The epic of Gilgamesh was written down on clay tablets in cuneiform script at least 1300 years before Homer wrote the Iliad and The Odessey. However the tablet was not discovered until 1845, among 25,000 tablets discovered at the library of Ashurbanipal, the last great King of Assyria (who lived between 668 – 627 BCE). In 1862 a cuneiform expert revealed an Assyrian version of the great flood, which is all to similar to the flood in the Bible. Oral traditional stories originated in Ancient Sumer and were first written down in 2100 BCE. Between 1600 and 1000 BCE, the epic had been inscribed in Akkadian (Babylonian), Hittite, and Hurrian. All versions kept the Sumerian names of the characters and Gods.
Gilgamesh apparently was a real king of Uruk, in southern Mesopotamia, sometime between 2700 and 2500 BCE. At that point Sumer had city-states, irrigation, laws, and various forms of literature. The writings of the time reveal that the people valued justice, freedom, and compassion. The strong walls of Uruk are attributed to Gilgamesh, and he may well have ventured into the wilderness in order to bring timber to his region, for wood was valuable building material that this region lacked. The Sumerian view of the gods as unpredictable and frightening reflects the unpredictable and disturbing nature of the world in which they lived.
Gilgamesh is the earliest major recorded work of literature, and Gilgamesh is the first human hero in literature. The epic has universal appeal among Western cultures because it reaffirms the similarities in human nature and human value across time and space. The epic reveals the importance of friendship, love, pride, honor, adventure, accomplishment, and also the fear of death and the wish for immortality. It speaks as clearly to us as it spoke to those who lived when it was written, almost 4,000 years ago.
Gilgamesh learns that the only type of immortality that he or any other mortal can achieve is lasting fame through perfoming great deeds and constructing lasting monuments. He also learns that life is precious and should be enjoyed to the fullest. What Gilgamesh discovers during his long and arduous journey, we too must learn in the course of our own lives. Like Gilgamesh, we must fight the despair of failure and death. Like Gilgamesh, we must choose what we will value in life and the freedom to make those choices.
GILGAMESH: A SHORT ANIMATION