Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Flood

    The Epic of Gilgamesh was written on twelve large stone tablets, which were discovered in the mid-nineteenth century in the ruins of the library of the ancient city of Nineveh, northern Iraq. The original tablets date to around 650 B.C. making this work one of the oldest if not the oldest work of literature. The clay tablets were originally translated by George Smith at the British Museum, who excited the scientific community with this Mesopotamian version of the flood story. Overall the stories relate the adventures of the heroic leadership of King Gilgamesh and these stories most probably circulated throughout the ancient Middle East as oral stories for many years before they were ever written down. Archaeologists discovered the earliest written record of these legends inscribed in the Sumerian cuneiform script on clay tablets dating to before 3300 BCE (Click here for Gilgamesh mood music) (Garone).

    At the beginning of the Epic of Gilgamesh story King Gilgamesh is described as two-thirds god and one-third human. He asserts his will upon his subjects, forcing his male subjects to build high walls around the city, which some historians give him credit with the building of the legendary walls of Uruk. When the citizens of Uruk appeal to the gods to tame their brutal king, Goddess Arura responds by creating Enkidu, non-civilized wild man who lives with the animals in the forest. When Gilgamesh and Enkido first meet they fight, but soon become traveling companions with many adventures together, but later in the story the two anger the gods who retaliate by killing Enkidu. Gilgamesh is heartbroken by the death of his friend and plagued by the prospect of his own death; this was intensified by a vision of Enkidu in the underworld of the dead. All of these factors relates to the second half of the epic as the king embarks on an endless quest for the truth of immortality. He grieves while he searches for knowledge, climbs impassable mountains, crosses wild seas, in short is devoted to find his truth. His searched ended when he finally found Utnapishtim, who has been granted immortality by the gods. Utnapishtim furthers retells the story of a great flood that the gods meant to destroy all humans. Enlil who was the father of the god's was very upset with humans, they make way too much noise, making sleep impossible, and brought the other gods into a council which decided to flood the earth. Utnapishtim was told by the god Enki to build a boat, and take with him representatives of all the living species on earth. Gilgamesh realized that Utnapishtim was granted his eternal life for the special flood situation, never to be repeated again circumstances. Finally − with many more adventures − at the end Gilgamesh's quest is fruitless and he is forced to accept his mortality,

    I tried to be brief in the above summary −believe it or not − and I barely touched on some of the main points of the story line LiveLeak Video - The Epic of Gilgamesh. The more I researched the epic of Gilgamesh the more conflicting some of the data, but it typical when dealing with translations especially ancient translations to have different interpretations. I was drawn to the vast similarities of the Epic of Gilgamesh flood and to the Biblical flood stories in Genesis. By comparing the Genesis flood with Gilgamesh flood story many main points are almost identical including both floods caused global damage, both were intended for all mankind, both had a hero (Noah and Utnapishtim), both had "gods" that order the humans to built a boat, both boats were several stories high, both were coated with pitch as well as having a window, all species of animals were included, birds were released to find land, both boats landing on a mountain top in the same Middle Eastern area, both human leaders performed a sacrifice after the flood was over, and all were blessed after the flood. This information was derived from a chart
that Frank Lorey, an archaeologist researched comparing the floods. Only main differences noted were the length or duration of the flood (40 days compared to 6 days). It is an arguable point between researchers which flood story was first. For those of the Christian faith, belief in the Bible is necessary. Without this belief, more and more doubt about the persons salvation comes into question, and/or the basic beliefs are questioned. The Christian belief obviously would take the stance that the Gilgamesh flood epic was derived from the Noah version.

    According to our textbook The Human Spirit "Flood epics were quite common in ancient literature and represented a cleansing of the community in accordance with higher ethical law." (Rogers,7). I believe that the two stories are too similar too be different incidences, and even if the Gilgamesh records predate Noah, the Genesis version has more widespread belief to be the true version. Many flood stories exist with different cultures, including the Muslims with a story of Noah and the flood in the Koran, which Noah is called Nuh. Was there a real flood? If these stories are based on a real event, then this type of a god is very vindictive and does not deserve to be a "higher being". I prefer the idea that we all have the ability to perform to the best of our abilities, we can walk our talk; we are all brothers and sisters traveling on a quest similar to Gilgamesh and we are all like Gilgamesh being one part human and two parts divine.

Works Cited 
Garone, T. (n.d.). The Epic of Gilgamesh, A Musical Interpretation. Web. 12 Jun 2011
Rogers, P. M. (ed) The Human Spirit, Sourced in the Western Humanities Volume 1. New Jersey: 
       Pearson Prentice Hall. 2004 Print.












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