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These independent stories were later used as source material for a combined epic in Akkadian. Only a few tablets of it have survived. Approximately two-thirds of this longer, twelve-tablet version have been recovered. Some of the best copies were discovered in the library ruins of the 7th-century BC Assyrian king Ashurbanipal. The first half of the story discusses Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, and Enkidu , a wild man created by the gods to stop Gilgamesh from oppressing the people of Uruk.
After Enkidu becomes civilized through sexual initiation with a prostitute, he travels to Uruk, where he challenges Gilgamesh to a test of strength. Gilgamesh wins the contest; nonetheless, the two become friends. Together, they make a six-day journey to the legendary Cedar Forest , where they plan to slay the Guardian, Humbaba the Terrible, and cut down the sacred Cedar.
Gilgamesh and Enkidu kill the Bull of Heaven after which the gods decide to sentence Enkidu to death and kill him. In the second half of the epic, distress over Enkidu's death causes Gilgamesh to undertake a long and perilous journey to discover the secret of eternal life. He eventually learns that "Life, which you look for, you will never find. For when the gods created man, they let death be his share, and life withheld in their own hands".
Distinct sources exist from over a year timeframe. The earliest Sumerian poems are now generally considered to be distinct stories, rather than parts of a single epic. Although several revised versions based on new discoveries have been published, the epic remains incomplete. The New York Times , front page, .
Loftus in the early s. Campbell Thompson updated both of their work in Over the next two decades, Samuel Noah Kramer reassembled the Sumerian poems. The definitive modern translation is a two-volume critical work by Andrew George , published by Oxford University Press in A book review by Cambridge scholar Eleanor Robson claims that George's is the most significant critical work on Gilgamesh in the last 70 years.
In , Stephen Mitchell supplied a controversial version that takes many liberties with the text and includes modernized allusions and commentary relating to the Iraq War of From the diverse sources found, two main versions of the epic have been partially reconstructed: the Standard Babylonian version, or He who saw the deep , and the Old Babylonian version, or Surpassing all other kings. Five earlier Sumerian poems about Gilgamesh have been partially recovered, some with primitive versions of specific episodes in the Babylonian version, others with unrelated stories.
This version was compiled by Sin-liqe-unninni sometime between and BC from earlier texts. The Standard Babylonian version has different opening words, or incipit , from the older version.
The story of Utnapishtim, the hero of the flood myth , can also be found in the Babylonian epic of Atra-Hasis.
The 12th tablet is a sequel to the original 11, and was probably appended at a later date. Tablet 12 is a near copy of an earlier Sumerian tale, a prequel, in which Gilgamesh sends Enkidu to retrieve some objects of his from the Underworld, and he returns in the form of a spirit to relate the nature of the Underworld to Gilgamesh.
This summary is based on Andrew George 's translation. The story introduces Gilgamesh, king of Uruk. Gilgamesh, two-thirds god and one-third man, is oppressing his people, who cry out to the gods for help. For the young women of Uruk this oppression takes the form of a droit du seigneur , or "lord's right", to sleep with brides on their wedding night.
For the young men the tablet is damaged at this point it is conjectured that Gilgamesh exhausts them through games, tests of strength, or perhaps forced labour on building projects. The gods respond to the people's pleas by creating an equal to Gilgamesh who will be able to stop his oppression.
This is the primitive man, Enkidu , who is covered in hair and lives in the wild with the animals. He is spotted by a trapper, whose livelihood is being ruined because Enkidu is uprooting his traps. The trapper tells the sun-god Shamash about the man, and it is arranged for Enkidu to be seduced by Shamhat , a temple prostitute , his first step towards being tamed. After six days and seven nights or two weeks, according to more recent scholarship  of lovemaking and teaching Enkidu about the ways of civilization, she takes Enkidu to a shepherd's camp to learn how to be civilized.
Gilgamesh, meanwhile, has been having dreams about the imminent arrival of a beloved new companion and asks his mother, Ninsun , to help interpret these dreams. Shamhat brings Enkidu to the shepherds' camp, where he is introduced to a human diet and becomes the night watchman.
Learning from a passing stranger about Gilgamesh's treatment of new brides, Enkidu is incensed and travels to Uruk to intervene at a wedding. When Gilgamesh attempts to visit the wedding chamber, Enkidu blocks his way, and they fight.
After a fierce battle, Enkidu acknowledges Gilgamesh's superior strength and they become friends. Gilgamesh proposes a journey to the Cedar Forest to slay the monstrous demi-god Humbaba in order to gain fame and renown. Despite warnings from Enkidu and the council of elders, Gilgamesh is not deterred. The elders give Gilgamesh advice for his journey. Gilgamesh visits his mother, the goddess Ninsun , who seeks the support and protection of the sun-god Shamash for their adventure.
Ninsun adopts Enkidu as her son, and Gilgamesh leaves instructions for the governance of Uruk in his absence. Gilgamesh and Enkidu journey to the Cedar Forest. Every few days they camp on a mountain, and perform a dream ritual.
Gilgamesh has five terrifying dreams about falling mountains, thunderstorms, wild bulls, and a thunderbird that breathes fire. Despite similarities between his dream figures and earlier descriptions of Humbaba, Enkidu interprets these dreams as good omens, and denies that the frightening images represent the forest guardian. As they approach the cedar mountain, they hear Humbaba bellowing, and have to encourage each other not to be afraid.
The heroes enter the cedar forest. Humbaba , the guardian of the Cedar Forest, insults and threatens them. He accuses Enkidu of betrayal, and vows to disembowel Gilgamesh and feed his flesh to the birds. Gilgamesh is afraid, but with some encouraging words from Enkidu the battle commences. The mountains quake with the tumult and the sky turns black. The god Shamash sends 13 winds to bind Humbaba, and he is captured. Humbaba pleads for his life, and Gilgamesh pities him. He offers to make Gilgamesh king of the forest, to cut the trees for him, and to be his slave.
Enkidu, however, argues that Gilgamesh should kill Humbaba to establish his reputation forever. Humbaba curses them both and Gilgamesh dispatches him with a blow to the neck, as well as killing his seven sons. They build a raft and return home along the Euphrates with the giant tree and possibly the head of Humbaba.
Gilgamesh rejects the advances of the goddess Ishtar because of her mistreatment of previous lovers like Dumuzi. Ishtar asks her father Anu to send the Bull of Heaven to avenge her. When Anu rejects her complaints, Ishtar threatens to raise the dead who will "outnumber the living" and "devour them". Anu becomes frightened, and gives in to her. Ishtar leads the Bull of Heaven to Uruk, and it causes widespread devastation.
It lowers the level of the Euphrates river, and dries up the marshes. It opens up huge pits that swallow men. Without any divine assistance, Enkidu and Gilgamesh attack and slay it, and offer up its heart to Shamash. When Ishtar cries out, Enkidu hurls one of the hindquarters of the bull at her. The city of Uruk celebrates, but Enkidu has an ominous dream about his future failure. In Enkidu's dream, the gods decide that one of the heroes must die because they killed Humbaba and Gugalanna.
Despite the protestations of Shamash, Enkidu is marked for death. Enkidu curses the great door he has fashioned for Enlil's temple.
He also curses the trapper and Shamhat for removing him from the wild. Shamash reminds Enkidu of how Shamhat fed and clothed him, and introduced him to Gilgamesh. Shamash tells him that Gilgamesh will bestow great honors upon him at his funeral, and will wander into the wild consumed with grief. Enkidu regrets his curses and blesses Shamhat instead.
In a second dream, however, he sees himself being taken captive to the Netherworld by a terrifying Angel of Death. The underworld is a "house of dust" and darkness whose inhabitants eat clay, and are clothed in bird feathers, supervised by terrifying beings.
Finally, after a lament that he could not meet a heroic death in battle, he dies. In a famous line from the epic, Gilgamesh clings to Enkidu's body and denies that he has died until a maggot drops from the corpse's nose. Gilgamesh delivers a lament for Enkidu, in which he calls upon mountains, forests, fields, rivers, wild animals, and all of Uruk to mourn for his friend.
Recalling their adventures together, Gilgamesh tears at his hair and clothes in grief. He commissions a funerary statue, and provides grave gifts from his treasury to ensure that Enkidu has a favourable reception in the realm of the dead. A great banquet is held where the treasures are offered to the gods of the Netherworld.
Just before a break in the text there is a suggestion that a river is being dammed, indicating a burial in a river bed, as in the corresponding Sumerian poem, The Death of Gilgamesh. Tablet nine opens with Gilgamesh roaming the wild wearing animal skins, grieving for Enkidu. Having now become fearful of his own death, he decides to seek Utnapishtim "the Faraway" , and learn the secret of eternal life. Among the few survivors of the Great Flood, Utnapishtim and his wife are the only humans to have been granted immortality by the gods.
Gilgamesh crosses a mountain pass at night and encounters a pride of lions. Before sleeping he prays for protection to the moon god Sin.
Then, waking from an encouraging dream, he kills the lions and uses their skins for clothing. After a long and perilous journey, Gilgamesh arrives at the twin peaks of Mount Mashu at the end of the earth. He comes across a tunnel, which no man has ever entered, guarded by two scorpion monsters , who appear to be a married couple.
The Epic of Gilgamesh
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Het Epos van Gilgamesh
SparkNotes is here for you with everything you need to ace or teach! Find out more. He built magnificent ziggurats, or temple towers, surrounded his city with high walls, and laid out its orchards and fields. He was physically beautiful, immensely strong, and very wise. Although Gilgamesh was godlike in body and mind, he began his kingship as a cruel despot.
Het epos van Gilgameš