallels between Gilgamesh and biblical figures as mere baseless sensationalism. He concluded that Jensen and other Assyriologists like him had failed to understand the complexities of Old Testament scholarship and had confused scholars with "conspicuous mistakes and remarkable aberrations".
In English-speaking countries, the prevailing scholarly interpretation during the early twentieth century was one originally proposed by Sir Henry Rawlinson, 1st Baronet, which held that Gilgamesh is a "solar hero", whose actions represent the movements of the sun, and that the twelve tablets of his epic represent the twelve signs of the Babylonian zodiac. The German psychologist Sigmund Freud, drawing on the theories of James George Frazer and Paul Ehrenreich, interpreted Gilgamesh and Eabani (the earlier misreading for Enkidu) as representing "man" and "crude sensibility" respectively. He compared them to other brother-figures in world mythology, remarking, "One is always weaker than the other and dies sooner. In Gilgamesh this ages-old motif of the unequal pair of brothers served to represent the relationship between a man and his libido." He also saw Enkidu as representing the placenta, the "weaker twin" who dies shortly after birth. Freud's friend and pupil Carl Jung frequently discusses Gilgamesh in his early work Symbole der Wandlung (1911-1912). He, for instance, cites Ishtar's sexual attraction to Gilgamesh as an example of the mother's incestuous desire for her son, Humbaba as an example of an oppressive father-figure whom Gilgamesh must overcome, and Gilgamesh himself as an example of a man who forgets his dependence on the unconscious and is punished by the "gods", who represent it.
In the years following World War II, Gilgamesh, formerly an obscure figure known only by a few scholars, gradually became increasingly popular with modern audiences. The Epic of Gilgamesh's existential themes made it particularly appealing to German authors in the years following the war. In his 1947 existentialist novel Die Stadt hinter dem Strom, the German novelist Hermann Kasack adapted elements of the epic into a metaphor for the aftermath of the destruction of World War II in Germany, portraying the bombed-out city of Hamburg as resembling the frightening Underworld seen by Enkidu in his dream. In Hans Henny Jahnn's magnum opus River without Shores (1949-1950), the middle section of the trilogy centers around a composer whose twenty-year-long homoerotic relationship with a friend mirrors that of Gilgamesh with Enkidu and whose masterpiece turns out to be a symphony about Gilgamesh.
The Quest of Gilgamesh, a 1953 radio play by Douglas Geoffrey Bridson, helped popularize the epic in Britain. In the United States, Charles Olson praised the epic in his poems and essays and Gregory Corso believed that it contained ancient virtues capable of curing what he viewed as modern moral degeneracy. The 1966 postfigurative novel Gilgamesch by Guido Bachmann became a classic of German "queer literature" and set a decades-long international literary trend of portraying Gilgamesh and Enkidu as homosexual lovers. This trend proved so popular that the Epic of Gilgamesh itself is included in The Columbia Anthology of Gay Literature (1998) as a major early work of that genre. In the 1970s and 1980s, feminist literary critics analyzed the Epic of Gilgamesh as showing evidence for a transition from the original matriarchy of all humanity to modern patriarchy. As the Green Movement expanded in Europe, Gilgamesh's story began to be seen through an environmentalist lens, with Enkidu's death symbolizing man's separation from nature.
Theodore Ziolkowski, a scholar of modern literature, states, that "unlike most other figures from myth, literature, and history, Gilgamesh has established himself as an autonomous entity or simply a name, often independent of the epic context in which he originally became known. (As analogous examples one might think, for instance, of the Minotaur or Frankenstein's monster.)" The Epic of Gilgamesh has been translated into many major world languages and has become a staple of American world literature classes. Many contemporary authors and novelists have drawn inspiration from it, including an American avant-garde theater collective called "The Gilgamesh Group" and Joan London in her novel Gilgamesh (2001). The Great American Novel (1973) by Philip Roth features a character named "Gil Gamesh", who is the star pitcher of a fictional 1930s baseball team called the "Patriot League". Believing that he can never lose, Gil Gamesh throws a violent temper tantrum when an umpire goes against him and he is subsequently banished from baseball. He flees to the Soviet Union, where he is trained as a spy against the United States. Gil Gamesh reappears late in the novel as one of Joseph Stalin's spies and gives what American literary historian David Damrosch calls "an eerily casual description of his interrogation training in Soviet Russia." In 2000, a modern statue of Gilgamesh by the Assyrian sculptor Lewis Batros was unveiled at the University of Sydney in Australia.
Starting in the late twentieth century, the Epic of Gilgamesh began to be read again in Iraq. Saddam Hussein, the former President of Iraq, had a lifelong fascination with Gilgamesh. Hussein's first novel Zabibah and the King (2000) is an allegory for the Gulf War set in ancient Assyria that blends elements of the Epic of Gilgamesh and the One Thousand and One Nights. Like Gilgamesh, the king at the beginning of the novel is a brutal tyrant who misuses his power and oppresses his people, but, through the aid of a commoner woman named Zabibah, he grows into a more just ruler. When the United States pressured Hussein to step down in February 2003, Hussein gave a speech to a group of his generals posing the idea in a positive light by comparing himself to the epic hero.
Aga of Kish
| King of Sumer
c. 2600 BC
Dumuzid, the Fisherman
| En of Uruk|
c. 2600 BC
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. He appears also in the earlier Sumerian text of Bilgames and Akka, where he is referred to as Akka.
The Gilgamesh epic, the Sumerian king list, and the Tummal Chronicle all call him the son of En-me-barage-si, a king who has been verified through archaeological inscription, leading to theories that Gilgamesh was also historical.Anu
Anu or An is the divine personification of the sky, supreme God, and ancestor of all the deities in ancient Mesopotamian religion. Anu was believed to be the supreme source of all authority, for the other gods and for all mortal rulers, and he is described in one text as the one "who contains the entire universe". He is identified with the north ecliptic pole centered in the constellation Draco and, along with his sons Enlil and Enki, constitutes the highest divine triad personifying the three bands of constellations of the vault of the sky. By the time of the earliest written records, Anu was rarely worshipped, and veneration was instead devoted to his son Enlil, but, throughout Mesopotamian history, the highest deity in the pantheon was always said to possess the anûtu, meaning "Heavenly power". Anu's primary role in myths is as the ancestor of the Anunnaki, the major deities of Sumerian religion. His primary cult center was the Eanna temple in the city of Uruk, but, by the Akkadian Period (c. 2334 – 2154 BC), his authority in Uruk had largely been ceded to the goddess Inanna, the Queen of Heaven.
Anu's consort in the earliest Sumerian texts is the goddess Uraš, but she is later the goddess Ki and, in Akkadian texts, the goddess Antu, whose name is a feminine form of Anu. Anu briefly appears in the Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh, in which his daughter Ishtar (the East Semitic equivalent to Inanna) persuades him to give her the Bull of Heaven so that she may send it to attack Gilgamesh. The incident results in the death of Enkidu. In another legend, Anu summons the mortal hero Adapa before him for breaking the wing of the south wind. Anu orders for Adapa to be given the food and water of immortality, which Adapa refuses, having been warned beforehand by Enki that Anu will offer him the food and water of death. In ancient Hittite religion, Anu is a former ruler of the gods, who was overthrown by his son Kumarbi, who bit off his father's genitals and gave birth to the storm god Teshub. Teshub overthrew Kumarbi, avenged Anu's mutilation, and became the new king of the gods. This story was the later basis for the castration of Ouranos in Hesiod's Theogony.Enkidu
Enkidu (𒂗𒆠𒆕 EN.KI.DU3, "Enki's creation"), formerly misread as Eabani, is a central figure in the Ancient Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh. Enkidu was formed from clay and water by Aruru, the goddess of creation, 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. Thereafter a series of interactions with humans and human ways bring him closer to civilization, culminating in a wrestling match with Gilgamesh, king of Uruk. Enkidu embodies the wild or natural world. Though equal to Gilgamesh in strength and bearing, he acts in some ways as an antithesis to the cultured, urban-bred warrior-king. Enkidu then becomes the king's constant companion and deeply beloved friend, accompanying him on adventures until he is stricken with illness and dies.
The deep, tragic loss of Enkidu profoundly inspires in Gilgamesh a quest to escape death by obtaining godly immortality.Enmebaragesi
Enmebaragesi (cuneiform: 𒂗𒈨𒁈𒄄𒋛 EN.ME.BARAG.GE.SI, fl. c. 2500 BC) 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 from archaeology. Two alabaster vase fragments inscribed with his name were found at Nippur where, according to the Sumerian Tummal Inscription, he is said to have built the first temple. There are in all at least four surviving fragments bearing the abbreviated form 𒈨𒁈𒋛 Mebarag(e)si, describing him as the lugal of Kish.He is also mentioned in a section of the original Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, Bilgamesh and Aga, as the father of the Aga who laid siege to Uruk. The Sumerian king list and the Tummal Inscription concur with the Epic of Gilgamesh in making him the father of Aga, who was the final king of the 1st dynasty of Kish. Thus the fragments verifying Enmebaragesi's historicity enhance the notion that Gilgamesh is also historical.
The later Sumerian Renaissance (Ur III) king Shulgi addressed one of his praise poems to Gilgamesh, that credits Gilgamesh with capturing and defeating Enmebaragesi — thus contradicting the king list, where he was already captured by Gilgamesh's predecessor. In another part of the Gilgamesh epic, Gilgamesh offers his "sister" Enmebaragesi to be the wife of the monster Huwawa or Humbaba, causing some debate as to Enmebaragesi's gender, with most scholars taking this reference as a jest.Epic of Gilgamesh
The Epic of Gilgamesh () 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 compiled by Sîn-lēqi-unninni 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. 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". 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.Forgotten One (comics)
The Forgotten One (also known as Hero and Gilgamesh) is a fictional superhero appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. He is a member of the near-immortal hidden race known as the Eternals.Gilgamesh (manga)
Gilgamesh (ギルガメッシュ, Girugamesshu) is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Shotaro Ishinomori. It was serialized in the Shōnen Gahōsha magazine Weekly Shōnen King from 1976 to 1978. A dark and apocalyptic anime series based on the original story was adapted by Group TAC in 2003. Gilgamesh is set in the super present and the plot revolves around characters who can be divided into four groups: The Countess and the Orga-Superior, the Mitleid Corporation, the siblings, and the Gilgamesh. With the development of the plot, the past and motives of the characters and their relationships with one another are exposed.
The 26-episode anime television series was the first directed by Masahiko Murata, with music by Kaoru Wada. It was created by Group TAC, and it aired on Kansai TV from October 2, 2003 to March 18, 2004. The series received generally positive reviews and was subsequently translated, released on DVD and aired in several other countries, including the United States.
Music, mystery, intrigues and darkness are central elements of Gilgamesh's plot. The series shows clear influences from the story known as the Epic of Gilgamesh, and from different scientific and archaeological influences as well.Gilgamesh flood myth
The Gilgamesh flood myth is a flood myth 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 used the flood story from the Epic of Atrahasis. A short reference to the flood myth is also present in the much older Sumerian Gilgamesh poems, from which the later Babylonian versions drew much of their inspiration and subject matter.Gilgamesh in the Outback
Gilgamesh in the Outback is a science fiction novella by American writer Robert Silverberg, a sequel to his novel Gilgamesh the King as well as a story in the shared universe series Heroes in Hell. It won the Hugo Award for Best Novella in 1987 and was also nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novella in 1986. Originally published in Asimov's Science Fiction, it was then printed in Rebels in Hell before being incorporated into Silverberg's novel To the Land of the Living. Real-life writers Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft feature as characters in the novella.
Robert Silverberg wrote that he was "drawn into" writing a story for the "Heroes in Hell" project. While he remembered that the central concept of the series was "never clearly explained" to him, he noted the similarity of "Heroes in Hell" to Philip José Farmer's Riverworld works, and decided "to run my own variant on what Farmer had done a couple of decades earlier." After writing "Gilgamesh in the Outback", he decided that, since the story "was all so much fun," to write two sequels, "The Fascination of the Abomination" and "Gilgamesh in Uruk". In writing those stories, as Silverberg recalled, he "never read many of the other 'Heroes in Hell' stories", and had "no idea" of how consistent his work was with that of his "putative collaborators"; instead, he had "gone his own way . . . with only the most tangential links to what others had invented."Silverberg compiled the three stories as To the Land of the Living, revising the stories to remove any references to other writers' contributions to "Heroes in Hell" to avoid copyright issues. To the Land of the Living was published in the British market in 1989 and reprinted in an American edition in 1990.Gilgamesh the King
Gilgamesh the King is a 1984 historical novel by American writer Robert Silverberg, presenting the Epic of Gilgamesh as a novel. In the afterword the author wrote "at all times I have attempted to interpret the fanciful and fantastic events of these poems in a realistic way, that is, to tell the story of Gilgamesh as though he were writing his own memoirs, and to that end I have introduced many interpretations of my own devising which for better or for worse are in no way to be ascribed to the scholars".Humbaba
In Ancient Mesopotamian religion, Humbaba (𒄷𒌝𒁀𒁀 Assyrian spelling), also spelled Huwawa (𒄷𒉿𒉿 Sumerian spelling) and surnamed the Terrible, was a monstrous giant of immemorial age raised by Utu, the Sun. Humbaba was the guardian of the Cedar Forest, where the gods lived, by the will of the god Enlil, who "assigned [Humbaba] as a terror to human beings. Gilgamesh defeated this great enemy."Inanna
Inanna is an ancient Mesopotamian goddess associated with love, beauty, sex, desire, fertility, war, justice, and political power. She was originally worshipped in Sumer and was later worshipped by the Akkadians, Babylonians, and Assyrians under the name Ishtar. She was known as the "Queen of Heaven" and was the patron goddess of the Eanna temple at the city of Uruk, which was her main cult center. She was associated with the planet Venus and her most prominent symbols included the lion and the eight-pointed star. Her husband was the god Dumuzid (later known as Tammuz) and her sukkal, or personal attendant, was the goddess Ninshubur (who later became the male deity Papsukkal).
Inanna was worshipped in Sumer at least as early as the Uruk period (c. 4000 BC – c. 3100 BC), but she had little cult prior to the conquest of Sargon of Akkad. During the post-Sargonic era, she became one of the most widely venerated deities in the Sumerian pantheon, with temples across Mesopotamia. The cult of Inanna-Ishtar, which may have been associated with a variety of sexual rites, including homosexual transvestite priests and sacred prostitution, was continued by the East Semitic-speaking people who succeeded the Sumerians in the region. She was especially beloved by the Assyrians, who elevated her to become the highest deity in their pantheon, ranking above their own national god Ashur. Inanna-Ishtar is alluded to in the Hebrew Bible and she greatly influenced the Phoenician goddess Astarte, who later influenced the development of the Greek goddess Aphrodite. Her cult continued to flourish until its gradual decline between the first and sixth centuries AD in the wake of Christianity, though it survived in parts of Upper Mesopotamia as late as the eighteenth century.
Inanna appears in more myths than any other Sumerian deity. Many of her myths involve her taking over the domains of other deities. She was believed to have stolen the mes, which represented all positive and negative aspects of civilization, from Enki, the god of wisdom. She was also believed to have taken over the Eanna temple from An, the god of the sky. Alongside her twin brother Utu (later known as Shamash), Inanna was the enforcer of divine justice; she destroyed Mount Ebih for having challenged her authority, unleashed her fury upon the gardener Shukaletuda after he raped her in her sleep, and tracked down the bandit woman Bilulu and killed her in divine retribution for having murdered Dumuzid. In the standard Akkadian version of the Epic of Gilgamesh, Ishtar asks Gilgamesh to become her consort. When he refuses, she unleashes the Bull of Heaven, resulting in the death of Enkidu and Gilgamesh's subsequent grapple with his mortality.
Inanna-Ishtar's most famous myth is the story of her descent into and return from Kur, the ancient Sumerian Underworld, a myth in which she attempts to conquer the domain of her older sister Ereshkigal, the queen of the Underworld, but is instead deemed guilty of hubris by the seven judges of the Underworld and struck dead. Three days later, Ninshubur pleads with all the gods to bring Inanna back, but all of them refuse her except Enki, who sends two sexless beings to rescue Inanna. They escort Inanna out of the Underworld, but the galla, the guardians of the Underworld, drag her husband Dumuzid down to the Underworld as her replacement. Dumuzid is eventually permitted to return to heaven for half the year while his sister Geshtinanna remains in the Underworld for the other half, resulting in the cycle of the seasons.Lugalbanda
Lugalbanda (Sumerian: 𒈗𒌉𒁕 lugal-banda3da, young/fierce king) is a character found in Sumerian mythology and literature. 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 epithet of the Shepherd. Whether a king Lugalbanda ever historically ruled over Uruk, and if so, at what time, is quite uncertain. Attempts to date him in the ED II period are based on an amalgamation of data from the epic traditions of the 2nd millennium with unclear archaeological observations.Lugalbanda prominently features as the hero of two Sumerian stories dated to the Ur III period (21st century BCE), called by scholars Lugalbanda I (or Lugalbanda in the Mountain Cave) and Lugalbanda II (or Lugalbanda and the Anzu Bird). Both are known only in later versions, although there is an Ur III fragment that is quite different than either 18th century version These tales are part of a series of stories that describe the conflicts between Enmerkar, king of Unug (Uruk), and Ensuhkeshdanna, lord of Aratta, presumably in the Iranian highlands. In these two stories, Lugalbanda is a soldier in the army of Enmerkar, whose name also appears in the Sumerian King List as the first king of Uruk and predecessor of Lugalbanda. The extant fragments make no reference to Lugalbanda's succession as king following Enmerkar.Lugalbanda appears in Sumerian literary sources as early as the mid-3rd millennium, as attested by a mythological text from Abu Salabikh that describes a romantic relationship between Lugalbanda and Ninsun.A deified Lugalbanda often appears as the husband of the goddess Ninsun. In the earliest god-lists from Fara, his name appears separate and in a much lower ranking than Ninsun, but in later traditions, until the Seleucid period, his name is often listed in god-lists along with his consort Ninsun. Ample evidence for the worship of Lugalbanda as a deity comes from the Ur III period, as attested in tablets from Nippur, Ur, Umma and Puzrish-Dagan. In Old Babylonian period, Sin-kashid of Uruk is known to have built a temple called É-KI.KAL dedicated to Lugalbanda and Ninsun, and to have assigned his daughter Niši-īnī-šu as the eresh-dingir priestess of Lugalbanda.In royal hymns of the Ur III period, Ur-Nammu of Ur and his son Shulgi describe Lugalbanda and Ninsun as their holy parents, and in the same context call themselves the brother of Gilgamesh. Sin-Kashid of Uruk also refers to Lugalbanda and Ninsun as his divine parents, and names Lugalbanda as his god.In the Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh and in earlier Sumerian stories about the hero, the king of Uruk, Gilgamesh, calls himself the son of Lugalbanda and Ninsun. In the Gilgamesh and Huwawa tale, the hero consistently uses the assertive phrase: “By the life of my own mother Ninsun and of my father, holy Lugalbanda!”. In Akkadian versions of the epic, Gilgamesh also refers to Lugalbanda as his personal god, and in one episode presents the oil filled horns of the defeated Bull of Heaven "for the anointing of his god Lugalbanda".Mesopotamian myths
Mesopotamian mythology refers to the myths, religious texts, and other literature that comes from the region of ancient Mesopotamia in modern-day West Asia. In particular the societies of Sumer, Akkad, and Assyria, all of which existed shortly after 3000 BCE and were mostly gone by 400 CE. These works were primarily preserved on stone or clay tablets and were written in cuneiform by scribes. Several lengthy pieces have survived, some of which are considered the oldest stories in the world, and have given historians insight into Mesopotamian ideology and cosmology.Ninsun
In Sumerian mythology, Ninsun (also called Ninsumun, cuneiform: 𒀭𒊩𒌆𒄢 dNIN.SUMUN2; Sumerian: Nin-sumun(ak) "lady of the wild cows") 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. Ninsun has also been linked to older deities.Shamhat
Shamhat (or Šamhat, also called Shamkat in the old Babylonian version of Gilgamesh") is a female character who appears in Tablets I and II of the Epic of Gilgamesh and is mentioned in Tablet VII. She is a sacred prostitute who plays a significant role in bringing the wild man Enkidu into contact with civilization.Siduri
Siduri is a character in the Epic of Gilgamesh. She is an "alewife", a wise female divinity associated with fermentation (specifically beer and wine).Utnapishtim
Utnapishtim or Utanapishtim (Akkadian: 𒌓𒍣) is a character in the Epic of Gilgamesh who is tasked by Enki (Ea) to abandon his worldly possessions and create a giant ship to be called Preserver of Life. He was also tasked with bringing his wife, family, and relatives along with the craftsmen of his village, baby animals, and grains. The oncoming flood would wipe out all animals and people not on the ship, a concept similar to the biblical story of Noah's Ark. After twelve days on the water, Utnapishtim opened the hatch of his ship to look around and saw the slopes of Mount Nisir, where he rested his ship for seven days. On the seventh day, he sent a dove out to see if the water had receded, and the dove could find nothing but water, so it returned. Then he sent out a swallow, and just as before, it returned, having found nothing. Finally, Utnapishtim sent out a raven, and the raven saw that the waters had receded, so it circled around, but did not return. Utnapishtim then set all the animals free, and made a sacrifice to the gods. The gods came, and because he had preserved the seed of man while remaining loyal and trusting of his gods, Utnapishtim and his wife were given immortality, as well as a place among the heavenly gods. Enki (Ea) also claims that he did not tell "Atrahasis" (apparently referring to Utnapishtim) about the flood, but rather that he only made a dream appear to him, a claim which contradicts the earlier narrative of the poem and reveals an alternative telling.Utu
Utu, later worshipped by East Semitic peoples as Shamash, is the ancient Mesopotamian god of the sun, justice, morality, and truth, and the twin brother of the goddess Inanna, the Queen of Heaven. His main temples were in the cities of Sippar and Larsa. He was believed to ride through the heavens in his sun chariot and see all things that happened in the day. He was the enforcer of divine justice and was thought to aid those in distress. According to Sumerian mythology, he helped protect Dumuzid when the galla demons tried to drag him to the Underworld and he appeared to the hero Ziusudra after the Great Flood. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, he helps Gilgamesh defeat the ogre Humbaba.