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Assyrian relief from Khorsabad , often interpreted as a representation of Gilgamesh, Louvre

Gilgamesh is mentioned in the Sumerian king list , in later epics and other later texts as an early king of Uruk . Since he was in a list of gods around 2600 BC. Chr. As God and because he (but also another ruler) on the other hand, the building of the wall of Uruk, probably shortly after 3000 BC. Gilgamesh can be traced back to the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC. To date. However, it cannot be completely ruled out that it is merely a literary figure. With a little uncertainty about the exact pronunciation, the name can be reconstructed as pa g bilgames or g bilgames for short. It means something like "the ancestor (was) a prince (?) ..." and is the short form of a longer name. Such a longer name is already known as Pagbilgameš-Utu-pada around 2700 BC. In the archaic texts of Ur. This personal name means "the ancestor (was) a prince (?) Whom the (sun god) Utu has called". However, the verbal form is not certain in terms of the sign. In Sumerian, the name probably became Bilgameš, akkad. Gilga (meš) (š = sch in scientific transliteration). The very complicated spelled name used to be incorrectly read Gištubar, Izdubar, also Iztubar .

The heroic deeds of the early deified king and his friend Enkīdu are reported in the Gilgamesh epic or the stories that preceded him. The subject of the death of Enkidu and Gilgameš also appears again and again. In addition, the ruler's relationship to his subjects plays an important role. After the epic was rediscovered at the end of the 19th century AD, the fact that a narrative about a Flood is embedded that has parallels to the Flood story of the Bible caused a sensation.

God of death

Before Gilgamesh was documented as an earthly king, he was worshiped as the god of the dead of the underworld with the name "(Pa) bilgamesh". In the original Nammu text, Gilgamesh, together with Nergal , Namtaru , Nin […], Dumuzi , Ningišzida and Ḫušbiša , is one of the seven underworld gods ( lugal kurra ), each of whom lives in their own palace.

Historical evidence

To this day it is not entirely certain whether Gilgamesh was a real person, as the Sumerian list of kings sometimes gives unbelievably long reigns for the kings - in the case of Gilgamesh, 126 years. Gilgamesh was probably one of the most important rulers of the Sumerians and was worshiped and deified in Mesopotamia for many centuries . In its time, but also before that, Uruk was the most important urban center in a wide area with a division of labor , handicrafts and bureaucracy .

Most of the information about Gilgamesh comes from the Gilgamesh epic and its precursors. It is often referred to as the oldest known literary epic in world history. A story about his father Lugalbanda is documented much earlier, although the chance of a find may play a role. The epic was written in cuneiform on clay tablets . The Gilgameš texts were widely distributed and are attested in four languages: Sumerian, Akkadian, Hittite and Hurrian. If one takes the historical information of the epic and other sources seriously, which is risky in view of the large time lag between all this information and the presumed reign of Gilgameš and also in view of the literary character of these sources, King Gilgamesh achieved full independence after a military conflict from the city of Kish. He is also said to have opened new trade routes, built temples and, above all, the city wall around Uruk, which was huge for its time.

According to the Gilgamesh epic , he was the son of the goddess Ninsun and the deified king Lugalbanda . The gods had decided that Gilgamesh should receive two divine attributes in addition to his human nature: the virility of Šamaš [sun god] and the heroism of Adad . Gilgamesh was two thirds divine and one third human and thus also mortal.

Epic of Gilgamesh

The Gilgamesh epic goes back to different narratives. The oldest text documents come from the time of the 3rd Dynasty of Ur, between around 2100 and 2000 BC. It tells the story of Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu : In order to soften the king's bondage over the city of Uruk, the gods create him a companion Enkidu. Like the first humans, Enkidu is made of clay and he grows up with the animals in the steppe. Through the love art of the temple prostitutes Shamkat , he has contact with other people for the first time, becomes alienated from animals and gets to know civilization. King Gilgamesh's injustice upsets him, but after a wrestling match they become friends. The two kill the guardian of the Chumbaba forest and fell the sacred cedars. After his return, Ištar invites the gigantic king to a “holy wedding”. When the latter refuses, Ištar sends the heavenly bull as punishment , but the two heroes manage to kill the huge animal. As punishment for their actions, the gods decide that Enkidu must die.

The further course of the epic revolves around human mortality and Gilgamesh's attempt to escape it. In his grief for Enkidu, the search for a way to escape death leads him to the sage Utnapishtim . The Babylonian Noah saved mankind from the Flood and was rewarded with immortality by the gods. But Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh that this was an isolated incident. If he wanted to go on living, that could only happen in people's memory. As king, he should take care of the disadvantaged. Ultimately, Utnapishtim takes pity on Gilgamesh and gives him the herb of life, which Gilgamesh loses. With a new friend, the fisherman Uršanabi, he returns to Uruk and shows him the city wall. The wall, which in the last version also stands at the beginning, encloses not only Uruk but also the epic when it is named at the end.

Like most of the ancient oriental literature, most of the stories about Gilgamesh are anonymous. For the last version, however, the name Sîn-leqe-unnīnnī has been handed down as the author. He probably lived in the 13th century BC. The final work, however, has only been handed down from the beginning of the 7th century, especially from the library of the Assyrian king Assurbanipal (669–631 / 627 BC).

The Viennese composer Alfred Uhl set large parts of the Gilgamesh epic to music in the form of an oratorio in 1956 . It was published in early 1957 under the title Gilgamesh. Oratory music drama premiered at the Wiener Musikverein. In 1958, the Bohemian composer Bohuslav Martinů used it as the basis for The Epic of Gilgamesh , an oratorio-like cantata .

Gilgamesh in early poetry

A whole series of stories in the Sumerian language revolved around Gilgamesh, some of which found their way into the later epic. The oldest fragments go back to the time of the 3rd Dynasty of Ur, i.e. the last decades of the 3rd millennium BC. This dynasty was very much related to Gilgamesh. Five stories have survived , even if most of them only in later copies: Gilgamesh and Huwawa (or rather Hubebe), Gilgamesh and the bull of heaven , Gilgamesh, Enkidu and the underworld , Gilgamesh and Akka of Kish and Gilgamesh's death .

Gilgamesh, Enkidu and the Underworld

The myth of Gilgamesh, Enkidu and the Underworld consists of three sections, which were probably later put together to form a myth. A creation story, Inanna and her Huluppu tree and Gilgamesh and the world of the dead. The myth is also referred to in various German collections as "Inanna and the Ḫuluppu tree".

At the beginning of time, Enki and his ship get stuck on a young sapling and accidentally pull it out. Inanna finds this little tree and plants it in her garden. She hopes, if it is big enough, that she can carve a chair and bed out of the wood.

When the tree is big enough, Inanna comes back to cut the tree. However, in the meantime three beings have taken up residence in the tree. The Anzu bird lives in the top, the dark maiden Lilith lives in the trunk and the snake, which cannot be enchanted, lives in the roots.

So she asks her brother Utu for help, but he refuses. So she asks her other brother Gilgamesh for help.

Gilgamesh puts on his bronze armor, takes his ax and slays the snake. The bird Anzu and the dark maiden flee in horror. Gilgamesh then forms a chair and a bed for Inanna from the trunk of the tree. Inanna, for her part, forms a toy for Gilgamesh from the roots and the treetop.

Gilgamesh now plays with it day and night. Fearing for their husbands, the young women beg the gods to take away the toys from Gilgamesh. The objects then fall through a hole into the underworld. Enkidu, a servant of Gilgamesh offers to get the items from the underworld. Gilgamesh warns Enkidu of the dangers of the underworld, in which all the rules of the living do not apply. However, Enkidu does not listen to him and disregards all the rules of the underworld, which he can therefore no longer escape. Gilgamesh mourns the loss and asks Enki for help. He orders that Enkidu be freed from the underworld. After Gilgamesh is happy about his returned servant, he asks him all kinds of things about the things he has seen in the underworld. The following are various lists of how people have to behave in order to get along well in the underworld.

The death of Gilgamesh

The Sumerian text “The Death of Gilgamesh” is still not entirely complete. New fragments were only discovered in 2000 and expanded understanding of the text. It represents a kind of decoupling from the Gilgamesh epic and in turn refers to existing myths such as the fight with the bull and the search for Ziusudra / Utnapishtim. In the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, elements were adopted from the narrative of the death of Enkidu.

The text is about the dying Gilgamesh, who at the end of his life has a dream in which he appears before the assembly of gods. Despite his deeds and merits, the gods cannot spare him the fate of death that has been so fixed since the Flood. However, he is promised that he will move into the underworld as king (see Gilgamesh as god of the underworld). A second dream overtakes him, which is about the honor as king. After his death, the Euphrates is diverted and his grave is built in the river bed. It is built with stones and equipped with all kinds of gifts. His wives and children come to the grave to mourn him. The tomb is closed, covered with earth and the Euphrates passed over it again, so that no one should ever find the tomb of Gilgamesh.

Gilgamesh and Agga

The myth, which can also be found in literature as "Gilgamesh and Agga", describes a dispute between the ruler of Kiš , Agga and his vassal Gilgamesh. The entire plot is not part of the Gilgamesh epic and perhaps really describes a real event. Accordingly, the two rulers are also mentioned on the Tummal inscription . Since Gilgamesh addresses Akka as the commander himself after his capture, the vassal status of Uruk can be clearly seen here.

Akka, the lord of Kiš, sends messengers to Uruk to remind the city to do their labor. Gilgamesh then calls his advisers and elders. They advise him to submit to the city of Kiš. Gilgamesh does not agree and then questions the young men. Like him, they want to free themselves from the oppression of Kiš. Then one begins with the war preparation. A little later the army from Kiš arrives and Gilgamesh sends a messenger. He is questioned about Gilgamesh in the Akka camp. The messenger, meanwhile, raves about the power of Gilgamesh and that the enemies of Uruk will lose as soon as Gilgamesh appears on the wall. The messenger is then mistreated, but does not deviate from his opinion.

When Gilgamesh really shows himself on the walls of Uruk and Enkidu storms out of the city with the army, the army of Kiš flees and Akka is taken prisoner. Gilgamesh dismisses Akka, however, as he owes his debt (the reason for this debt is still unknown), continues to recognize the supremacy of Kiš, but insists on independence from Uruk.

Gilgamesh in later sources

The figure of Gilgamesh had a major impact on contemporary literature. This is evidenced by the large number of different translations and revisions of the material from Bogazköy, Amarna, Ugarit, Emar and Megiddo. Gilgamesh and Hobabish (Ḫumbaba) are mentioned as giants before the flood in the Qumran scrolls , the Book of Giants and in the Enochian 'Book of Guardians' .


General overview

To the Epic of Gilgamesh


Web links

Commons : Gilgamesh  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Gilgamesh  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


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