Gilgamesh, while not commonly thought of as a Greek hero, does play a role in mythology. He was the legendary ruler of Uruk, a city-state in ancient Sumer. He became the hero of the world’s oldest narrative poem. We as a culture didn’t learn of Gilgamesh’s tale until the 1850s, while archaeologists excavated Ninevah, the ancient capital of Assyria. They found twelve tablets containing the Gilgamesh epic–a story that has striking similarities to the later Greek heroes.
Gilgamesh’s tale is divided into two parts. In the first, he bonds with a wild man, Enkidu, whom the gods created out of clay to be his life partner. The two friends battle monsters, such as the fiery Humbaba and the frightening manifestation of drought and earthquake–the bull of heaven. Enkidu, after an encounter with the goddess Ishtar, is killed, and Gilgamesh must endure his first experience with death. This changes him, and sets him on a life-altering course.
In the narrative’s second half, Gilgamesh becomes desperate to live forever. His quest takes him to a man called Utnapishtim, who has survived a flood that annihilated all humanity. The old man tells Gilgamesh that he must pluck a magical plant from the bottom of the sea if he wishes to live forever. Gilgamesh finds the plant, but before he can eat it, a serpent steals the plant from him and devours it. Ironically, this allows the serpent the ability to shed his skin, renewing its life, taking the power away from mortals to rejuvenate their own life.
In the end, Gilgamesh meets a barmaid who turns out to be a minor goddess. She gives him the advice to leave the search for immortality. He must accept the ordinary life, and thus enjoy each day with hope and gratitude.
Gilgamesh’s characteristics of bravery, friendship, strength, courage, and the hero’s quest, all closely resemble the later myths, such as Odysseus’s heroic quest in the Odyssey.
I found the myth intriguing. One of my favorite authors, Ilona Andrews, uses Gilgamesh’s tale throughout her Kate Daniels series. She gives it a unique twist which, after studying Gilgamesh’s actual story, is even more fascinating.
As always, thank you for following my blog! I hope you enjoyed today’s discussion of Gilgamesh. And if you’re into hero’s tales, you should check out my novella RAZE. It’s only $2.99 on Amazon and tells the story of two sisters who embark on their own quest to rescue a girl with unusual abilities, but what they really find may surprise you.
There was a Star Trek episode where Capt. Picard told the story of Gilgamesh to an alien dude, haven't thought about that one in years. Great post!
Do you recall what episode? I would be keen to watch it.