The Epic of Gilgamesh recounts the deeds of a famous hero-king of ancient Mesopotamia and is rich with adventure and encounters with strange creatures, men and gods alike. But though these provide a lively and exotic story line, the central concerns of the Epic are really human relationships and feelings - loneliness, friendship, love, loss, revenge, regret, and the fear of the oblivion of death. These themes are developed in a distinctly Mesopotamian idiom, to be sure, but with a sensitivity and intensity that touch the modern reader across the chasm of three thousand years.
The existence of the Epic has been known to the modern world for only the last 120 years, since shortly after the decipherment of cuneiform writing. The Epic was written in the dialect of the Akkadian language reserved for written literature called Standard Babylonian. In its complete state the Epic comprises about 2,900 lines written on eleven clay tablets. The tablets so far recovered represent some eight to twelve copies of the Epic, most found in the palace and temple libraries at Nineveh ("King Ashurbanipal's library") in Assyria, and dating to the seventh century B.C. Other tablets have been found in the northern Mesopotamian sites of Assur, Nimrud, and Sultantepe, and in the southern Mesopotamian sites of Uruk (the ancestral city of Gilgamesh) and Babylon. Though hardened clay is more resistant to decay by time and the elements than other substances, many tablets have been severely damaged and are in fragmentary condition. Consequently, only some 6o percent of the text of the Epic is now preserved, though some missing parts can be restored on the basis of parallel passages. Recent archaeological discoveries offer good reason to expect that the complete text of the Epic will be known within this generation. In 1986 the Iraqi archaeologists excavating at Sippar (central Iraq) discovered an intact library dating to about the late sixth century B.C. containing complete literary tablets still on their shelves. A complete "Myth of Atrahasis" (Flood Story) has been reported, and there is a real possibility that a complete Gilgamesh Epic will also be identified.

Brief Summary of the Epic

The first tablet opens with a narrator praising the wisdom of Gilgamesh, a famous king of old who left eternal monuments of both his royal and personal accomplishments. According to the narrator, the Epic of Gilgamesh was written by Gilgamesh himself, and the very tablet (or stela) on which he wrote his experiences was deposited in the foundation of the city wall of Uruk, where it remains available for all to read. Gilgamesh is described as two-thirds divine and one-third human, extraordinary in strength and beauty. However, he oppresses the young men and women of Uruk in some way, and the gods respond by creating a counterpart to him. In sharp contrast to Gilgamesh, Enkidu is a primal man, born and raised in the wilderness with the wild beasts, who sets free the animals caught by trappers. These super- and sub human counterparts are brought together in a classic confrontation of civilization against nature, as a trapper uses a harlot from Uruk to deplete Enkidu of his animal powers. Abandoned by the wild beasts, Enkidu then adopts the ways of civilized men and eventually goes to Uruk to meet and challenge Gilgamesh. After a wrestling match in which Gilgamesh prevails, Enkidu acknowledges Gilgamesh as the legitimate superior and they become devoted friends, the first time either has felt true companionship. After some time, however, Enkidu's natural forces soften with city life and Gilgamesh proposes a dangerous ad venture to the Cedar Forest. There they will slay the Guardian, Hum baba the Terrible, and cut down the sacred Cedar and achieve eternal fame. Despite strong protests from his citizen advisers and the tearful pleadings of his mother, Gilgamesh sets off with Enkidu, taking special weapons and relying on the promised protection of the Sun God. During the six-day journey Gilgamesh has terrifying and ominous dreams, but they go on. Once they reach the Cedar Forest, however, Enkidu wants to turn back, realizing the gravity of what they are about to do. The Sun God urges them to go in, and they confront Humbaba. The interchanges with Humbaba are, unfortunately, fragmentary and difficult to understand, but eventually Enkidu persuades Gilgamesh to kill him. While they are cutting down cedars, Enkidu proposes making of the tallest one a door for the temple of the chief god in order to placate him. Back in Uruk, the hero Gilgamesh is approached by the beautiful goddess Ishtar, who wants him to marry her. Knowing the fate of her other lovers, he rejects her violently and incurs her enmity. She sends the Bull of Heaven down to wreak havoc in the city, but the two friends manage to slay it. The gods, faced with the heroes' double offense of killing the Guardian of the Cedar Forest and the Bull of Heaven, decide that one of the two must die, and that it must be Enkidu. He suffers a long and painful death, attended to the last by his beloved Gilgamesh, who watches by his deathbed and pours out a tor rent of memories about their experiences. Gilgamesh is devastated by the loss of his friend and has a statue built in his memory, but the achievement of human fame has now become meaningless in the face of the horror of bodily decay. As a result, Gilgamesh rebels against mortality and sets out to find the secret of eternal life from the only man known to have attained it, the survivor of the Flood, Utanapishtim. Along the treacherous journey he meets with strange and wondrous creatures who all warn him of the impossibility of his quest. His determination to escape his friend's fate drives him on until he finds Utanapishtim's ferryman, who will take him across the Waters of Death. When he finally meets Utanapishtim, Gilgamesh demands to know how he achieved eternal life. Utanapishtim then recites a version of the Flood Story (borrowed from another Mesopotamian myth) and explains that he (with his family and animals) was spared because of his obedience to his personal god, and that they were given eternal life because of his piety. Gilgamesh fails a test of his potential for immortality (to go without sleep) and is sent away. Utanapishtim's wife urges him to give Gilgamesh a consolation gift so he does not have to return to his city empty-handed; Utanapishtim recalls him and reveals a "plant of rejuvenation" that will enable him to live his life over again with the benefit of his new knowledge. Gilgamesh loses the plant to a snake, however, and must return home older and empty-handed after all, for there are no second chances in real life. The story of Gilgamesh's quest ends suddenly where it began, echoing the words of Tablet I which marvel at his extraordinary achievements.
At one level the text indicates that Gilgamesh finds a kind of immortality after all, but only the relative immortality earned by a physical creation - the wall of Uruk - that will outlast him. One should not deduce from this that for the Mesopotamians transcendence over death was available only to those involved in monolithic public works. For at another level one is to understand that Gilgamesh's self-knowledge, as expressed in his tablet of the epic deposited in the foundation of that wall, is what really remains. The final lines consciously hark back to the beginning of the Epic, a paean in praise of Gilgamesh's wisdom and understanding of life.

The Versions of the Epic

So far I have spoken of "the" Epic of Gilgamesh. It is now time to explain that there exist, in fact, three rather different versions of the Epic of Gilgamesh, composed over a period of nearly 1,000 years. The eleven-tablet version is the best preserved, and is based on the tablets of the first millennium B.C. (Neo-Assyrian period from Assur, Nineveh, Nimrud, and Sultantepe, and Neo- and Late Babylonian periods, from Babylon and Uruk). The designation Standard Version, content and wording, seem to have become fairly consistent over a wide area over many centuries.' Later Mesopotamian tradition attributed the authorship of the Epic to a specific individual, Sinleqqiunninni, a scholar-priest of Uruk, possibly dating to the thirteenth century B.C.
As was traditional in Mesopotamian literature, "authorship" consisted largely in the creative adaptation of existing themes and plots from other literature to new purposes. The Standard Version was based on an earlier Epic of Gilgamesh that was first composed in the Old Babylonian period (1800-1600 B.C.) and that seems to have soon existed in two or more variants. The remains of the Old Babylonian tablets are fragmentary but extremely interesting, for they are often markedly different in content and style from the Standard Version of the same episodes. Between these fall the various fragments dating to the Middle Babylonian period, which come not only from Mesopotamia proper but also from other areas adopting cuneiform: Anatolia, Syria, and Canaan. In Anatolia the Epic was also adapted or translated into Hurrian and Hittite.
The original Epic of Gilgamesh composed in the Old Babylonian period was not an act of pure imagination, nor does it seem to have derived from ancient folktales. Just as the author of the Standard Version rewrote the earlier Old Babylonian epic, imbuing it with his own insights and concerns, so too the Old Babylonian author had created his Epic from prior written literature. In good Mesopotamian scholarly tradition, the Old Babylonian author drew heavily on the written literary corpus which provided the "raw material" for his grander effort. There existed a number of independent, short heroic tales in the Sumerian language about Gilgamesh; they did not form a connected cycle, nor is there a major unifying theme such as the fear of death. In addition to these Sumerian tales, the Old Babylonian author incorporated themes from a variety of other myths unrelated to Gilgamesh. These "literary antecedents" to the Epic of Gilgamesh are worth de scribing, both for their intrinsic interest as the earliest Gilgamesh traditions known, and for what they reveal about the process of literary creation. Comparison of these original source texts with the integrated Epic reveals the power of transformation of the creative mind.

The Sumerian Epics

It is assumed that stories about the deeds of the famous King of Uruk, Gilgamesh, circulated in his own time, ca. 2.700 B.C. It is possible that within several generations his exploits were already written down, but of this we have so far no tangible evidence. The earliest written epics about Gilgamesh were produced in the Sumerian lan guage during the reign of King Shulgi of the Third Dynasty of Ur (Ur III), ca. 2000 B.C. He had claimed the gods and ancient kings of Uruk as his ancestors to strengthen the legitimacy of his kingship. In hymns written in Shulgi's honor he is called the son of Ninsun and Lugal banda, and he refers to himself as the "brother and friend" of Gilgamesh. As the translator notes, one hymn seems to contain a lengthy dialogue between Shulgi and Gilgamesh, in which the divine brothers alternate in singing each other's praise and glory. It is likely that Shulgi also commissioned the writing of the epics about his ancestors, and that they were significantly colored by his ambitions as king - i.e., they were not simply the recording of authentic oral tradition but were consciously composed, with perhaps only a core of some historical deed.
No tablets with these Sumerian epics actually date to the stage of composition in the Ur III period. They exist in later copies made for scribal practice and libraries during the Old Babylonian period by which time several different versions had evolved in the scribal circles local to each city. Some versions are more elaborated, others have contradictory details or emphasis. Below I briefly summarize those fragments of the Sumerian epics discovered to date.
"Gilgamesh and Agga." This short "epic" of only 115 lines tells of a curious confrontation between Agga of Kish, son of Enmebaragessi, and King Gilgamesh of Uruk. Agga sends his envoys to enforce his sovereignty. Gilgamesh puts the matter to the city Elders, who refuse to resist, but the Young Men (the able-bodied) agree in order to escape conscription into Agga's army. Gilgamesh has Enkidu organize the troops and fashion a "terrifying aura" to ensure victory. When Agga arrives, Uruk panics. A volunteer goes to meet Agga; when an officer of Uruk walks along the city wall Agga asks if that man is his master. He replies negatively, adding that Gilgamesh's very appearance would instantly cause Agga's capture. This insolent threat is met by a beating. Then Gilgamesh in his "terrifying aura" mounts the wall, and Enkidu goes out to Agga, who again asks if that man is his master. Enkidu replies affirmatively and, as forewarned, Agga's army suffers instant defeat and Agga is captured in the middle of his army. The conclusion is curious-Gilgamesh recalls that once Agga had spared him, and since Agga now humbles himself, Gilgamesh releases him.
The only apparent echoes of this tale in the Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh seem to be the consultations with the Elders and the Young Men in Tablets II and III, and Gilgamesh's magnanimous desire to release the defeated Humbaba in Tablet V.
"Gilgamesh and Huwawa (Humbaba)." Also known as "Gilgamesh and the Cedar Forest," this work is known in two very different versions, a long one of 200+ lines, and a short one of only 84+ lines. This is the epic with the widest textual variation, known from at least four cities.
Seeing a body floating down the river, Gilgamesh feels his first fear of death. Anticipating his personal mortality, he proposes to his servant, Enkidu, a heroic campaign against Huwawa, the monstrous Guardian of the Cedar Forest, which would ensure him the immortality of fame. Gilgamesh enlists the Sun God's assistance in the form of seven demons who are to direct his boat upstream to Huwawa. Then fifty men are selected to accompany them, and weapons are pre pared. During the voyage they cross seven mountains. When they reach Huwawa's dwelling in the Cedar Forest, Gilgamesh spontaneously cuts down a cedar tree. In a rage Huwawa puts on his protective auras; Gilgamesh is overcome and sits stunned, experiencing fearsome visions. In one version, Gilgamesh describes the ominous dreams but Enkidu urges him to go on; in the other, it is Enkidu who describes the awful dreams and then tries to dissuade Gilgamesh from going on. Gilgamesh disarms Huwawa by a ruse, claiming that he wants to be come a part of Huwawa's folk. In one version he tricks Huwawa into giving up his protective auras by offering him his sisters; in the other he offers 1-luwawa costly gifts, including the finest foods and precious stones, for each of the seven auras. Disarmed and betrayed, Huwawa is finally shackled like a beast. But Gilgamesh takes pity on him and would free him, even to the point of taking him on as an ally. Enkidu opposes this, and eventually kills Huwawa, puts his head in a sack, and presents it to the chief god Enlil. Enlil curses the two of them with seven curses for killing the divinely appointed Guardian of the Cedar Forest, and he distributes the seven auras to nature.
This epic is the basis for Tablets IV and V of the Standard Version.
"Gilgamesh and the Bull of Heaven. The epic is very poorly pre served, with one main tablet of 144+ lines and a couple of small fragments. All that remains of the main tablet is the bottom half; the beginning, a large part of the middle, and the end are missing. One presumes that the missing beginning gives the reasons for manna's anger toward Gilgamesh. When the text begins manna refuses to allow Gilgamesh to administer justice in her sanctuary; this may be one of the reasons he turned against her manna demands the Bull of Heaven from her father, Anu; he at first refuses, but she threatens to cry out to all the other gods of the universe. Out of fear Anu changes his mind and hands over the Bull, and manna sends it to Uruk. When the text resumes the Bull is in Uruk; Gilgamesh and Enkidu talk, and then both probably kill the Bull. The end is missing.
This is the source for Tablet VI of the Standard Version. This entire episode was probably not included in the original Old Babylonian epic, where the motivation for Enkidu's death was only his killing of Humbaba, not the slaying of the Bull. The episode was already part of the Epic in the Middle Babylonian period.
"Gilgamesh in the Netherworld." Sometimes called "The Death of Gilgamesh," this fragment is very poorly preserved, only 135+ lines of an original 450. Some readable lines of this "death lament" do echo the central themes of the later Epic. One passage states: "The great mountain Enlil, the father of the gods, . . . decreed kingship as Gilgamesh's destiny, but did not decree for him eternal life." Later it is said:
"He lay on the bed of destined fate, unable to get up."
In addition to these fragments in which Gilgamesh figures, the Akkadian Epic also draws on other traditional Sumerian literary motifs not originally connected with Gilgamesh. The early life of Enkidu (Tablet I) seems to be modeled on the portrayal of primitive man as found in the Sumerian text called "Lahar and Ashnan": "Mankind of that time knew not the eating of bread, knew not the wearing of garments. The people went around with skins on their bodies, drank water from ditches." By the same token, the creation of Enkidu by the mother goddess (Tablet I) clearly derives from some Sumerian creation motifs or text not yet discovered.
The Flood Story and Utanapishtim
In addition to the various Sumerian texts just mentioned, the Standard Version of the Epic of Gilgamesh incorporates part of another composition not originally related to Gilgamesh, the Akkadian "Myth of Atrahasis." In Tablet XI Gilgamesh asks Utanapishtim how he, to all appearances a normal human being, attained eternal life like a god. Utanapishtim then recites "a hidden thing, a secret of the gods," the story of how he survived the Flood. His account is taken from the long "Myth of Atrahasis," composed ca. i6oo B.C., which tells of the cre ation of man, several attempts by the gods to exterminate mankind be cause of noise and overpopulation, and a final Flood survived by only Atrahasis (Utanapishtim) and his family. The story Utanapishtim tells Gilgamesh is clearly only an abstract from the longer myth, where there is a lengthy justification building up to the final, exterminating Flood. Utanapishtim omits all of this and begins where he becomes involved, presenting the Flood as a mere whim of the gods: "Their hearts carried the great gods to inflict the Flood." The recitation of the Flood Story, however, in no way advances the movement of the Epic; it is a lengthy digression from Gilgamesh's quest, included only for its narrative interest. Note that Utanapishtim had already at the end of Tablet X revealed the true "secret of the gods," i.e. that the gods had established a limited lifetime for all mankind, and unending death. (The original Old Babylonian version of the Epic of Gilgamesh surely contained only this brief allusion to the Flood Story.) The account of the Flood itself is not well preserved in the original "Myth of Atrahasis" but is complete in the Epic of Gilgamesh.
There is another aspect to the character of Utanapishtim in the Standard Version that is not found in the "Myth of Atrahasis": his role as dispenser of wisdom. This was the primary role of his predecessor in the Sumerian tradition, who is known by his Sumerian name Ziusudra ("Life of Long Days"). Only very recently has there come to light another Sumerian text- very fragmentary - that refers to Ziusudra as the recipient of eternal life, and death as the lot of the rest of mankind: "[Etana?] the king,. . . the man who ascended to heaven,. . . like Ziusudra sought for life. . ." and later "death is the share of mankind."
In sum, it is clear that the author of the Epic of Gilgamesh was a scholar, steeped in the written traditions of Mesopotamia.

The Historical Gilgamesh

There is no doubt that Gilgamesh was a real historical figure who ruled the city of Uruk at the end of the Early Dynastic II period (ca. 2700-2500 B.C.). Though no royal inscriptions are known that would directly establish his existence, one person he is associated with in epic is actually attested by contemporary inscriptions. The Sumerian epic "Gilgamesh and Agga," mentioned earlier, refers to a war fought between Gilgamesh of Uruk and Agga of the city of Kish, son of Enmebaragessi. This Enmebaragessi is a historically authenticated figure, with two contemporary inscriptions. It may be merely a matter of time and luck before archaeologists uncover an inscription of his near con temporary, Gilgamesh.
In Sumerian the name was originally Bilganiesh; the earliest writing with initial "G" is in an Old Babylonian omen text. (Gilgamesh is now the long-established conventional form.) The name is similar in formation to other authentic personal names of the Early Dynastic period and may mean "The Old One Is Youthful" Such a meaning is inherently unlikely for a name given at birth, so it may have been given at his coronation. The earliest written attestation of the name is in a list of gods dating to the end of the Early Dynastic 11 period where the deified Gilgamesh occurs next to the deified Lugalbanda. Shortly there-after the deified ancestor Gilgamesh is occasionally found as an element in Sumerian personal names and in Akkadian personal names from Susa, in Elam.
According to the tradition of literary texts, Lugalbanda and his wife Ninsun were Gilgamesh's parents. The Sumerian King List, however, has Lugalbanda preceding Gilgamesh as ruler of Uruk by two, and says that Gilgamesh's father was a "lillu-spirit, a high priest of Kulaba." (This may be the origin of the description of Gilgamesh in the Epic as two-thirds god.) Texts also name a son of Gilgamesh, Urlugal (or Urnungal), and a grandson, Udulkalama-though the Standard Version of the Epic makes no mention of them, as we noted earlier.
In literary texts Gilgamesh is variously identified by the title "lord," "great lord," and "lord of Kulaba" (Kulaba was the quarter of the city of Uruk where the ancient Ziggurat was located). A major expansion of the Ziggurat, along with the building of the wall of Uruk, was traditionally identified with Gilgamesh, although the earliest inscription claiming that Gilgamesh built the wall of Uruk dates only as far back as King Anam of Uruk, ca. 1800 B.C. The principal political achievement of Gilgamesh's reign, as seen in later Ur III tradition, was the victory over the king of Kish by which Gilgamesh "brought over the king ship [ is, the political supremacy in Mesopotamial from Kish to Uruk." The Sumerian King List reports that transfer in its usual la conic style: "Kish was smitten with weapons, its kingship was carried to Eanna [ Temple of Uruki."
Offerings were made to Gilgamesh as a divinized ancestor and hero from the late Early Dynastic period to about the end of the Ur III period, though we know nothing of the nature of the cult. We have seen King Shulgi's close identification with Uruk and its lineage, and it may be that he commissioned the Sumerian Gilgamesh epics. Nonetheless, after the demise of his dynasty, official royal support for the cult of Gilgamesh faded. Yet it may be that this loss of political sponsorship allowed the now purely "literary Gilgamesh" to fire the imagination of an Old Babylonian writer. Ironically, Gilgamesh found the fame and immortality he so desperately sought the more removed he became from his historical identity.

Reflections of the Epic in Mesopotamian Culture

The Epic was clearly known widely in antiquity - in cities through out Mesopotamia for some 1,500 years, and in Anatolia and Syria- Palestine at least during the mid-second millennium. Nonetheless, its fame was probably limited to the ranks of those literate in cuneiform writing. For all its dramatic and human qualities, the Epic does not seem to have become a byword in the land, to have generated any "classic" expressions in the language. No king claims that he is as wise or brave or strong "as Gilgamesh." In letters no one invokes Gilgamesh and Enkidu as the paradigm of friendship. This is not to say that Gilgamesh was unknown outside scribal circles; but the by-products of the Epic in the general culture of Mesopotamia are few, limited to allusions in a few scholarly writings (divinatory texts and a political propaganda letter) and some representations in art.
In 1957 a document was published that identified itself as a "mes sage from Gilgamesh, the mighty king, who has no rival." Addressed to a king (name and city are broken), the letter makes a second demand that the king send enormous quantities of animals, foods, and precious metals and stones to "Gilgamesh" for a monument to "my friend, Enkidu." This extraordinary composition, found in three copies (at Sultantepe in southeast Turkey), dates to the Neo-Assyrian period and was composed by a native Assyrian court scribe. The letter also includes allusions to two other Gilgamesh traditions (the Sumerian King List and omens) and may be a piece of political allegory, or possibly a satire. Such fictive letters from gods or other notables are a distinct Mesopotamian literary genre; though it contains nothing new about either the historical or the legendary Gilgamesh, the letter does evidence a certain vitality of the Gilgamesh legend as late as the first millennium.
In spite of the fame of the Epic, remarkably few echoes of it are to be found in art. Faces of Humbaba are fairly frequent, but most are probably related to his function as a protective "demon" rather than to his specific role in the Epic of Gilgamesh. The one episode from the Epic that can be identified in art with some confidence and frequency is the killing of Humbaba by Gilgamesh and En kidu (Tablet V). This appears on several Old Babylonian clay plaques, and on some two dozen cylinder seals, decorative objects, and stone reliefs from the fifteenth to fifth centuries B.C. The basic scene shows Humbaba down on one knee, while Gilgamesh on the left thrusts his dagger at Humbaba's neck, and Enkidu on the right holds Humbaba and brandishes a weapon. The killing of the Bull of Heaven is represented on a few cylinder seals from the mid-second millennium to the seventh century B.C. The Bull of Heaven is shown as a bull with wings. As in the killing of Humbaba, Gilgamesh on the left holds the Bull and thrusts his dagger into its neck, while Enkidu holds it by the tail or wing.

The Fate of Gilgamesh

The latest cuneiform fragment of the Epic dates to the first century B.C. With the gradual demise of cuneiform writing and the traditions carried by it, the Epic of Gilgamesh fell into oblivion, for virtually none of Mesopotamian literature was translated into other languages.
There was interest among Hellenistic Greeks in the ancient history of Mesopotamia, but not in the native Mesopotamian form. For ex ample, Berossus, a priest of Babylon and probably a court astrologer under Antiochus I (280-261 B.C.), wrote in Greek of "the histories of heaven (and earth) and sea and the first birth and the kings and their deeds." Although he used original cuneiform documents (king lists, myths, chronicles, etc.) as sources, they were not themselves presented but their historical content was abstracted and woven together into a descriptive narrative. Gilgamesh probably received no more than the standard citation of name and the length of reign, with perhaps a brief remark about his deeds.
More puzzling is the lack of references to Gilgamesh in the Syro Phoenician cultures of the first millennium, since cuneiform and its literature had been widely known in this area in the late second millennium. Akkadian had become the language of international diplomacy in the fourteenth century B.C., used in court chanceries and schools with traditional scribal curricula. A piece of Gilgamesh (Tablet VII, Enkidu's death; probably a scribal practice tablet) was even found at Megiddo, in Canaan, and another at Emar, in Syria. The Hebrew Bible has allusions to other persons or themes that were derived ultimately from Mesopotamian sources, most obviously the Flood Story, but Gilgamesh is not among them.
There are two possible allusions to Gilgamesh in non-cuneiform sources-with the usual caveat "so far." In a first century B.C. Aramaic Book of Giants found among the Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran the names (of the giants) glgmys/š and hwbbš appear in very fragmentary contexts. It is speculated that these may be Gilgamesh and Humbaba. The Book of Giants became very well known as part of the writings of Manichaeism, and was translated into many languages of Asia; a Middle Persian fragment preserves the name of the giant thought to be Humbaba.
There remains one very uncertain allusion in a non-cuneiform source. The seventh-century Nestorian Christian Theodor Bar Qoni, writing in Syriac, produced material for teaching religion in which he lists among the kings after the Flood one "Ganmagos, and in the days of this latter Abraham was born in Ur of the Chaldeans." Some scholars have proposed that Ganmagos might be Gilgamesh. If so, it is the latest surviving mention of Gilgamesh until the rediscovery and decipherment of cuneiform in the nineteenth century.

For Further Reading:

An older English translation by Assyriologists is E. A. Speiser and A. Kirk Grayson, "The Epic of Gilgamesh," in the large collection of ancient texts edited by James B. Pritchard: Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 3 edition with supplement, 1969). The paperback version is The Ancient Near East. Vol. 1: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures (1958); Vol. 2: A New Anthology of Texts and Pictures "Translations" derived from other translations include John Gardner and John Maier, Gilgamesh (New York: Knopf, 1984; paperback, Random House, 1985); and N. K. Sandars, The Epic of Gilgamesh (New York: Penguin, 1960; ad rev. ed. 1972).
The Epic, or Mesopotamian literature, has also inspired a number of popularizations and works of fiction: Robert Silverberg, Gilgamesh the King (New York: Arbor House, 1984); John C. Gardner, The Sunlight Dialogues (New York: Ballantine, 1982; Random House, 1987); Elizabeth Jamison Hodges, A Song for Gilgamesh (New York: Atheneum, 1971); Jennifer Westwood, Gilgamesh & Other Babylonian Tales (New York: Coward-McCann, 1970); D. G. Bridson, The Quest for Gilgamesh (Cam bridge, Eng.: Rampant Lions Press, 1972); Herbert Mason, Gilgamesh: A Verse Narrative (New York: Mentor, 1972).
The reader might also find the following two articles of interest: John R. Maier, "Charles Olson and the Poetic Uses of Mesopotamian Scholarship," Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 103 (1983), pp. 223-27; Jack M. Sasson, "On Musical Settings for Cuneiform Literature: A Discography," Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 103 (1983), pp. 233-35. These are modern compositions; the ancient Epic was not, as far as is known, associated with musical performance.


For very readable and informative descriptions of Mesopotamian society, culture, and daily life, with a minimum of political history, see H. W. F. Saggs, The Greatness That Was Babylon (New York: New American Library, 1962), and The Might That Was Assyria (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1984). The last chapter of the latter, "The Rediscovery of Assyria," describes the famous first archaeologists in Assyria and the modern international expeditions. The author's enthusiasm for his subject makes even the political history engaging.
For the nature and development of cuneiform writing, see C. B. Walker, Cuneiform: Reading the Past (Berkeley: Univ. of Calif. Press, 1987).
The Epic of GILGAMESH:
Mesopotamian culture, history and
art at its best

Maureen Kovacs
The most comprehensive and up-to-date survey in English of Akkadian literature is Erica Reiner, "Your Thwarts in Pieces, Your Mooring Rope Cut: Poetry from Babylonia and Assyria," Michigan Studies in the Humanities, vol. 5 (Ann Arbor: Michigan Slavic Publications, 1985). A. Leo Oppenheim's Ancient Mesopotamia. Portrait of a Dead Civilization (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2nd ed. 1977) is interpretive rather than descriptive, and requires some background in Mesopotamian studies to understand fully. Translations of some Sumerian literature can be found in Samuel Noah Kramer, From the Poetry of Sumer. Creation, Glorification, Adoration (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1979), and Thorkild Jacobsen, The Harps that Once. . . (New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, 1987).
A catalogue of all identifiable literary texts - many fragmentary and unknown outside of scholarly circles - is given in the article "Literatur" in Real Lexi kon der Assyriologie, vol. (1987): Sumerian, by Dietz 0. Edzard, pp. 35-48, and Akkadian, by W. Rollig, pp. 48-66.