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Last Updated: Saturday, December 29, 2001

The Tablets Telling The Epic of Gilgamesh


The History

Gilgamesh was an historical king of Uruk in Babylonia, on the River Euphrates in modern Iraq; he lived about 4700 years before today. (about 2700 B.C. - see timescales) and in particular Sumerian time lines.

Although historians tend to emphasize Hammurabi and his code of law, the people of the area and the time focused on Gilgamesh and the legends accruing around him to explain, as it were, themselves. Hannurabi existed about 1000 years after Gilgamesh, but it is likely that Gilgamesh was very popular even after so many years.
Many stories and myths were written about Gilgamesh, some of which were written down about 4000 years before today. in the Sumerian language on clay tablets which still survive. The Sumerian language is not derived from any Indo-European language or so some scholars say. These Sumerian Gilgamesh stories were integrated into a longer poem, versions of which survive not only in Akkadian (the Semitic language, related to Hebrew, spoken by the Babylonians) but also on tablets written in Hurrian and Hittite (an Indo-European language, a family of languages which includes Greek and English, spoken in Asia Minor).

All the above languages were written in the script known as cuneiform, which means "wedge-shaped." The fullest surviving version of the Epic is derived from twelve stone tablets, in the Akkadian language, found in the ruins of the library of Ashurbanipal, king of Assyria 668-627 B.C. at Nineveh. The library was destroyed by the Persians in 2612 B.P., and all the tablets are damaged. The tablets actually name the author, Shin-eqi-unninni, such naming very rare in the ancient world. This is the oldest known human author we can name!



The Epic 1

About this translation
(Characters)

Tablet I
TABLET II
TABLET III
TABLET IV
TABLET V
TABLET VI
TABLET VII
TABLET VIII  
TABLET IX
TABLET X
TABLET XI  
TABLET XII


Why 2700 years ago?
The usual dating is based on the King List from Sumeria, and places Uruk kings in the period 2700-2500 B.C. where, if Gilgamesh existed, he would have reigned. The first tablets were found in the Assyrian library at Nineveh which itself existed from 668-627 B.C. See The Sumerians by Kramer,S.N., A. Heidel, The Epic of Gilgamesh, and A. Thomsen, The Sumerian Problem for more details of the finds, and the different versions which scholars work on,as well as the problems faced.

Symbols Used in Table

~ Indicates missing or unreadable line

# Means destroyed (therefore missing) column

References

The Epic of Gilgamesh , trans. by Maureen Gallery Kovacs (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990)

Gilgamesh , translated by John Maier and John Gardner (New York: Vintage, 1981)

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