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Gilgamesh (/ˈɡɪlɡəˌmɛʃ/[1] or /ɡɪlˈɡɑːmɛʃ/;[2]:163 𒄑𒂆𒈦, Gilgameš, originally Bilgamesh 𒄑𒉈𒂵𒈩) is the main character in the Epic of Gilgamesh, an Akkadian poem that is considered the first great work of literature,[3] and in earlier Sumerian poems. In the epic, Gilgamesh is a demigod of superhuman strength who builds the city walls of Uruk to defend his people and, after the death of his friend Enkidu, then travels to meet the sage Utnapishtim, who had survived the Great Flood.[4] His name translates roughly to mean "The Ancestor is a Young-man",[5] from = Ancestor, Elder[6]:33 and Mes/Mesh3 = Young-Man.[6]:174[n 1]

Statue at the Louvre in France
Predecessor Dumuzid, the Fisherman (as Ensi of Uruk)
Aga of Kish (as King of Sumer)
Successor Ur-Nungal
Abode Earth
Symbol Bull, Lion
Personal Information
Children Ur-Nungal
Parents Lugalbanda and Ninsun

Gilgamesh is generally seen by scholars as a historical figure, since inscriptions have been found which confirm the existence of other figures associated with him in the epic. If Gilgamesh existed, he probably was a king who reigned sometime between 2800 and 2500 BC.[7][not verified in body] The Sumerian King List claims that Gilgamesh ruled the city of Uruk for 126 years. According to the Tummal Inscription,[n 2] Gilgamesh and his son Ur-Nungal rebuilt the sanctuary of the goddess Ninlil in Tummal, a sacred quarter in her city of Nippur.


Cuneiform referencesEdit

The story was discovered in the nineteenth century, and allows us to take a glimpse into the cultures and people of the region.[8]:95 The earliest[when?] cuneiform references to Gilgamesh on clay tablets relate (according to the Encyclopædia Britannica) to the discovery of the library of Ashurbanipal.[9]

The Gilgamesh story was written across the span of a millennium by no specific author but rather as a culmination of many different people adding their own part to the epic.[8]:95 This epic poetry is a cycle of Sumerian recordings, probably of an earlier oral tradition in which he appears under the name "Bilgamesh" (spelled in Sumerian cuneiform as 𒄑𒉈𒂵𒈩 BIL4.GA.MESH3 or 𒄑𒉋𒂵𒈨𒌍 BIL3.GA.MESH[n 3][10]:141). These poems include many of the stories that would make up the later, more famous Epic of Gilgamesh, written in the Akkadian language. The latest and most comprehensive telling of the Gilgamesh legend was the twelve-tablet Standard Babylonian Version, compiled c. 1200 BC by the exorcist-priest (mašmaššu) Sîn-lēqi-unninni.

Tablet V of the Epic of Gilgamesh. The Sulaymaniyah Museum, Iraq.

Fragments of an epic text found in Me-Turan (modern Tell Haddad) relate that at the end of his life Gilgamesh was buried under the river bed. The people of Uruk diverted the flow of the Euphrates passing Uruk for the purpose of burying the dead king within the river bed. In April 2003, a German expedition claimed to have discovered his last resting place.[11]

Some of the Sumerian texts spell his name as Bilgamesh. Initial difficulties in reading cuneiform resulted in Gilgamesh's name being initially given as "Izdubar" when parts of the epic were first published in English in 1872.[12][13]

Although Gilgamesh was originally considered by scholars to be a semi-divine hero, he is now generally regarded as a historical king. In most cuneiform texts, the name of Gilgamesh is preceded with the star-shaped "dingir" determinative ideogram for divine beings, but there is no evidence for a contemporary cult, and the Sumerian Gilgamesh myths suggest that deification was a later development (unlike the case of the Akkadian god-kings). The earliest datable cuneiform tablet bears the name of Enmebaragesi of Kish; he and his son Aga of Kish are associated with Gilgamesh in the epic, as well as appearing in the kinglist and Tummal Chronicle. If Gilgamesh was a historical king, he probably reigned in about the 26th century BC.

Over the centuries there may have been a gradual accretion of stories about Gilgamesh, some possibly derived from the real lives of other historical figures. This could include in particular Gudea, the Second Dynasty ruler of Lagash (2144–2124 BC).[14]

Later (non-cuneiform) referencesEdit

In the Qumran scroll known as Book of Giants (c. 100 BC) the names of Gilgamesh and Humbaba appear as two of the antediluvian giants, rendered (in consonantal form) as glgmš and ḩwbbyš. This same text was later used in the Middle East by the Manichaean sects, and the Arabic form Gilgamish/Jiljamish survives as the name of a demon according to the Egyptian cleric Al-Suyuti (c. 1500).[2]:60

The name Gilgamesh appears once in Greek, as "Gilgamos" (Γίλγαμος), in Aelian's De Natura Animalium (On the Nature of Animals) 12.21 (written c. AD 200).[15] In Aelian's story, the King of Babylon, Seuechorus or Euechorus, determined by oracle that his grandson Gilgamos would kill him, so he threw him out of a high tower. An eagle broke his fall, and the infant was found and raised by a gardener, eventually becoming king.

Theodore Bar Konai (c. AD 600), writing in Syriac, also mentions a king Gligmos, Gmigmos or Gamigos as last of a line of twelve kings who were contemporaneous with the patriarchs from Peleg to Abraham; this occurrence is also considered a vestige of Gilgamesh's former memory.[2]:61[16]

Family treeEdit

born to Namma
born to Namma
born to Uraš
maybe daughter of Enlil
Nanna Nergal
maybe son of Enki
maybe born to Ninḫursaĝ
born to Uraš
Uttu Inanna
possibly also the daughter of Enki or the daughter of An
maybe son of Enki
Utu Ninkigal
married Nergal
Meškiaĝĝašer Lugalbanda
Enmerkar Gilgāmeš

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ See also The Electronic Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary
  2. ^ The Tummal Inscription is an expanded king-list based on the standard Old Babylonian copy-texts, which exist in numerous examples, from Ur and Nippur.
  3. ^ gilgameš, gilgameš2, and gilgameš3 in the Pennsylvania Electronic Sumerian Dictionary


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c George, Andrew R. (2010) [2003]. The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic – Introduction, Critical Edition and Cuneiform Texts (in English and Akkadisch). vol. 1 and 2 (reprint ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0198149224. OCLC 819941336. Retrieved October 7, 2017. 
  3. ^ Keys, David (16 November 1998). "First lines of oldest epic poem found". The Independent. Retrieved 20 August 2014. The beginning of the world's first truly great work of literature – the 4,000-year-old Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, the poem on which the story of Noah and the Flood was probably based – has been discovered in a British Museum storeroom. 
  4. ^ Mason, Herbert (2003). Gilgamesh: A verse Narrative. Mariner books. pp. 49–55. 
  5. ^ Hayes, J.L. A Manual of Sumerian Grammar and Texts. 
  6. ^ a b Halloran, J. Sum.Lexicon. 
  7. ^ Dalley, Stephanie (2000). Myths from Mesopotamia (Revised ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 40. ISBN 0-19-283589-0. Precise dates cannot be given for the lifetime of Gilgamesh, but they are generally agreed to lie between 2800 and 2500 BC. 
  8. ^ a b Norton, W.W. (2012). The Norton Anthology of World Literature. A. & Company (third ed.). 
  9. ^ The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. "Encyclopedia Britannica: Gilgamesh Mesopotamian mythology". Retrieved October 12, 2017. 
  10. ^ George, Andrew R. (2003) [1999, 2000]. The Epic of Gilgamesh: the Babylonian Epic Poem and Other Texts in Akkadian and Sumerian. Penguin Classics (Third ed.). London: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-044919-1. OCLC 901129328. Retrieved October 8, 2017. 
  11. ^ "Gilgamesh tomb believed found". BBC News. 29 April 2003. Retrieved 12 October 2017. 
  12. ^ Smith, George. "The Chaldean Account of the Deluge". Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archaeology, Volumes 1-2. 1–2. London: Society of Biblical Archæology. pp. 213–214. Retrieved 12 October 2017. 
  13. ^ Jeremias, Alfred (1891). Izdubar-Nimrod, eine altbabylonische Heldensage (in German). Retrieved 12 October 2017. 
  14. ^ Sandars, N.K. (1972). introduction to The Epic of Gilgamesh. Penguin. 
  15. ^ Burkert, Walter (1992). The Orientalizing Revolution. p. 33, note 32. 
  16. ^ Tigay. The Evolution of the Gilgamesh Epic. p. 252. 


  • Damrosch, David (2007). The Buried Book: The Loss and Rediscovery of the Great Epic of Gilgamesh. Henry Holt and Co. ISBN 0-8050-8029-5. 
  • "Narratives featuring… Gilgameš". Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature. Retrieved October 8, 2017. 
  • Gmirkin, Russell E (2006). Berossus and Genesis, Manetho and Exodus. New York: T & T Clark International. 
  • Foster, Benjamin R., trans. & edit. (2001). The Epic of Gilgamesh. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-97516-9. 
  • Hammond, D.; Jablow, A. (1987). "Gilgamesh and the Sundance Kid: the Myth of Male Friendship". In Brod, H. The Making of Masculinities: The New Men's Studies. Boston. pp. 241–258. 
  • Kovacs, Maureen Gallery, transl. with intro. (1989) [1985]. The Epic of Gilgamesh. Stanford University Press: Stanford, California. ISBN 0-8047-1711-7.  Glossary, Appendices, Appendix (Chapter XII=Tablet XII).
  • Jackson, Danny (1997). The Epic of Gilgamesh. Wauconda, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers. ISBN 0-86516-352-9. 
  • Mitchell, Stephen (2004). Gilgamesh: A New English Version. New York: Free Press. ISBN 0-7432-6164-X. 
  • Oberhuber, K., ed. (1977). Das Gilgamesch-Epos. Darmstadt: Wege der Forschung. 
  • Parpola, Simo, with Mikko Luuko, and Kalle Fabritius (1997). The Standard Babylonian, Epic of Gilgamesh. The Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project. ISBN 9514577604. 
  • Pettinato, Giovanni (1992). La saga di Gilgamesh. Milan, Italy: Rusconi Libri. ISBN 978-88-18-88028-1. 

External linksEdit

  Media related to Gilgamesh at Wikimedia Commons

Preceded by
Aga of Kish
King of Sumer
c. 2600 BC
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Dumuzid, the Fisherman
Ensi of Uruk
c. 2600 BC