The Epic of Gilgamesh: The First Recorded Myth, The Epic of Gilgamesh is an ancient Mesopotamian poem that has been hailed as the first recorded myth. It is considered one of the earliest surviving works of literature and dates back to the third millennium BCE. The epic tells the story of the legendary king Gilgamesh and his quest for immortality. This article will explore the historical and literary significance of the Epic of Gilgamesh and how it has influenced literature and culture over the centuries.
The Epic of Gilgamesh was written in ancient Mesopotamia, which is modern-day Iraq. The story was passed down orally for generations before it was finally written down on clay tablets in cuneiform script. The tablets were discovered in the ruins of the ancient city of Nineveh, in what is now northern Iraq, by the British archaeologist Austen Henry Layard in the mid-19th century.
The poem is believed to have been written around 2100 BCE by an anonymous author, although it is likely that the story predates the written version. The story is based on the historical figure of Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk, who is believed to have ruled around 2700 BCE.
The Epic of Gilgamesh has had a profound influence on the culture and literature of the ancient Near East. It was an important source of inspiration for the Babylonian and Assyrian cultures, and it was also known in the Hittite and Hurrian cultures. The story was even translated into other languages, such as Hittite and Hurrian, and it has been compared to other ancient myths, such as the story of Noah’s Ark in the Bible.
The Epic of Gilgamesh is divided into twelve tablets and tells the story of the eponymous king’s search for immortality. The story begins with Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk, who is described as two-thirds god and one-third man. He is a powerful and successful king, but he is also arrogant and cruel to his people.
To teach Gilgamesh a lesson, the gods create a wild man named Enkidu, who is the king’s equal in strength and intelligence. Enkidu is raised by animals in the wilderness and knows nothing of civilization. When he encounters a trapper who has been sent by Gilgamesh to catch animals for his amusement, Enkidu fights with the man and wins. The trapper tells Gilgamesh about Enkidu, and the king sends a prostitute to seduce him and bring him to civilization.
Enkidu and Gilgamesh become friends and embark on a series of adventures. They defeat the giant Humbaba, who guards the cedar forest, and they kill the Bull of Heaven, which is sent by the goddess Ishtar to punish Gilgamesh for rejecting her advances. However, their friendship is tested when they decide to travel to the distant Cedar Forest to kill the demon, Humbaba. Despite the warnings of the wise men of Uruk, they venture into the forest and slay the demon.
After returning to Uruk, Gilgamesh rejects the advances of the goddess Ishtar, who is angered by his rejection and sends the Bull of Heaven to punish him. Gilgamesh and Enkidu kill the bull, but Enkidu is struck down with a mysterious illness and dies.
Gilgamesh is consumed with grief and becomes obsessed with the idea of immortality. He decides to seek out the sage Utnapishtim, who survived the Great Flood and was granted eternal life by the gods. Gilgamesh embarks on a perilous journey across the sea and through the mountains to find Utnapishtim.
When Gilgamesh finally meets Utnapishtim, the sage tells him the story of the Great Flood and how he was granted eternal life. Utnapishtim challenges Gilgamesh to stay awake for seven days, but Gilgamesh falls asleep. However, Utnapishtim takes pity on him and reveals a secret plant that can grant him immortality. Gilgamesh finds the plant, but it is stolen by a serpent before he can consume it.
The story ends with Gilgamesh returning to Uruk, where he realizes that his legacy will live on through his accomplishments and the city he helped build. The story shows the futility of seeking immortality and the importance of living a fulfilling life while you have the chance.
The Epic of Gilgamesh has had a profound influence on literature and culture. The story has been translated into many languages and has inspired numerous works of literature, including John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and the works of William Shakespeare. It has also influenced modern popular culture, with references to Gilgamesh appearing in video games, movies, and television shows.
The story is also significant for its themes of mortality, friendship, and the human condition. The character of Gilgamesh represents the struggle of humanity to come to terms with its mortality and to find meaning and purpose in life. The friendship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu shows the power of human connections and the importance of empathy and understanding.
The Epic of Gilgamesh is an important piece of literature that has had a lasting impact on culture and society. The story is significant for its historical and literary value, as well as its themes of mortality, friendship, and the human condition. The story shows the futility of seeking immortality and the importance of living a fulfilling life while you have the chance. It continues to be studied and appreciated by scholars and readers around the world and serves as a testament to the power of storytelling and the enduring nature of great literature.