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Gilgamesh

by Micha F. Lindemans

The great hero of Sumerian and Babylonian epic poetry. He is the precursor of Heracles and other folk heroes. Gilgamesh is the son of Ninsun, a comparatively obscure goddess who had a palace-temple in Uruk. His father in the King-List is mysteriously described as 'lillû', which may mean 'fool' or a demon of the vampire kind, as well as being a high-priest of Kullab (part of Uruk). On other occasions, he refers to Lugulbanda as his semi-divine 'father'. Gilgamesh is fifth on the King-List and reigned in Uruk around 2700 BCE (or some hundred years or so later) for 126 years (his son reigned a mere 30 years). He was famous as a great builder and as a judge of the dead.

The Epic of Gilgamesh was preserved on clay tablets which were deciphered in the last century. It contains the adventures of the great King of Uruk (southern Babylonia) in his fruitless search for immortality and of his friendship with Enkidu, the wild man from the hills.

Most of the poems of this epic were already written down in the first centuries of the second millenium BCE, but probably existed in much the same form many centuries earlier. The final recension, and most complete edition, comes from the seventh century library of Assurbanipal, antiquary and last great king of the Assyrian empire.


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