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Title: Gilgamesh  
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Subject: Enmerkar, Sumerian King List, Uruk, Utnapishtim, Ur-Nungal
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Gilgamesh as illustrated in The Chaldean Account of Genesis (1876)
Abode Earth
Symbol Bull, Lion
Parents Lugalbanda and Ninsun

Gilgamesh (; 𒄑𒂆𒈦, Gilgameš) was a king of Uruk, Mesopotamia, who lived sometime between 2800 and 2500 BC.[1] He is the main character in the Epic of Gilgamesh, a Mesopotamian poem that is considered the first great work of literature.[2]

In the epic, Gilgamesh is a demigod of superhuman strength who built the city walls of Uruk to defend his people and travelled to meet the sage Utnapishtim, who survived the Great Deluge. According to the Sumerian King List, Gilgamesh ruled his city for 126 years. In the Tummal Inscription,[3] Gilgamesh and his son Urlugal rebuilt the sanctuary of the goddess Ninlil in Tummal, a sacred quarter in her city of Nippur.

Cuneiform references

The earliest cuneiform references to Gilgamesh are a cycle of Sumerian poems where he appears under the name "Bilgamesh" (spelled in Sumerian cuneiform as 𒄑𒉈𒂵𒈩 GIŠ.NE.GA.MES or 𒄑𒉋𒂵𒈨𒌍 GIŠ.NE-šeššig.GA.ME.U.U.U[4][5]). These poems include many of the stories that would make up the later, more-famous Epic of Gilgamesh, written in the Akkadian language. The latest and most comprehensive telling of the Gilgamesh legend was the twelve-tablet Standard Babylonian Version, compiled circa 1200 BC by the exorcist-priest (mašmaššu) Sîn-lēqi-unninni.

Fragments of an epic text found in Me-Turan (modern Tell Haddad) relate that at the end of his life Gilgamesh was buried under the river bed. The people of Uruk diverted the flow of the Euphrates passing Uruk for the purpose of burying the dead king within the river bed. In April 2003, a German expedition claimed to have discovered his last resting place.[6]

It is generally accepted that Gilgamesh was a historical figure, since inscriptions have been found which confirm the historical existence of other figures associated with him: such as the kings Enmebaragesi and Aga of Kish. If Gilgamesh was a historical king, he probably reigned in about the 26th century BC. Some of the Sumerian texts spell his name as Bilgamesh. Initial difficulties in reading cuneiform resulted in Gilgamesh's making his re-entrance into world culture in 1872 as "Izdubar".[7][8]

In most cuneiform texts, the name of Gilgamesh is preceded with the star-shaped "dingir" determinative ideogram for divine beings, but there is no evidence for a contemporary cult, and the Sumerian Gilgamesh myths suggest that deification was a later development (unlike the case of the Akkadian god-kings). Over the centuries there was a gradual accretion of stories about him, some probably derived from the real lives of other historical figures, in particular Gudea, the Second Dynasty ruler of Lagash (2144–2124 BC).[9]

Later (non-cuneiform) references

In the Qumran scroll known as Book of Giants (ca. 100 BC) the names of Gilgamesh and Humbaba appear as two of the antediluvian giants, rendered (in consonantal form) as glgmš and ḩwbbyš. This same text was later used in the Middle East by the Manichaean sects, and the Arabic form Gilgamish/Jiljamish survives as the name of a demon according to the Egyptian cleric Al-Suyuti (ca. 1500).[10]

The name Gilgamesh appears once in Greek, as "Gilgamos" (Γίλγαμος), in Aelian's De Natura Animalium (On the Nature of Animals) 12.21 (written ca. AD 200).[11] In Aelian's story, the King of Babylon, Seuechorus or Euechorus, determined by oracle that his grandson Gilgamos would kill him, so he threw him out of a high tower. An eagle broke his fall, and the infant was found and raised by a gardener, eventually becoming king.

Theodore Bar Konai (ca. AD 600), writing in Syriac, also mentions a king Gligmos, Gmigmos or Gamigos as last of a line of twelve kings who were contemporaneous with the patriarchs from Peleg to Abraham; this occurrence is also considered a vestige of Gilgamesh's former memory.[12][13]

See also


  1. ^ Dalley, Stephanie (2000). Myths from Mesopotamia (Revised ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 40.  
  2. ^ Keys, David (16 November 1998). "First lines of oldest epic poem found". The Independent. Retrieved 20 August 2014. The beginning of the world's first truly great work of literature - the 4,000-year-old Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, the poem on which the story of Noah and the Flood was probably based - has been discovered in a British Museum storeroom. 
  3. ^ The Tummal Inscription, an expanded king-list based on the standard Old Babylonian copy-texts, which exist in numerous examples, from Ur and Nippur.
  4. ^ gilgameš, gilgameš2, and gilgameš3 in the Pennsylvania Electronic Sumerian Dictionary [1]
  5. ^ The Epic of Gilgamesh, translated by Andrew George 1999, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, p. 141, ISBN 978-0-14-044721-7
  6. ^ "Gilgamesh tomb believed found", BBC News, 29 April 2003
  7. ^ Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archaeology, Volumes 1-2, pp.213–214. Society of Biblical Archæology; London.
  8. ^ Alfred Jeremias, Izdubar-Nimrod, eine altbabylonische Heldensage (1891).
  9. ^ N.K. Sandars, introduction to The Epic of Gilgamesh (Penguin, 1972:16).
  10. ^ A. R. George, The Babylonian Gilgamesh epic p 60.
  11. ^ Walter Burkert: The Orientalizing Revolution; 1992, p. 33 note 32.
  12. ^ George, The Babylonian Gilgamesh epic p. 61
  13. ^ Tigay, The Evolution of the Gilgamesh Epic p. 252.


Preceded by
Aga of Kish
King of Sumer
ca. 2600 BC
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Dumuzid, the Fisherman
Ensi of Uruk
ca. 2600 BC
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