Epic of Gilgamesh

(ca. 1300 BCE)

The Epic of Gilgamesh is the modern name for an epic poem tradition from southern Mesopotamia that dates to the third and second millennia BCE. The original narratives were composed in Sumerian, the earliest-known written language using the ancient cuneiform script. These texts consist of separate stories about Gilgamesh, some of which were not incorporated into the later Gilgamesh traditions. In the Old Babylonian period (ca. 1700 BCE), a number of the Gilgamesh stories were woven together into a coherent narrative, written in Akkadian, another language employing cuneiform. The longest existing version comes from Nineveh in the library of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal (seventh century BCE), where the work was titled “He who saw everything,” after the first few words of the composition. Paraphrases of the Gilgamesh epic dating to the second millennium BCE have been found in Anatolia, Syria, Israel, and Egypt in the Hurrian and Hittite languages. The flood traditions in...

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The Ishtar Gate in ruined Babylon (Library of Congress)

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