Gilgamesh, where are you hurrying to? You will never find that life for which you are looking. When the gods created man they allotted to him death, but life they retained in their own keeping.”

Anonymous, The Epic of Gilgamesh

 Gilgamesh

Myths are not simple stories. Nor are they easy.  Not surprising, for they are the signature of civilization, entrenched in our cultural experience, past and present.  Their influence resonates in our languages, religions, and customs to this very day, even within our supposedly sophisticated society.   A slender thread of mythology weaves itself into our books, music, videos and movies.  Humanity seeks to know, to understand, to believe in something that gives meaning.  In that sense, our generation is no different from the ancient Sumerians who lived in the southern part of the alluvial basin formed by the Tigris and the Euphrates.

Gilgamesh holds the honour of being the oldest literature and the first hero narrative. Although said to be an Assyrian tale which is recorded as five independent poems in approximately 2100 BCE, many scholars believe that the account was passed via Sumerian oral traditions.

Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, was wise, and discerned many mysteries and secret things.    He was created by the gods, who gave him a perfect body which was two-thirds god and one-third man. Shamash, the splendid sun gave him beauty; Adad the storm god, bestowed courage.  Even with these magnificent gifts, Gilgamesh oppressed his people until they cried out to their gods for deliverance.  The gods answered their prayers by creating an equal to Gilgamesh.  The stage is set for the hero’s quest.

The Gilgamesh myth is remarkable for its intellectual purpose.  Gilgamesh must overcome despair and grief in his pursuit of the meaning of life.  Only then can he achieve enduring fame.

“As for you, Gilgamesh, fill your belly with good things; day and night, night and day, dance and be merry, feast and rejoice. Let your clothes be fresh, bathe yourself in water, cherish the little child that holds your hand, and make your wife happy in your embrace; for this too is the lot of man.”
Anonymous, The Epic of Gilgamesh

Tablet One – Gilgamesh

35 thoughts on “Tablet One – Gilgamesh

    • Oh, Valerie! I am overwhelmed by the depth and breadth of this subject matter, especially as it relates to our personal experience in our “advanced” culture. I was checking out the highest grossing films. I was not surprised to see that “Avatar” topped the list. While it is considered an epic science fiction action film, the story is about the Na’vi, 10-foot tall, blue-skinned, wise humanoids who live in harmony with nature and worship a mother goddess called Eywa. We long for this connection with our world. It is indeed “magic stuff.”

  1. I wonder if “anonymous” had any idea of the impact the tale would have, and how much it would be adapted, over the millennia. This story is deep in the collective unconscious.

    • I agree with you wholeheartedly. In fact, the first time I heard about Gilgamesh was when I was reading Jung’s book “Memories, Dreams, Reflections” in my early twenties.I remember having to put down the book for a couple of days just to absorb and integrate his ideas on the “collective unconscious.” Powerful stuff!

  2. I haven’t heard the word, Gilgamesh, since my college days. This jolted me right down memory lane. Sometimes I wonder if most of what I write, or say, or perhaps even think, is mostly myth. How and were do all our ideas originate is really a mystery to me. Mind you, my lovely friend, Rececca, I don’t ponder much for answers these days, too much of life out there I’d rather enjoy than venturing in my mind. Your posts are wonderful and I always love seeing them pop up in my in-box. Happy day to you. <3

    • My first introduction to Gilgamesh was via Carl Jung in my early twenties. The question of where our ideas come from, has always been nebulous to me. I have been wanting to return to mythology for a few years, but was rather daunted by the volume of literature and discussion. Then, a couple of months ago, I decided to revisit the J.R.R. Tolkien’s Silmarillion (which I haven’t as yet, but I will soon?!?) That was what gave me the idea of a mini research project on mythology. I find that when I post, the comments and dialogue add so much to my understanding – far more than studying in isolation. Thank you for your comments – very much appreciated. :)

  3. My Religious Instruction teacher at school, was fascinated be the Gilgamesh story, and related it to us in dramatic fashion. I seem to remember it didn’t end well for Enkidu. :(

    • It must have been quite exciting to hear the story from someone who was so passionate. Ah, yes Enkidu! No – it did not end well for Enkidu, the wild man who was tamed. I can see why your Religious Instruction teacher was drawn to the account. There are parallels between the stories of Enkidu/Shamhat and Adam/Eve. As well, “the flood” was included in the Gilgamesh myth.

      “Brother, you chased down the strongest mule,
      the swiftest horse on mountains high,
      the quickest panthers in the flatlands.
      And they in turn will weep for you.”

      Gilgamesh on the death of Enkidu

  4. Most fascinating topic, myths. Opens all kinds of avenues to interesting ideas. As for example, in your ‘Connecting With My World’ article, which opens with the question posed to Gilgamesh, questioning his hurry, and refers to the gods creating man… Thus so man has continued talking about the gods, and so throughout historical times uninterrupted, and to this very day. In a way the idea of god or gods is as though said god is the gravity, which without man could not stay connected to the planet, like being weightless in outer space. You might call that ‘my myth’ which has had me question most of my adult years, the possibility of a kind of role reversal, where rather than god creating man, in effect man created god as well as all these gods that roam his world, for whatever reason man is influenced or influences to choose.

    Not exactly on topic, but nevertheless something of myths and gods, that constantly dominates a scribbler’s writing.

    Once again, and as usual you find the spark to open dialogue of interesting, possibilities. Thank you Rebecca.

    • I do enjoy reading your thoughts for they resonate with the human experience. As a child looking up into the sky, I knew that heaven was just beyond the clouds. And then I would imagine Apollo racing across the sky in his magnificent chariot. From the beginning, we seek for something beyond us…

      “The images of Myth are reflections of Spiritual and Depth potentialities of every one of us. Through contemplating those we evoke those powers in our own lives to operate through ourselves.” Joseph Campbell

  5. What an interesting new blog. Quite an adventure. The course on “Myth” that you put on my iPod speaks to Gilgamesh’s adventures, very short, but so interesting. It follows his life, but briefly, to his end.

    • I’m so glad that you are enjoying the “Myth” course! I’m looking forward to listening to the lectures -hopefully I’ll start tomorrow!!! :)

  6. You always give us something to ponder about, Rebecca – thanks a lot for this great post! Have a wonderful Sunday!
    Love, Dina

  7. This is very interesting, I’ve not heard of this ancient story! :) I’ve got a feeling the name Gilgamesh is mentioned in the bible, unless I’m remembering a very similar name. I used to read it a lot in my 20′s, but not so much now, my memory of biblical stories is probably a little rusty!

    I just put this into a Google search and found a pdf of The Epic Of Gilgamesh, it will be interesting to see what it’s all about. Thank you for the introduction Rebecca! :)

    • Thank you Suzy! I am a little rusty on all of my mythology so I am learning as I go along. The Gilgamesh epic poem is the earliest surviving works of literature. There are some very interesting connections between Gilgamesh and the book of Genesis – The Garden of Eden and the Flood. What most interests me is how we relate to these narratives. We love our hero tales, the quests, overcoming dragons (figuratively, if not the real thing).

      “Never laugh at live dragons.” J.R.R. Tolkien

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