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Gilgamesh may have been an
actual king of early Sumeria, but his deeds have been cast in such heroic proportions
that some argue that he is simply a mythic figure. Nevertheless, certain corroborating
references from the early third millennium B.C. seem to confirm his existence.
The Sumerian stories about Gilgamesh and the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh are
the oldest recorded stories in human history. These works are particularly
significant in their heroic depiction of Gilgamesh's stand against Agga, the
king of Kish.1 "Let
us not submit to the house of Kish," was his appeal to the people of Uruk
to fight for their city. The epic also presents a striking portrayal of human
limitations. Gilgamesh becomes arrogant with his success, and the people of
Uruk call on the gods to deliver them from this tyrant. In response, the gods
make Enkidu, the wild man, who is Gilgamesh's equal in strength. Gilgamesh's
battle with Enkidu tempers his character, and the two embark on a series of
adventures, leaving Uruk in peace. Some readers have interpreted this as an
early recognition of the need to use power to limit power.
In later stories Gilgamesh grapples with his mortality and laments about the
natural limits placed on mankind:
Man, the tallest, cannot reach to heaven,
Man, the widest, cannot cover the earth.
Gilgamesh grasps at immortality by attempting great deeds in order to "raise
up my name."2 Later
he undertakes a search for an elusive herb that guarantees immortality, demonstrating
the limitations placed on humans regardless of their earthly strength. The
stories of Gilgamesh were well known throughout the ancient world and were
translated into several ancient languages.
It is especially fitting that at the dawn of history and the start of Pierre
Goodrich's "story of the centuries" we find a story dealing with
the basic limitations of human nature and the perils of political power, themes
that will be repeated time and time again.
 Samuel Noah Kramer, The
Sumerians (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963)
 Samuel Noah Kramer, History
Begins at Sumer (London: Thames & Hudson, 1958
Works about the Author
Kramer, Samuel Noah. From the Tablets of Sumer: Twenty-Five Firsts in
Man's Recorded History. Indian Hills: The Falcon's Wing Press, 1956.
Pritchard, James B. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament.
Princeton University Press, 1950.
Mendelsohn, Isaac. Religions of the Ancient Near East. New York:
The Liberal Arts Press, 1955.
Heidel, Alexander. The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958.
The biographical material about the author originally appeared on The
Goodrich Room: Interactive Tour website.