A Find of Epic Importance
The Epic of Gilgamesh is not only one of my favorite stories of all time, it is perhaps one of the most important stories as well. While most of you will know of the story I will briefly discuss the theme for those of you that are unfamiliar. Firstly, it is the oldest epic poem discovered to date. It predates the perhaps more well-known epic tales of Homer: The Illiad and the Odyssey, by 1500 years. The Epic of Gilgamesh is about the semi-mythical 5th King of Uruk (in modern day Iraq) and his 126 year reign. Throughout the tale we follow Gilgamesh from an egotistical and rather deviant King to a philosophical man searching for the meaning of life. While Gilgamesh’s purported 126 year reign as King can certainly be accepted as “paranormal”, there are other mysterious people and events that have sparked debate. For example, Gilgamesh’s once rival turned friend and traveling companion, Enkidu, is described as what can easily be construed as a Sasquatch. A “wild man”, said to be created by the Goddess Aruru, Enkidu was said to be created as 1/3 human and 2/3 beast-a claim that perhaps could be attributed to a Sasquatch. He is created as an exact mirror of Gilgamesh, who is described as 1/3 human and 2/3 God. Not surprisingly, the two battle to a draw and, having gained the other’s respect, become best of friends. Upon *spoiler alert* Enkidu’s death, a downtrodden Gilgamesh begins questioning the meaning of life and the importance of man’s accomplishments if they are all to be for naught because of death.
The Epic of Gilgamesh is a tale that was originally told in Akkadian, a Mesopotamian language dating from about 2800 B.C.E. to 100 C.E., but written in Cuneiform on clay tablets that were scattered throughout the area, and possibly the world, millennia ago. Because of this we have never been able to fully read the story, but instead are given a partial tale where the reader is asked to fill in the blanks. It was originally discovered in 1853 in Ninevah (modern day Iraq) and has remained largely untouched since then. That is until about 4 weeks ago when the Sulaymaniyah Museum in the Kurdistan region of Iraq announced that they had found a tablet with 20 new lines to the poem. The museum disclosed that it had been purchased, along with about 80-90 other tablets unrelated to the Epic of Gilgamesh, from a shady character that had probably acquired them during the looting of Baghdad that took place in 2011 after Saddam Hussein’s capture. While 4 years have passed since its acquisition, it’s important to note that authenticity and translation had to be determined before making a momentous announcement like this. It is also important to note that what came to be known as the “flood tablet”, a discussion of which will take place shortly, took 20 years to decipher by a self-educated man named George Smith while sitting in a British Museum. Another accomplishment of note here is that Cuneiform is not so much a language as it is an alphabet. An alphabet with no punctuation or paragraph structure…oh, and, of course, there is that little problem of erosion as well. Any person tasked with the decipherment of such a tablet has a mighty task in front of them indeed.
While the Epic of Gilgamesh has some possible paranormal angles in it, as we discussed the Enkidu/Sasquatch connection and the extended life of the 1/3 human 2/3 God that is Gilgamesh, it has other topics that spark quite a bit of controversy in and of itself. Namely the aforementioned “flood tablet”. As you can probably imagine, this tablet tells about a…well….flood, but not just any flood-THE flood. The great flood of Christian faith with Noah and his ark, is an apparent “rip off” of this Babylonian/Sumerian story that takes place thousands of years before the Bible. While it seems clear that there was a great flood in times past, there is evidence to prove this that has been collected scientifically for decades, the question seems to be: When? In the flood myth of Gilgamesh’s time there even includes an ark built by one man, Utnapishtim. In this story the Gods were angry at mankind and the God Ea warned Utnapishtim of their intentions. After this warning he built an enormous boat just before the rains began. It rained for many days but when the rain stopped Utnapishtim’s boat crashed into a mountain where he released a dove, a swallow, and a raven to find land. Sound familiar?
There has also been some controversy as to whether Gilgamesh ever existed. His father is known to be the Priest-King Lugalbanda, who was featured in 2 poems recorded earlier than the Epic of Gilgamesh, who was famed for his magical abilities. His mother is said to be the Goddess Ninsun who is the holy mother and great queen. Having a father that is renowned for his magical abilities and a mother that is said to be a goddess would certainly explain some of Gilgamesh’s more “unusual” traits. However it would also indicate that perhaps Gilgamesh is nothing more than a myth, a story told throughout generations to teach a lesson. However, there are a few indications that perhaps this is not the case. Firstly, Gilgamesh’s name appears on the Sumerian Kings list and in fact records his reign as being 126 years long. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, a German led expedition in 2003 found what could perhaps be the tomb of the legendary King. While they are still hesitant to announce that it is in fact Gilgamesh, the tomb found is eerily similar to that described in the Epic. The tomb, found just outside a long forgotten city in the Iraqi desert, was found under the former flow route of the Euphrates River, where Gilgamesh was said to be buried when the waters receded. For more on the discovery of the tomb please go to: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/2982891.stm
Whether you believe Gilgamesh to be a real man, hero, King, or extraterrestrial one thing is clear, The Epic of Gilgamesh is a story that carries wonder and intrigue for thousands of years. Any of you who have not read this story should check out: http://www.aina.org/books/eog/eog.pdf or if you are even more curious you can listen to it read in its original tongue at: http://www.openculture.com/2015/10/hear-the-epic-of-gilgamesh-read-in-the-original-akkadian-language.html