The Epic of Gilgamesh
Gilgamesh was a hero in ancient Mesopotamian mythology. He is the protagonist of the Epic of Gilgamesh, an epic poem written in Akkadian during the late 2nd millennium BC.
I have been reading the beautiful new transation of Gilgamesh by Danish scholar, Sophus Helle. This translation is in verse, and shows the many lacunae and as such is an authentic representation of the poem.
Alternative versions of the poem include the highly recommended Penguin edition of Gilgamesh by N. K. Sandars. Written in prose, the Sandars version seeks not to represent the text in poetic form with lacunae, but rather to make the story accessible to readers. Sandars' edition contains a useful introduction, while Helle's translation is followed by a series of essays.
Gilgamesh predates the Homeric epics by 1,500 years. The earliest tablets containing fragments of the poem date from 1800 BC, while the most recent are dated to 1300-1000 BC. The epic was lost some time after this, until it was unearthed during the excavations by Austin Henry Layard at Nineveh in the 1950s. He discovered over 25,000 tablets which were brought back to the British Museum for the painstaking process of decipherment. More excavations were carried out by scholars from the University of Pennsylvania and more than 30,000 tablets were discovered.
The mythical character of Gilgamesh was a giant, two-thirds divine, one-third human. It has been established that there was, in fact, a king named Gilgamesh who ruled in Uruk around 2700 BC.
Have you read the story of Gilgamesh? Tell me what you thought of it. Which version do you have?
The image above is thought to show Gilgamesh in an Assyrian palace relief (713–706 BC), from Dur-Sharrukin. It can be viewed in the Louvre.