For the next few weeks, my Monday posts will be about epic heroes. The epic heroes throughout history provide a basis for our stories today. The heroes are the same, yet different, reflecting the culture that produces it. We’ll start with Gilgamesh.
Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk, is the hero of one of the earliest work of surviving literature – an epic poem from Mesopotamia. The earliest version of the story in Old Babylonian dates to the 18th century BC which makes it more than 3,800 years old. The best copies of the epic, tablets discovered by Austen Henry Layard, are from the 7th century Assyrian king Ashurbanipal’s library and the Akkadian versions.
In the Epic of Gilgamesh (see pic of tablet), Gilgamesh and Enkidu who was created by the gods to distract him from oppressing his subjects become friends. They embark on a quest for immortality during which they encounter a series of adventures, most of which end violently (which results in Enkidu’s death as punishment).
Many elements of Gilgamesh’s world and his culture’s world view are revealed. The truth about immortality that he discovered was “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.”
Based on history and genealogies of the period, Gilgamesh as an historical figure apparently traces back to 2600 BC. Several stories contained in the Epic of Gilgamesh can be found in the Bible. The story of Adam and Eve is related to Enkidu’s relationship with Shamhat and, of course, the story of the Great Flood is well-known.