Gilgamesh (Bilgames in the earliest texts) was a historical king of the Sumerian city-state of Uruk, a major hero in ancient Mesopotamian mythology, and the protagonist of the Epic of Gilgamesh, an epic poem written in Akkadian during the late second millennium BCE. He likely ruled between 2800 and 2500 BCE and was posthumously deified. He became a major figure in Sumerian legends during the Third Dynasty of Ur (c. 2112 – c. 2004 BCE).
- 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.
- 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.
- Read out
the travails of Gilgamesh, all that he went through!
- Prologue, Tablet I
- 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!"
- Father, let me have the Bull of Heaven
To kill Gilgamesh and his city.
For if you do not grant me the Bull of Heaven,
I will pull down the Gates of Hell itself,
Crush the doorposts and flatten the door,
And I will let the dead leave
And let the dead roam the earth
And they shall eat the living.
The dead will overwhelm all the living!
- The life that you seek you never will find:
when the gods created mankind,
death they dispensed to mankind,
life they kept for themselves.
- 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.
- The destiny was fulfilled which the father of the gods, Enlil of the mountain, had decreed for Gilgamesh: "In nether-earth the darkness will show him a light: of mankind, all that are known, none will leave a monument for generations to come to compare with his. The heroes, the wise men, like the new moon have their waxing and waning. Men will say, 'Who has ever ruled with might and with power like him?' As in the dark month, the month of shadows, so without him there is no light. O Gilgamesh, this was the meaning of your dream. You were given the kingship, such was your destiny, everlasting life was not your destiny. Because of this do not be sad at heart, do not be grieved or oppressed; he has given you power to bind and to loose, to be the darkness and the light of mankind. He has given unexampled supremacy over the people, victory in battle from which no fugitive returns, in forays and assaults from which there is no going back. But do not abuse this power, deal justly with your servants in the palace, deal justly before the face of the Sun.
- Translated by Nancy Sandars, 1960, Penguin Classics, Third edition, 1972
The Death of Gilgamesh edit
- The great wild bull has lain down and is never to rise again. Lord Gilgamesh has lain down and is never to rise again. [...] The hero fitted out with a shoulder-belt has lain down and is never to rise again. He who was unique in strength has lain down and is never to rise again. He who diminished wickedness has lain down and is never to rise again. He who spoke most wisely has lain down and is never to rise again. The plunderer of many countries has lain down and is never to rise again. He who knew how to climb the mountains has lain down and is never to rise again. The lord of Kulaba has lain down and is never to rise again. He has lain down on his death-bed and is never to rise again. He has lain down on a couch of sighs and is never to rise again.
- Version from Me-Turan
- Unable to stand up, unable to sit down, he laments.
Unable to eat, unable to drink, he laments.
Held fast by the door-bolt of Namtar, he is unable to rise. [...] Like a gazelle caught in a trap.
- Version from Nibru
- Version from Me-Turan: "Like a captured gazelle buck."
- You will be accounted a god. [...] Lord of Kulaba, [...] hero of the pristine mountain.
- Version from Nibru
- Sisig (a god of dreams), the son of Utu, will provide light for him in the nether world, the place of darkness. When a funerary statue is made in honour of someone, whoever they may be, for future days, mighty youths [...] will form a semicircle at the door-jambs and perform wrestling and feats of strength before them. In the month Nenejar, at the festival of the ghosts, no light will be provided before them without him (i.e. Gilgamec).
- Version from Nibru
- Oh Gilgamec! Enlil, the Great Mountain, the father of gods, has made kingship your destiny, but not eternal life -- lord Gilgamec, this is how to interpret the dream. [The end] of life should not make you feel sad, should not make you despair, should not make you feel depressed. You must have been told that this is what the bane of being human involves. You must have been told that this is what the cutting of your umbilical cord involved. The darkest day of humans awaits you now. The solitary place of humans awaits you now. The unstoppable flood-wave awaits you now. The unavoidable battle awaits you now. The unequal struggle awaits you now. The skirmish from which there is no escape awaits you now. But you should not go to the underworld with heart knotted in anger.
- Version from Nibru
Quotes about Gilgamesh edit
- I have a bit of an obsession with Gilgamesh, the earliest surviving work of literature, which comes to us in fragments. Not that people should be surprised if I owned a copy or two by different translators, but I have a whole shelf of adaptations and translations. There’s something I find compelling about the story: what makes a human(e) being, what constitutes bravery, how do we deal with loss, the transformative possibilities of love. I first got hooked with Herbert Mason’s adaptation, then found David Ferry’s excellent translation, Yusef Komunyakaa’s verse play, Gardner/Maier’s translation, Stephen Mitchell’s poetic interpretation. There’s even a graphic novel version by Kent and Kevin Dixon. The fact that the story has survived this long in so many renditions means I’m not the only one captivated by this ancient story.
- The first recognized epic hero is a Sumerian, known as Bilgames in the earliest texts, but since accepted as Gilgamesh. Around 2500 BC, he was the fifth king of the land of Uruk, where Iraq now sits. He was said to have reigned for 126 years and to have lived longer than that. He became the main figure in the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the best-known examples of early Mesopotamian literature. In this work, he is described as a demigod, son of the mortal Lugalbanda and the goddess Romat (also known as Ninsun).
- Stan Lee's How To Draw Superheroes, by Stan Lee, co written by Danny Fingeroth, Keith Dallas and Robert Sodaro, Waston-Guptill Publications New York, (2013), “History and Origins of Superheroes”, ch. 1, p. 12.
- Because of your purity, youthful Utu has made everything abundant for you; may a sweet life be your lot, son of Ninsumun.
- The hoe buries people, but dead people are also brought up from the ground by the hoe. With the hoe, the hero honoured by An, the younger brother of Nergal, the warrior Gilgamesh – is as powerful as a hunting net. The sage son of Ninsumun is pre-eminent with oars. With the hoe, he is the great barber of the watercourses. In the chamber of the shrine, with the hoe he is the minister.
- Encyclopedic article on Gilgamesh on Wikipedia
- Media related to Gilgamesh on Wikimedia Commons
- The dictionary definition of Gilgamesh on Wiktionary