Between gods and animals: becoming human in the Gilgamesh epic

To remember

  • The Epic of Gilgamesh = Babylonian poem composed in ancient Iraq, millennia before Homer = tells story of Gilgamesh, king of the city of Uruk.
  • gods create a friend for him > Enkidu, wild man,
  • woman Shamhat seduces Enkidu=> transforming Enkidu from beast to man => strength diminished + intellect expanded =>able to think + speak like a human being.
  • Enkidu goes to Uruk to confront Gilgamesh’s abuse of power > wrestle with one another => form passionate friendship.
  • Gilgamesh’s beginning number of different editions <= began as cycle of stories in  Sumerian language > collected + translated into single epic in Akkadian language. > earliest version of the epic written in dialect Old Babylonian > revised + updated in Standard Babylonian dialect
  • Gilgamesh story comes to us as a tapestry of shards, pieced together by philologists to create a roughly coherent narrative
  • newest discovery = tiny fragment lain overlooked in museum archive of Cornell University in New York, identified by Alexandra Kleinerman & Alhena Gadotti + published by Andrew George in 2018. => tablet seemed to preserve parts of both Old Babylonian + Standard Babylonian version, = two scenes not identical,
  • Gods depicted as opposite of animals = omnipotent + immortal
  • human placed somewhere in the middle = not omnipotent, but capable of

+

Preceding

Stories of the beginnings, and one Main book composed of four major sections

Gilgamesh

++

Additional reading

  1. Genesis Among the Creation Myths
  2. The flood, floods and mythic flood stories 2 Mythic theme 1 God or gods warning
  3. The flood, floods and mythic flood stories 3 Mythic theme 2 Hebrew story of the flood
  4. The flood, floods and mythic flood stories 6 European myths
  5. The flood, floods and mythic flood stories 8 South America

Recortes de Oriente Medio

Tablet V of the Epic of Gilgamesh Tablilla V de la Epopeya de Gilgamesh. Museo Sulaymaniyah, Irak. Foto: Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin / Wikimedia Commons

Por Sophus Helle
Publicado originalmente en Aeon bajo liciencia Creative Commons

The Epic of Gilgamesh is a Babylonian poem composed in ancient Iraq, millennia before Homer. It tells the story of Gilgamesh, king of the city of Uruk. To curb his restless and destructive energy, the gods create a friend for him, Enkidu, who grows up among the animals of the steppe. When Gilgamesh hears about this wild man, he orders that a woman named Shamhat be brought out to find him. Shamhat seduces Enkidu, and the two make love for six days and seven nights, transforming Enkidu from beast to man.

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