Imagine you have the opportunity to read the oldest fictional literature. Make yourself a cup of tea, for preservation purposes please wash your hands with antibacterial hand wash and settle on your favorite sofa with 12 clay tablets…
The Epic of Gilgamesh is the oldest known literature dating from between 2400 B.C.E and 2000 B.C.E In ancient Sumer literature, Gilgamesh is best known as a historical king who ruled around 2700 B.C.E. He was later deified by the people to become a transcendent hero-god along with his sidekick companion Enkidu in the Epic of Gilgamesh which most likely derives from several hundred years after his death or just as many centuries before.
Gilgamesh, a great king in old Mesopotamia, was created by the god Enlil to stop the flood hero Ziusudra (biblical Noah).
The oldest literature of mankind must also be literature’s greatest historical hoax. No one knows whether Gilgamesh was a real king who ruled over Sumer in 2700 B.C., or even if he was an actual deity. What we do know is that the epic itself goes back to at least 2000 B.C., and draws on sources much older than that. Its original language is Sumerian, but it has been found written in Akkadian as well (the Babylonian dialect of Semitic). This surviving version also appears in Hittite and Hurrian translations, dialects of the Indo-European language family.
Many consider the Epic of Gilgamesh to be the first epic literature piece dating back to 2000 B.C.E through oral tradition many years before it was written down on clay tablets in cuneiform script.
The story’s plot remains the same in all literature adaptations and follows closely along with many ancient scholars who believe it to be a historical account.
Gilgamesh was a great king of Uruk, an influential Sumerian city-state (located in modern-day Iraq) who ruled during the Third Dynasty of Ur.
He was a demigod – he had been granted eternal life but not invincibility, and is often referred to as two-thirds god, a one-third man with the emphasis on “man”. Scholars believe this derives from his father Lugalbanda having been an ordinary mortal, and his mother Ninsun having been an immortal goddess, who had many lovers throughout time which may have resulted in Gilgamesh himself being a demigod.
His father, Lugalbanda, had been the first king of Uruk following the Great Flood (of which literature and legend have now taken many forms from many different civilizations around the world) when he returned to their city-state with a magical axe made by god Enlil.
Due to his father’s importance, Gilgamesh was a favorite of the gods and in return they granted him great power, making him practically invincible.
One such story tells of Gilgamesh bathing in the Great Mother River and a serpent bites him, but he is unharmed due to divine protection.
Another story tells of the great monster Humbaba, whom Enlil requested that Gilgamesh kill for them who was protected by powerful defenses but later spared his life when he came down with fever from eating too much bread before the battle and nearly died, which is why the city-state’s inhabitants built his temple in his honor.
It was during this adventure that he became friends with an adventurer called Enkidu. A demigod of sorts himself, who had been created by gods to be Gilgamesh’s equal but unlike the King, he had remained ‘pure’ and not become corrupted by power.
They set forth on many adventures exploring the world together, but when their journey took them to Uruk (the city-state where Gilgamesh ruled) they entered a temple and saw a beautiful priestess named Ishtar and both fell in love with her.
The goddess Ishtar, seeing the two men she loved being together, got very angry and demanded that Gilgamesh send Enkidu to fight the Bull of Heaven for her or else she would cause his people great suffering.
Gilgamesh was terrified of the Bull and begged Enkidu not to fight it, but he would not listen.
So Gilgamesh sent him despite his protestations and they went their separate ways again when it came time for him to face the bull.
Enkidu fought the bull for seven days and nights and finally killed it by throwing crumbs from the bread he had been given to eat before the fight in its mouth while it was asleep, causing it to choke.
The Bull’s death was mourned heavily and the gods decreed that his body would never decay but instead serve as a reminder of man’s mortality…
If you want to read the rest of this ancient story, a free copy can be found here.