5 Facts You Didn’t Know About the Epic of Gilgamesh

The Epic of Gilgamesh is said to be the main work of literature that influenced The Bible as we know it. The journey and adventures of demigod Gilgamesh have served as the cornerstone of literature for thousands of years. Below you can find some interesting facts you might not know about this great work of literature.

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World’s first classic

The Epic of Gilgamesh, dating circa 2100 BC, is the world’s first work of written literature and remains a classis to this day. In essence, it’s a series of poems and legends about a hero called Gilgamesh. The authors of this world’s first ever classic are unknown and the work is said to be anonymous. However, the latest version dating circa 600 BC was signed by a Babylonian called Sin-Leqi-Unninni.

The Epic of Gilgamesh is composed in Sumerian language which was a language isolate spoken in Northern Mesopotamia circa 3000 BC. It’s written in one of world’s earliest writing systems called cuneiform.

Use of literary devices

Not only is The Epic of Gilgamesh world’s first piece of classic literature, but it’s also one of the first known literary works that masterfully uses literary devices. For instance, it’s the first ever work to be written in the past tense third person PoV. The masterful use of irony as a literary device is particularly clear in the second part of the Epic that tells the tale of Gilgamesh’s obsession. Symbolism is also quite prominent, one particular example of it being religious symbols.

Foreshadowing, which is a dramatic plot device hinting at what’s to come, is perhaps the literary device that was used the most in the Epic by means of the characters’ dreams and other instances.

Twelve Tablets

Cuneiform was an Ancient Mesopotamian writing system that used a stylus on clay tablets. The Epic of Gilgamesh is written on such twelve clay tablets. The first eleven tablets tell the story of Gilgamesh’s journey and deal with the main conflict of the story, which is his struggle to avoid death.

The mystery of the twelfth tablet still hasn’t been resolved – it’s inconsistent with the previous eleven so it’s believed to be either a draft of the earlier version or some sort of an “alternative” epilogue.

Who is Gilgamesh?

It’s a bit hard to understand the Epic of Gilgamesh without knowing who the main character is, isn’t it? The titular hero of the Epic is based on an ancient ruler of Mesopotamia that reigned sometime between 2800 and 2500 BC. The literary character is a demigod who has ruled the city of Uruk (modern Iraq) for 126 years. His epic quest is a journey of chasing life and avoiding death and a great tale of character development, driven by various death-related events in his life, such as the death of his enemy-turned-friend Enkidu at the end of the first half of the poem.

Gilgamesh is written to be a hero but there’s a lot more to him than just a cookie-cutter saviour. The Epic does an excellent portrayal of his struggle with mortality and uses religious symbolism to highlight the tragic flaws of his character.

Ties to The Bible and Homer’s works.

The Epic pre-dates the Bible by over 2,500 years and The Iliad and The Odyssey by at least a few hundred. It’s no surprise, therefore, that both classics have been influenced by the Epic to a large extent. The most significant examples of the influence in The Bible are the story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden and Noah’s flood, which follows the narrative of the Epic’s flood plot almost to a T.

Quite a few themes of The Odyssey, such as a hero’s journey, dangerous gods and contemplation of fundamental issues of human existence, overlap with those of The Epic of Gilgamesh. The latter’s themes of power and tragedy associated with it are also mirrored in The Iliad.

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