Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Poem - The Epic of Gilgamesh

The Epic of Gilgamesh is the oldest known written story on earth. The most complete version that we have of this epic poem was discovered in the ruined library of Ashurbanipal, King of Syria from 669 to 633 BC. The library's ruins, located in Nineveh (remember the story of Jonah?), contained twelve clay tablets written in cuneiform script (for a fun activity, go here to translate your monogram into cuneiform script). The fragility of the tablets, however, means that the story is incomplete. This copy of Gilgamesh contains one element unique to most other ancient writings... the name of the author, Shin-eqi-unninni. We do not know if this is the author of the original Gilgamesh tale or simply the author of this version of the story (see Mesopotamia: Gilgamesh at

Gilgamesh is the story of an historical king of Uruk in Babylonia (located in modern-day Iraq along the Euphrates River) who ruled around 2700 BC. In addition to being notable as the oldest known written story, it is also known as being a possible historical account of the flood narrative found in Genesis. This stems from the common assumption that the copy of the epic found in the Ashurbanipal library was made from another version of the epic dating from the first dynasty of Ur, the birthplace of Abraham, which would date this "original" version as being from the time between the flood and the birth of Abraham (see Study Literature: Epic of Gilgamesh at

Because the complete Epic of Gilgamesh spans twelve tablets (which translates to about 300 pages when translated into English), I will only share the opening verses with you here. If you would like to read the entire epic yourself, Stephen Mitchell's translation is considered to be an accurate translation, and I found it to be a relatively easy read.

The Epic of Gilgamesh
version by

He who has seen everything, I will make known (?) to the lands.
I will teach (?) about him who experienced all things,
... alike,
Anu granted him the totality of knowledge of all.
He saw the Secret, discovered the Hidden,
he brought information of (the time) before the Flood.
He went on a distant journey, pushing himself to exhaustion,
but then was brought to peace.
He carved on a stone stela all of his toils,
and built the wall of Uruk-Haven,
the wall of the sacred Eanna Temple, the holy sanctuary.
Look at its wall which gleams like copper(?),
inspect its inner wall, the likes of which no one can equal!
Take hold of the threshold stone--it dates from ancient times!
Go close to the Eanna Temple, the residence of Ishtar,
such as no later king or man ever equaled!
Go up on the wall of Uruk and walk around,
examine its foundation, inspect its brickwork thoroughly.
Is not (even the core of) the brick structure made of kiln-fired brick,
and did not the Seven Sages themselves lay out its plans?
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 (the wall) encloses.
Find the copper tablet box,
open the ... of its lock of bronze,
undo the fastening of its secret opening.
Take and read out from the lapis lazuli tablet
how Gilgamesh went through every hardship.

1 comment:

Rachel Starr Thomson said...

You post poetry... you are so cool.
I read the Epic of Gilgamesh (the whole thing) while playing Scrabble with my friends one evening. I loved it. Fascinating in many ways, and such a story of friendship and loss!