20 Facts about Gilgamesh—Ancient Sumeria’s Demigod


Gilgamesh is usually considered a legendary character from Sumerian mythology, although many authors and scholars argue he may, in fact, have lived thousands of years ago. He is referred to as the first hero on Earth and is a central figure in the Epic of Gilgamesh.

As an important character that he is, in this article we explore some of the most interesting facts about Gilgamesh, that help understand who this ancient hero was, and what legacy he left behind.

A statue of Gilgamesh.
Gilgamesh statue at Sydney University (Samantha/Flickr/Creative Commons)

The Facts

According to the Sumerian King List, Gilgamesh, son of the goddess Ninsun and the Priest-King Lugalbanda, the king of the district of Kulab and fifth king of the city Uruk (Erech in the biblical texts, current Warqa, in Iraq) around the year 2750 B.C.

He most likely did rule between 2800 and 2500 BC and was posthumously deified.

Gilgamesh succeeded King Lugalbanda. He reigned for 126 years and left the throne to his son Ur-Nungal, who ruled for 30 years.

Gilgamesh, who was king of Uruk, is usually referred to as a human being, bet he is said to have been two-thirds god, and one-third human.

It is believed that Gilgamesh was blessed by the gods with strength, courage, and beauty, and is referred to as the strongest and greatest king who ever existed

The first researchers who studied the Sumerian language read his name, erroneously, as Izdubar.

He is perhaps best known as being the protagonist of the Poem of Gilgamesh, also referred to as the Epic of Gilgamesh.

The Epic of Gilgamesh is considered the greatest literary work oldest in the world and is placed among the earliest known literary writings in the world. The work originated as a series of Sumerian legends and poems in cuneiform script dating back to the early 3rd or late 2nd millennium B.C.

Historians agree that the Epic of Gilgamesh exerted substantial influence on both the Iliad and the Odyssey.

The Epic of Gilgamesh follows the son of the goddess Nnisun, who traveled with his friend Enkidu, as they begin a series of perilous quests and adventures.

Gilgamesh, who was an irresistible king slept with newlywed women of Uruk. This made the people unhappy.

In turn, the goddess of creation, Aruru, creates a mighty wild-man named Enkidu, a rival in strength to Gilgamesh.

Gilgamesh and Enkidu fight a great battle, where Gilgamesh comes out as the winner. Gilgamesh spares Enkidu’s life, and they become friends.

Together, Gilgamesh and Enkidu go on adventures. They defeat Humbaba (the East Semitic name for Huwawa) and the Bull of Heaven.

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Enkidu dies of a disease which was sent down by the Gods as a punishment. This makes Gilgamesh afraid of his death. He decides to visit the sage Utnapishtim, who was a survivor of the Great Flood. Gilgamesh searches for immortality.

Gilgamesh does not manage to find the secret to immortality. He repeatedly fails the trials set before him, and eventually returns home to Uruk and realizes that immortality is beyond his reach.

Despite the fact that there is evidence in ancient works of literature of his existence, scholars have not found any contemporary mention of Gilgamesh anywhere.

Gilgamesh is referred to as a ruler by King Enmebaragesi of Kish, a known historical figure who is believed to have lived near or during Gilgamesh’s lifetime.

The Tummal Inscription, a thirty-four-line historiographic text composed during the reign of Ishbi-Erra, credits Gilgamesh with building the walls of Uruk: “For a second time, the Tummal fell into ruin, Gilgamesh built the Numunburra of the House of Enlil. Ur-lugal, the son of Gilgamesh, Made the Tummal pre-eminent, Brought Ninlil to the Tummal.”

There are fragments of an epic text found in Me-Turan (modern Tell Haddad) which indicate that at the end of his life, Gilgamesh was buried under the river bed.

Reference:

The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character—Samuel Noah Kramer

The Epic of GilgameshThe Babylonian Epic Poem and Other Texts in Akkadian and Sumerian—Andrew George

Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others (Oxford World’s Classics)— Stephanie Dalley


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