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Louvre Museum, Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Gilgamesh and Lion, Human headed winged bull, Assyria.

Immortality Lies within the Legend: Is Gilgamesh Alive and Well?

In 1853, Hormuzad Rassam discovered fragments of an ancient Sumerian text which is now considered to be the first great work of literature our civilization ever produced. After its translation it was published in 1870 by George Smith. Although read by serious Mesopotamia scholars far and wide, it was generally consigned to oblivion in the popular press. As a matter of fact, it took an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation to spark any real public interest in the work. The second episode of the fifth season of the popular TV show was entitled Darmok. In it , Patrick Stuart's character, Jean Luc Picard, quoted the line: "He who was my companion through adventure and hardship is gone forever”. Soon after people all over the world rushed to find a copy of The Epic of Gilgamesh so they could learn more about the heroes Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, and Enkidu, a wild man of the forest. It was another triumph for those who trumpet the enormous impact, and resulting responsibility, of popular television shows. 

The Flood Tablet, the 11th tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic, describes how the gods sent a flood to destroy the world. Utnapishtim was forewarned and built an ark to house and preserve living things. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Flood Tablet, the 11th tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic, describes how the gods sent a flood to destroy the world. Utnapishtim was forewarned and built an ark to house and preserve living things. ( CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Gilgamesh and Enkido

The Epic of Gilgamesh was composed more than 4,000 years ago. It tells the story of how two men as different as king Gilgamesh and savage Enkido could triumph over adversity and develop a personal friendship. Enkido was created by the gods specifically to keep Gilgamesh from subjugating and oppressing his people. But after an epic battle, the two became friends, and shared many adventures. Eventually, however, the now ‘civilized’ Enkido was given a death sentence by the gods, partly as a consequence of failing to fulfill the purpose for which he was created. Depressed and disillusioned by his friend's death, Gilgamesh undertook a long and difficult quest to discover eternal life. He believed the gods to be unfair because they created humankind with the knowledge of eternity, but without the ability to ever achieve it. This, he came to believe, was an unforgivable act.

The Deluge, by John Martin, 1834. Yale University (Public Domain)

The Deluge, by John Martin, 1834. Yale University ( Public Domain )

The Deluge and the Gods’ Destruction of Noisy Mankind

Grieving for Enkido, and fearful of his own death, Gilgamesh decided to seek wisdom from Utnapishtim, one of the two survivors of the great flood which had destroyed most of humanity.

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Jim Willis  is author of nine books on religion and spirituality, he has been an ordained minister for over forty years while working part-time as a carpenter, the host of his own drive-time radio show, an arts council director and adjunct college professor in the fields of World Religions and Instrumental Music. He is author of Supernatural Gods: Spiritual Mysteries, Psychic Experiences, and Scientific Truths and  Ancient Gods: Lost Histories, Hidden Truths, and the Conspiracy of Silence

Top Image : Louvre Museum, Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Gilgamesh and Lion, Human headed winged bull, Assyria. (Jean-Christophe BENOIST/  CC BY-SA 3.0 )

By Jim Willis

Comments

The Epic was required reading in one of my literature classes in university back in '73/74 long before Picatd came along. I still have my copy too :)

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