Who was Gilgamesh?
“In Uruk he built walls . . . Look
at it still today . . . Touch the
threshold, it is ancient.”
Gilgamesh. From Khorsabad (Palace of Sargon II).
Neo-Assyrian, 721-705 B.C.E. Housed in the Paris Louvre.
3000 B.C. Invention of writing
2800 B.C. Gilgamesh, king of Uruk
2100 B.C. Oldest copy of a Sumerian
1800 B.C. Babylonian Epic of Creation
1200 B.C. The standard version of
Gilgamesh in Akkadian
Sumerian oral poems and
stories circulate for
Until they are written down
on clay tablets in Sumerian,
Tablet I. The Coming of Enkidu
He who saw the Deep, the country’s
[who] knew…, was wise in all manners!
[Gilgamesh, who] saw the Deep, the
[who] knew…, was wise in all matters!
[He] … everywhere…
and [learnt] of everything the sum of
He saw what was secret, discovered what
he brought back a tale of before the
Translated by Andrew George (1999)
Gilgamesh King in Uruk
I will proclaim to the world the deeds of
Gilgamesh. This was the man to whom all
things were known; this was the king who
knew the countries of the world. He was
wise, he saw mysteries and knew secret
things, he brought us a tale of the days
before the flood. He went on a long
journey, was weary, worn-out with labour,
returning he rested, he engraved on a
stone the whole story.
Translated by N. K. Sanders
• Anu – sky god, principal god of Uruk
• Ishtar – goddess of love and war, Venus;
principal goddess of Uruk
• Enlil – god of earth, wind, and spirit; one of
the supreme deities
• Shamash – sun god
• Humbaba – giant montster, guardian of the
Forest of Cedar
Horned crown of Anu
star of Ishtar
A stele of the Assyrian king Šamši-Adad V (c.815
BCE), in a gesture of blessing to symbols of five
Cylinder seal showing Ishtar (with weapons
rising from her shoulders).
• Why was this story written down? Why is
Gilgamesh an important hero to the people of
the Mesopotamian civilizations?
• What patterns in this epic will we see
continued in later epics and narratives? Do
we recognize any of these patterns in stories
that continue to be told today?