Thursday, May 22, 2008

What I'm Reading: Gilgamesh

Right now I'm reading the epic Gilgamesh, verse narrative by Herbert Mason (1972). Gilgamesh is the world's first great epic hero from 3000 b.c. Iraq--before Homer, the Bible, Virgil.The beginning is wonderful:

Gilgamesh was king of Uruk
A city between the Tigris
and Euphrates rivers
in ancient Babylonia.
Enkidu was born in the Steppe
Where he grew up among animals.
Gilgamesh was called a god and a man;
Enkidu was an animal and man.
It is their story
of their becoming human together.

The epic is about the great friendship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu who go on adventures together where Enkidu dies, so it is about loss of one you love. Then Gilgamesh searches the world for immortality which he never finds, so he returns to his home city of Uruk, which really was in ancient Sumer, to be human. I love the last line: "of their becoming human together"--not half God, not part animal but human.

By the way, I've been researching the history of ancient Sumer, the world's first civilization which is between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Sumerians discovered agriculture irrigation, had the first agricultural surpluses, built the first cities, had the first writing which they inscribed on clay tablets, invented the first schools, invented mathematics, astronomy, medicine, had the first medical textbooks. So, of course, ancient Iraq would also have the world's first epic in Gilgamesh.

The world came to Sumer to learn the arts of civilization including epic poetry. Scholars from the British Society of Biblical Archeology rediscovered the epic on clay tables in the ruins of ancient Ninevah in Iraq. Gilgamesh Tablets inscribed with Gilgamesh have within the last 100 years been discovered not just in Nineveh (Iraq) but also in Megiddo (Palestine), Ugarit (Syria), and Boghazkoy (Turkey)--all over the Middle East.

As I get more into the epic, I'll post more about it.

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