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The Epic of Gilgamesh

Written by Ardil Ulucay

The Epic of Gilgamesh is the first written legend in the world, dating back to 2600 B.C.E. It was written in Akkadian and consists of 12 incomplete clay tablets that were found at Nineveh in the library of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal, who reigned from 668-627 B.C.E. The gaps between these tablets were filled with other fragments found elsewhere in the regions of Mesopotamia and Anatolia. Alongside these, five other poems written in Sumerian were found, titled "Gilgamesh and Huwawa," "Gilgamesh and the Bull of Heaven," "Gilgamesh and Agga of Kish," "Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Netherworld," and "The Death of Gilgamesh." It is believed that these poems were written in the first half of the 2nd millennium [1, 2].


In the ancient city of Uruk, Gilgamesh, a mighty king, reigned. Two-thirds divine and one-third human, he was a demigod. Gilgamesh was blessed with unparalleled strength, charisma, and wisdom. His people admired his power but suffered under his tyrannical rule. Gilgamesh would torture and kill his soldiers, sleep with new brides before their weddings, and much more. The citizens of Uruk cried out to the gods, seeking relief from the oppression of their tyrannical king.

The gods pitied the people of Uruk, and thus, the goddess Aruru designed Enkidu, a wild man who lived among the animals and could talk to them. Enkidu's strength rivaled that of Gilgamesh. A hunter encountered Enkidu at a watering hole and, intimidated by his wildness, sought counsel from his father. The father advised the hunter to bring Shamhat, a harlot, to civilize Enkidu.

Shamhat lured Enkidu away from the animals with her charms, and they lay together for six days and seven nights, which according to some creates fault lines all over the earth. With this union, Enkidu's once-wild nature transformed, and he became more human. He lost his connection with the animals and was no longer able to talk to them. He started to crave regular human food and started wearing human clothes that were given to him by Shamhat. After some time, Enkidu heard about the distasteful reputation of Gilgamesh; afterward, Enkidu decided to journey to Uruk and confront Gilgamesh. Along the way, Shamhat shared the dreams of Gilgamesh about a new companion who would challenge him with Enkidu. As Enkidu entered the Uruk town, he encountered Gilgamesh who was up to his usual tricks. Enkidu intervened, and a fierce battle ensued between Gilgamesh and Enkidu, but their strengths were evenly matched. Eventually, Gilgamesh managed to take Enkidu down just barely. After the fight, they admired each other's power, and they embraced as friends.

Together, Gilgamesh and Enkidu set out on heroic adventures, fighting monsters and other warriors. In one of their adventures, they decided to hunt a legendary creature that lived in the cedar forest which even the gods admired called Humbaba. While they were on their way to confront Humbaba, Gilgamesh regularly had nightmares about how it would lead them to disaster. Enkidu brushed these off and claimed that these were signs from the gods ensuring their victory.

After locating Humbaba, the two fought valiantly against the creature, and in the end, Enkidu, the one connected to the creatures of nature, landed the final blow on Humbaba. In his final breath, Humbaba cursed the two, claiming that one of them would be punished by the gods as he was a servant of them and die an agonizing and painful death.

Back in Uruk, the goddess Ishtar took a romantic interest in Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh refused her advances as he knew that this goddess tended to lose interest in her partners and curse them in the end. So the proud goddess Ishtar unleashed the Bull of Heaven on Uruk.

To protect the people of Uruk, Gilgamesh, and Enkidu slay the Bull of Heaven. The enraged gods agreed to kill Enkidu as he became even more of a burden to them than Gilgamesh. Fate fell upon Enkidu, and he fell ill, plagued by a series of ominous dreams. Despite Gilgamesh's desperate attempts to save his friend, Enkidu succumbed to the illness and died. Gilgamesh was devastated, and Enkidu's death haunted him.

Consumed by grief and fear of his mortality, Gilgamesh embarked on a quest for eternal life. He sought out Utnapishtim, the survivor of the Great Flood, hoping to learn the secret of immortality. Utnapishtim revealed that true immortality was unattainable, but he shared a tale of a miraculous plant that could restore one's youth no matter how old they were.

Gilgamesh traversed long distances, and in the end, he found the said plant. Overjoyed by this, he found a pond where he could relax as he finally felt tranquil. While he was bathing in the pond, a serpent came and ate the plant. Crushed by the realization that death was inevitable, Gilgamesh returned to Uruk with newfound wisdom. He embraced the cyclical nature of life, understanding that immortality was not the key to a fulfilled existence. He cared for his people like he never cared as he realized, true immortality only came after one's death [1, 2, 3].


The Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest recorded legend in human history, encapsulates timeless themes of friendship, mortality, and the quest for meaning. At its core, the epic explores the transformative power of companionship through the relationship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Gilgamesh, initially depicted as a tyrant abusing his power, undergoes a profound change upon meeting Enkidu. Through their adventures and camaraderie, Gilgamesh learns humility, compassion, and the value of human connection. However, tragedy strikes with Enkidu's untimely death, prompting Gilgamesh to confront his mortality and embark on a quest for eternal life.

The characters of Gilgamesh and Enkidu symbolize different aspects of human existence. Gilgamesh represents the hubris of humanity, driven by a desire for power and immortality. Enkidu, on the other hand, embodies the natural world and the innate connection between humans and their environment. Together, they form a complex duo that navigates the complexities of life and death.

Throughout the epic, Gilgamesh's journey mirrors the human quest for meaning and transcendence. His pursuit of immortality reflects humanity's enduring struggle with the inevitability of death and the desire for eternal significance. However, Gilgamesh ultimately comes to accept the cyclical nature of life, recognizing that true immortality lies not in defying death but in embracing the fleeting beauty of existence.

The message one could take from this legend can be described in this one quote "Do not be proud Gilgamesh, for there is something much greater than you called death".



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