The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the world’s oldest recorded pieces of literature and is regarded as the oldest surviving work of poetry. It was first written in Akkadian, the language of Babylon, and was translated by an archaeologist named George Smith in 1872.
The Epic of Gilgamesh comes from approximately 2100 BC. It is a poetic narrative written about the Mesopotamian king, Gilgamesh. However, the Gilgamesh presented to us in this Epic is regarded as a fictional character. In the epic, Gilgamesh is written as an almost godlike figure, sort of like Heracles in Ancient Greece.
One example of this is the fact that, in the story, Gilgamesh’s mother was the goddess Ninsun, and that he was given beauty and courage by the Mesopotamian gods Shamash and Adad.
The plot of the Epic of Gilgamesh is derived from a few different sources. There are twelve tablets in the standard Akkadian version which add up to tell a single story. The Epic begins by telling us about the strongest and most powerful warrior in the world, King Gilgamesh of Uruk. (Note: King Gilgamesh was a real historical figure, though it’s unclear why this story was written about him.)
In the story, Gilgamesh is described as a demigod, meaning that he was a half-god and half-human. He was strong enough to lift mountains, and no monster could ever beat him in battle. After years in charge, Gilgamesh began to mistreat his subjects because he’s so bored. To stop this, the gods send a fighter to challenge him.
The fighter’s name is Enkidu, a wild man who’s never lost a fight before. Gilgamesh and Enkidu battle fiercely, but neither can win. The two become friends after Enkidu admits that Gilgamesh is stronger, and Gilgamesh suggests that the two go on a trip together. There is a forest near to Gilgamesh’s kingdom named the Cedar Forest, with a monster named Humbaba living inside.
Gilgamesh wishes to kill Humbaba to gain fame and fortune. Despite his advisors’ warnings, Gilgamesh and Enkidu set off on an adventure to kill Humbaba together. Before they go, Gilgamesh’s mother – the goddess Ninsun – adopts Enkidu as her son, and he and Gilgamesh become brothers.
When they get to the forest, Gilgamesh begins to have scary dreams at night, but Enkidu reassures him that they’re a good sign for the battle to come. To attract Humbaba’s attention, the pair cut down a lot of cedar trees; and when he arrives, Gilgamesh and Enkidu defeat him with the help of the gods. Humbaba offers to make Gilgamesh the king of the forest if he leaves him alive, but Gilgamesh kills him instead.
On their way home, a goddess named Ishtar professes her love to Gilgamesh, and asks that the two of them be together. When Gilgamesh refuses her, she becomes very angry and sends a monster called the Bull of Heaven to Uruk to get revenge.
The Bull causes a huge amount of damage to Uruk, and Gilgamesh and Enkidu kill it together to save the people. However, the Bull is a sacred creature of the heavens, and the gods decide that one of the two men must be killed for their crime. After some deliberation, Enkidu is executed by the gods.
Following Enkidu’s death, Gilgamesh’s grief is so great that he abandons his post as king and wanders the wilds. After seeing his friend get killed, Gilgamesh decides that he doesn’t want it to happen to him, and goes on a quest for the secret to eternal life.
To answer his question, Gilgamesh goes to visit “the Faraway,” a man named Utnapishtim who has been given eternal life. However, at the end of the Epic, Gilgamesh learns that no human can escape death, and comes to accept the fate of his friend.
– The gods ordered that Enkidu be killed because he and Gilgamesh killed Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven.