The Epic Of Gilgamesh

The Epic of Gilgamesh is a prestigious ancient poem, and arguably the earliest surviving work of great literature. The prestigious poem addresses important matters which apply even to the world today.

Discovery of the Poem

The poem is believed to have originated in ancient Mesopotamia, and is dated back to the Third Dynasty of Ur. The first surviving copy of the epic is referred to as the ‘Old Babylonian’, and dates back to around the 18th century BC. However, only approximately two-thirds of this copy remain with us now.

Till this day, the epic remains incomplete; as newer discoveries have been made, revised versions have been published. However, none of them, as of yet, are complete. The most up-to date version is known as the ‘Akkadian’ version, and consists of twelve individual tablets.

In 2003, Oxford University Press published a credible modern translation of the epic, in the form of a two-volume critical piece by Andrew George.

Plot of the Epic

The work is not prestigious only for its rich history; the plot itself is one of great tragedy and meaning.

The poem follows the story of Gilgamesh, an ancient king of Uruk. The king was two-thirds ‘god’ and one-third man, and was regarded as visually beautiful, and very powerful. He also had an abundance of wisdom.

However, despite his qualities, Gilgamesh was a very abusive kind; he was known to rape women of his choice, and was abusive towards his people and workers. His kingship was regarded as vehemently cruel. Thus, his people prayed to the gods for freedom from the oppression they faced.

The gods answered the prayer, more or less; they introduced an ‘anti-Gilgamesh’ into the mix, known as Enkidu. Enkidu was considered an equally magnificent creation as Gilgamesh. While initially the two are enemies, they eventually become great friends. Thanks to their friendship, the two become partners in seeking out adventure, and did great things together.

Eventually, Enkidu and Gilgamesh anger the gods by attempting to steal from a tree in a forbidden forest. As punishment, the gods decide to kill Enkidu and Gilgamesh is left to grieve.

Following Enkidu’s death, Gilgamesh went to great lengths to seek out immortality. Although he fails in his task, Gilgamesh learns the value of mortality and the importance of humanity, which is how the story ends.

This great piece of literature does an impressive job of exploring themes of humanity, emotion, friendship and strength. While the complete edition may never be available to us, we have obtained enough to appreciate the genius of the epic.