Epic of Gilgamesh

epic poem from Mesopotamia, is amongst the earliest surviving works of literature

The Epic of Gilgamesh is an epic poem from Babylonia and is among the earliest known literary works. A series of Sumerian legends and poems about the mythological hero-king Gilgamesh, thought to be a ruler of the 3rd millennium BC, were gathered into a longer Akkadian poem long afterward, with the most complete version extant today preserved on twelve clay tablets in the library collection of the 7th century BC Assyrian king Assurbanipal.

Make merry each day,
dance and play day and night!
Let your clothes be clean,
let your head be washed, may you bathe in water!

Gaze on the child who holds your hand,
let your wife enjoy your repeated embrace!
For such is the destiny [of mortal men].

GilgameshEdit

  • He came a far road, was weary, found peace.
  • Read out
    the travails of Gilgamesh, all that he went through!
  • He carved on a stone stela all of his toils,
    and built the wall of Uruk-Haven,
    the wall of the sacred Eanna Temple, the holy sanctuary.
  • Who is there, my friend, can climb to the sky?
    Only the gods dwell forever in sunlight.
    As for man, his days are numbered,
    whatever he may do, it is but wind.
  • Enkidu opened his mouth,
    saying to Gilgamesh:
    "where you've set your mind begin the journey,
    let your heart have no fear, keep your eyes on me!"
  • O Mighty King, remember now that only gods stay in eternal watch.
    Humans come then go, that is the way fate decreed on the Tablets of Destiny.
    So someday you will depart, but till that distant day
    Sing, and dance.
    Eat your fill of warm cooked food and cool jugs of beer.
    Cherish the children your love gave life.
    Bathe away life's dirt in warm drawn waters.
    Pass the time in joy with your chosen wife.
    On the Tablets of Destiny it is decreed
    For you to enjoy short pleasures for your short days.
    • Siduri to Gilgamesh, Sippar tablet (Old Babylonian)
    • Variant translation by Andrew George (Penguin Classics):
      • O Gilgamesh, where are you wandering?
        The life that you seek you never will find:
        when the gods created mankind,
        death they dispensed to mankind,
        life they kept for themselves.
        But you, Gilgamesh, let your belly be full,
        enjoy yourself always by day and by night!
        Make merry each day,
        dance and play day and night!
        Let your clothes be clean,
        let your head be washed, may you bathe in water!
        Gaze on the child who holds your hand,
        let your wife enjoy your repeated embrace!
        For such is the destiny [of mortal men].
  • The skies roared with thunder and the earth heaved,
    Then came darkness and a stillness like death.
    Lightening smashed the ground and fires blazed out;
    Death flooded from the skies.
    When the heat died and the fires went out,
    The plains had turned to ash.
 
'Ever the river has risen and brought us the flood,
the mayfly floating on the water.
On the face of the sun its countenance gazes,
then all of a sudden nothing is there!'
Utanapishtim to Gilgamesh, Tablet X 311-15
  • 'Ever do we build our households,
    ever do we make our nests,
    ever do brothers divide their inheritance,
    ever do feuds arise in the land.'

    'Ever the river has risen and brought us the flood,
    the mayfly floating on the water.
    On the face of the sun its countenance gazes,
    then all of a sudden nothing is there!'
 
Even the gods took fright at the Deluge,
they left and went up to the heaven of Anu,
lying like dogs curled up in the open.
The goddess cried out like a woman in childbirth,
Belet-ili wailed, whose voice is so sweet:
The olden times have turned to clay,
because I spoke evil in the gods' assembly.
How could I speak evil in the gods' assembly,
and declare a war to destroy my people?
It is I who give birth, these people are mine!
And now, like fish, they fill the ocean!"
The Anunnaki gods were weeping with her,
wet-faced with sorrow, they were weeping...
The Flood, Tablet XI
  • Even the gods took fright at the Deluge,
    they left and went up to the heaven of Anu,
    lying like dogs curled up in the open.
    The goddess cried out like a woman in childbirth,
    Belet-ili wailed, whose voice is so sweet:
    The olden times have turned to clay,
    because I spoke evil in the gods' assembly.
    How could I speak evil in the gods' assembly,
    and declare a war to destroy my people?
    It is I who give birth, these people are mine!
    And now, like fish, they fill the ocean!"
    The Anunnaki gods were weeping with her,
    wet-faced with sorrow, they were weeping...
  • The seventh day when it came,
    I brought out a dove, I let it loose:
    off went the dove but then it returned,
    there was no place to land, so back it came to me.
    I brought out a swallow, I let it loose:
    off went the swallow but then it returned,
    there was no place to land, so back it came to me.
    I brought out a raven, I let it loose:
    off went the raven, it saw the waters receding,
    finding food, bowing and bobbing, it did not come back to me.
    I brought out an offering, to the four winds made sacrifice,
    incense I placed on the peak of the mountain.
  • What should I do and where should I go?
    A thief has taken hold of my flesh!
    For there in my bed-chamber Death does abide,
    and wherever I turn, there too will be Death.

AboutEdit

  • A story of learning to face reality, a story of "growing up."
    • Thorkild Jacobsen, "The Gilgamesh Epic: Romantic and Tragic Vision", in Lingering Over Words: Studies in Ancient Near Eastern Literature in Honor of William L. Moran (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1990), eds. T. Abusch, J. Huehnergard and P. Steinkeller, p. 249
  • A document of ancient humanism.
    • William L. Moran, "The Epic of Gilgamesh: A Document of Ancient Humanism", in Bulletin of the Canadian Society for Mesopotamian Studies 22 (1991)
  • Acceptance of human limitations, insistance on human values—this is the teaching of the life of Gilgamesh.
    • William L. Moran, in Encyclopedia of Religion, "Gilgamesh", p. 559; as quoted in Myth and Method, eds. L. Patton and W. Doniger (University of Virginia Press, 1996), "The Gilgamesh Epic: Myth and Meaning" by Benjamin C. Ray, p. 303
  • ...this discovery is evidently destined to excite a lively controversy. For the present the orthodox people are in great delight, and are very much prepossessed by the corroboration which it affords to Biblical history. It is possible, however, as has been pointed out, that the Chaldean inscription, if genuine, may be regarded as a confirmation of the statement that there are various traditions of the deluge apart from the Biblical one, which is perhaps legendary like the rest.
    • The New York Times, front page, 22 December 1872; as quoted in What Is World Literature?, David Damrosch, Princeton University Press, 2003, p.57

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