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Gilgamesh

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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.

 


 

Endnotes

[1] Samuel Noah Kramer, The Sumerians (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963)

[2] Samuel Noah Kramer, History Begins at Sumer (London: Thames & Hudson, 1958

Bibliography

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:
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.

Source

The biographical material about the author originally appeared on The Goodrich Room: Interactive Tour website.

Last modified April 10, 2014