Broken Tablets:
Gilgamesh and the Origin of Writing
@ccareylit
craigcarey.net
Narrative/Story Technology
The Text
The Story
The Narrative
The Tablets
The Monuments
The Inscriptions
Stories cannot be separated from the media
in ...
Some Facts to Get Started
• Gilgamesh was a historical figure: a renowned
King of Uruk around 2800-2750 BCE
• Stories of Gi...
• Today’s version of Gilgamesh is compiled from
73 tablets in various languages
• About 60% of the text is preserved
• Exi...
• The author of Gilgamesh also drew inspiration
from other literary sources
• Early tales didn’t form a cycle; there was n...
The world of Gilgamesh in the context of
the contemporary Middle East
Gilgamesh
• Fifth ruler of the first post-diluvian
dynasty of Uruk
• Great builder of temples and
cities; restored Uruk aft...
The Sumerian King List
Gilgamesh 126 year reign ca. 2600 B.C.
The Epic of Gilgamesh (12 Tablets)
Discovery of the Tablets
• Discovered during
the heroic age of
excavation in the
mid-19th century
• Tablets brought back
t...
Discovery of the Tablets
• Deciphering and
translation process
• Took about 20 years
to fully translate and
realize signifi...
Tablet XI
• The so-called “Flood
Tablet” - recounts a
story of the Great Flood
from c. 2500 BC
• Opened new field of
biblic...
City-State of Uruk
• Largest settlement in
Babylonia
• Urbanization and
population growth
• Social, political, and
economi...
Urban Infrastructure
–Lewis Mumford, The City in History: Its Origins, its Transformations,
and its Prospects (1961)
“Through its monuments, wr...
Our
Digital
Temples
Digital Immortality
The Origin of Writing
Stories and Narrative
Data and Information
What is the function of early writing?
Before 2700 B.C.E.…writing is only accounting. To
recall what comes in the temple or the palace, and
what comes out. So-an...
Prewriting: Clay Tokens
• Clay Tokens: the
first bookkeeping
system, 3400 B.C.
• Plain tokens vs.
complex tokens
• Tokens b...
Clay Envelopes
Bulla-envelope
with 17 plain
tokens inside.
ca. 3700-3200 BC
From Bulla to Tablet:
The Birth of Abstract
Numerals
Early tablet recording the allocation of beer,
3100-3000 B.C.E
Pictographic Writing: c. 4000 BCE
Cuneiform
Sumer c. 3000 BCE
What is Cuneiform Writing?
At first, images were
drawn with the pointed
end of a reed or wood
stylus
Cuneiform images are
c...
Cuneiform
• No headings or marks
to indicate paragraphs,
direct speech,
questions, or emphasis
• Occasional line across
a ...
Sumerian School Tablets
The Evolution of the Writing Tablet
Evolution of Cuneiform
Categories of Signs in Early Writing
• Pictographs: signs
convey meaning
through pictorial
resemblance
• Logograms: signs
...
Sumerian Pictograph
Pictographs
Japanese Emoji
“picture” + “character”
Gilgamesh:
The Story
Origin of the Bromance
Journey to
the Cedar Forest
Humbaba
Mighty guard of the Great
Cedar Forest
– Tablet IV, Lines 11-16
Enkidu prepared a sleeping place for him for
the night;

a violent wind passed through so he atta...
In the middle of the night his sleep
came to an end,

so he got up and said to his friend:

"My friend, did you not call o...
– Tablet VII, Lines 32-38; 43-46
Enkidu raised his eyes,…
and spoke to the door as if it were human:
“You stupid wooden do...
“Six days and seven nights [Gilgamesh] mourned over [Enkidu]
and would not allow him to be buried until a maggot fell out ...
– Roland Barthes
“Each of us has his own
rhythm of suffering.”
“Hear me, O Elders of Uruk, hear me, O men!
I mourn for Enkidu, my friend,
I shriek in anguish like a mourner…
I had the p...
For how long do we build a household?
For how long do we seal a document?

For how long do brothers share the inheritance?...
The Flood Tablet
"I will reveal to you,
Gilgamesh, a thing that
is hidden, a secret of
the gods I will tell you!”
(Tablet ...
Story of Noah, Old Testament
Dates c. 1000 - 800 BCE
“I sent forth a dove and
released it.
The dove went off, but
came back to me…
I sent forth a swallow
and released it.
The ...
“A snake smelled the fragrance of the plant,
Silently came up and carried off the plant.
While going back it sloughed off ...
“What can I find (to serve) as a marker for me?
I will turn back (from the journey by sea)
and leave the boat by the shore!...
Return to Uruk
The Promise of Human Culture
“They arrived in Uruk-Haven.
Gilgamesh said to Urshanabi, the ferryman:
“Go up, Urshanabi, onto the wall of Uruk and walk ...
Broken Tablets
This slideshow by Craig Carey is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Licen...
Broken Tablets: Gilgamesh and the Origin of Writing
Broken Tablets: Gilgamesh and the Origin of Writing
Broken Tablets: Gilgamesh and the Origin of Writing
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Broken Tablets: Gilgamesh and the Origin of Writing

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Broken Tablets: Gilgamesh and the Origin of Writing

  1. 1. Broken Tablets: Gilgamesh and the Origin of Writing @ccareylit craigcarey.net
  2. 2. Narrative/Story Technology
  3. 3. The Text The Story The Narrative The Tablets The Monuments The Inscriptions Stories cannot be separated from the media in which they are told.
  4. 4. Some Facts to Get Started • Gilgamesh was a historical figure: a renowned King of Uruk around 2800-2750 BCE • Stories of Gilgamesh survived his death and were eventually written down by scribes • Gilgamesh comes from ancient Sumeria, site of the earliest civilizations (modern-day Iraq) • Oral poems from 2500-2300 BC. The first Sumerian copies inscribed around 2100 BC.
  5. 5. • Today’s version of Gilgamesh is compiled from 73 tablets in various languages • About 60% of the text is preserved • Existence of the Gilgamesh tales only known for about 150 years • Ancient writers described the epic as “The Gilgamesh Cycle,” a poem in 12 songs (or cantos) about 300 lines each Some Facts to Get Started
  6. 6. • The author of Gilgamesh also drew inspiration from other literary sources • Early tales didn’t form a cycle; there was no connecting theme • Before the Gilgamesh Cycle, there existed a number of short heroic tales in the Sumerian language about Gilgamesh Some Facts to Get Started
  7. 7. The world of Gilgamesh in the context of the contemporary Middle East
  8. 8. Gilgamesh • Fifth ruler of the first post-diluvian dynasty of Uruk • Great builder of temples and cities; restored Uruk after the flood • Known as a great judge; prayers addressed to him • 2/3 God, 1/3 human being • His mother was a goddess, his father a mortal king of Uruk
  9. 9. The Sumerian King List Gilgamesh 126 year reign ca. 2600 B.C.
  10. 10. The Epic of Gilgamesh (12 Tablets)
  11. 11. Discovery of the Tablets • Discovered during the heroic age of excavation in the mid-19th century • Tablets brought back to British Museum • Value of discovery not realized till later Austin Henry Layard
  12. 12. Discovery of the Tablets • Deciphering and translation process • Took about 20 years to fully translate and realize significance • Translation work continues today
  13. 13. Tablet XI • The so-called “Flood Tablet” - recounts a story of the Great Flood from c. 2500 BC • Opened new field of biblical studies and ancient history • Arguments about the authority, authenticity, and adaptation
  14. 14. City-State of Uruk • Largest settlement in Babylonia • Urbanization and population growth • Social, political, and economic complexity • “The first city in world history” • First evidence of writing
  15. 15. Urban Infrastructure
  16. 16. –Lewis Mumford, The City in History: Its Origins, its Transformations, and its Prospects (1961) “Through its monuments, written records, and orderly habits of association, the city enlarged the scope of all human activities, extending them backwards and forwards in time. By means of its storage facilities (buildings, vaults, archives, monuments, tablets, books), the city became capable of transmitting a complex culture from generation to generation, for it marshaled together not only the physical means but the human agents needed to pass on and enlarge this heritage. That remains the greatest of the city’s gifts.” The City as Media
  17. 17. Our Digital Temples
  18. 18. Digital Immortality
  19. 19. The Origin of Writing
  20. 20. Stories and Narrative Data and Information What is the function of early writing?
  21. 21. Before 2700 B.C.E.…writing is only accounting. To recall what comes in the temple or the palace, and what comes out. So-and-so much gold, so-and-so many sheep, so-and-so many bushels of grain. It’s only numbers and the thing counted. And then, at some point, the name of who it belongs to. That’s it. - Interview with Denise Schmandt-Besserat “
  22. 22. Prewriting: Clay Tokens • Clay Tokens: the first bookkeeping system, 3400 B.C. • Plain tokens vs. complex tokens • Tokens begin to decline, decrease, disappear around 3100 to 3000 B.C.
  23. 23. Clay Envelopes
  24. 24. Bulla-envelope with 17 plain tokens inside. ca. 3700-3200 BC
  25. 25. From Bulla to Tablet: The Birth of Abstract Numerals
  26. 26. Early tablet recording the allocation of beer, 3100-3000 B.C.E
  27. 27. Pictographic Writing: c. 4000 BCE
  28. 28. Cuneiform Sumer c. 3000 BCE
  29. 29. What is Cuneiform Writing? At first, images were drawn with the pointed end of a reed or wood stylus Cuneiform images are created by impressing the edge of the stylus into the clay Cuneiform, after the Latin term for wedge, cuneus
  30. 30. Cuneiform • No headings or marks to indicate paragraphs, direct speech, questions, or emphasis • Occasional line across a column to indicate a change of speaker or episode • Looks as though a chicken had walked across clay
  31. 31. Sumerian School Tablets
  32. 32. The Evolution of the Writing Tablet
  33. 33. Evolution of Cuneiform
  34. 34. Categories of Signs in Early Writing • Pictographs: signs convey meaning through pictorial resemblance • Logograms: signs represent words • Phonograms or syllabograms: signs represent syllables
  35. 35. Sumerian Pictograph
  36. 36. Pictographs Japanese Emoji “picture” + “character”
  37. 37. Gilgamesh: The Story
  38. 38. Origin of the Bromance
  39. 39. Journey to the Cedar Forest
  40. 40. Humbaba Mighty guard of the Great Cedar Forest
  41. 41. – Tablet IV, Lines 11-16 Enkidu prepared a sleeping place for him for the night;
 a violent wind passed through so he attached a covering. He made him lie down, and... in a circle.
 they... like grain from the mountain...
 While Gilgamesh rested his chin on his knees,
 sleep that pours over mankind overtook him.” On the Road: Repetition, Friendship, and Intimacy
  42. 42. In the middle of the night his sleep came to an end,
 so he got up and said to his friend:
 "My friend, did you not call out to me? Why did I wake up? Did you not touch me? Why am I so disturbed?
 Did a god pass by? Why are my muscles trembling?
 Enkidu, my friend, I have had a dream--
 and the dream I had was deeply disturbing(?) The Intimacy of Dreams
  43. 43. – Tablet VII, Lines 32-38; 43-46 Enkidu raised his eyes,… and spoke to the door as if it were human: “You stupid wooden door,
 with no ability to understand... !
 Already at 10 leagues I selected the wood for until I saw the towering Cedar ...
 Your wood was without compare in my eyes.
 …
 Had I known, O door, that this would he your gratitude and this your gratitude...,
 I would have taken an axe and chopped you up,
 and lashed your planks into a raft!” Cursing the Cedar Door
  44. 44. “Six days and seven nights [Gilgamesh] mourned over [Enkidu] and would not allow him to be buried until a maggot fell out of his nose. … [Gilgamesh]: How can I stay silent, how can I be still? My friend whom I love has turned to clay. Am I not like him? Will I lie down, never to get up again?” (Tablet X, Lines 63-65; 72-74)
  45. 45. – Roland Barthes “Each of us has his own rhythm of suffering.”
  46. 46. “Hear me, O Elders of Uruk, hear me, O men! I mourn for Enkidu, my friend, I shriek in anguish like a mourner… I had the people of Uruk mourn and moan for you, I filled happy people with woe over you, and after you (died) I let a filthy mat of hair grow over my body, and donned the skin of a lion and roamed the wilderness.” (Tablet, VIII, Lines 81-88) Expressions of Mourning
  47. 47. For how long do we build a household? For how long do we seal a document?
 For how long do brothers share the inheritance? For how long is there to be jealousy in the land(?)? … The image of Death cannot be depicted. (Tablet X, Lines 295-97; 303) Time and Mortality
  48. 48. The Flood Tablet "I will reveal to you, Gilgamesh, a thing that is hidden, a secret of the gods I will tell you!” (Tablet XI, Lines 9-10). 2500 B.C.E
  49. 49. Story of Noah, Old Testament Dates c. 1000 - 800 BCE
  50. 50. “I sent forth a dove and released it. The dove went off, but came back to me… I sent forth a swallow and released it. The swallow went off, but came back to me… I sent forth a raven and released it. The raven went off, and saw the waters slither back.” (Tablet XI, Lines 146-153)
  51. 51. “A snake smelled the fragrance of the plant, Silently came up and carried off the plant. While going back it sloughed off its casing. At that point Gilgamesh sat down, weeping, his tears streaming over the side of his nose. (Tablet XI, Lines 71).
  52. 52. “What can I find (to serve) as a marker for me? I will turn back (from the journey by sea) and leave the boat by the shore!” (Tablet XI, Lines 307-308)
  53. 53. Return to Uruk The Promise of Human Culture
  54. 54. “They arrived in Uruk-Haven. Gilgamesh said to Urshanabi, the ferryman: “Go up, Urshanabi, onto the wall of Uruk and walk around. Examine its foundation, inspect its brickwork thoroughly – Is not even the core of the brick structure of kiln-fired bricks, And did not the Seven Sages themselves lay out its plan? One league city, one league palm gardens, one league lowlands, the open area of the Ishtar temple, Three leagues and the open area of Uruk it encloses” (71). The Writing in the Walls
  55. 55. Broken Tablets
  56. 56. This slideshow by Craig Carey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

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