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Classical Studies
P Ferguson

Lecture 4: First Great Work of World Literature: The Legend of Gilgamesh Gilgamesh First great work of world literature Longest and greatest literary composition written in cuneiform Akkadian - 12 tablets - epic preceded by Sumerian Tales: oral stories of Gilgamesh, Lugalbanda and Enmerkar (grandfather) were written down in Sumerian, 650 – 1000 yrs after Based in Uruk (modern Baghdad) in Sumer - Uruk may have been an Akkadian city Constantly altered via continuing oral narrative tradition so many versions exist dependent on different cities Akkadian compilation is credited to the scribe-priest Sin-leqe-unnini in the Kassite period - One note that the scribe copying down Gilgamesh was working from damaged text No evidence that Gilgamesh stories written down about 2150 BC Purpose: no known associated ceremony / ritual; most likely for entertainment for royalty, family, and travelers Classic epic: heroic exploits of a historical figure; gods and goddesses who “interfere”; free will of man vs destiny and the wishes of heaven - “A heroic quest for fame and immortality pursued by a man who has an enormous capacity for friendship, for endurance and adventure, for joy and sorrow, a man of strength and weakness who loses a unique opportunity through a moment’s carelessness” Traditional figure of hero grappling masterfully with wild animals present in artwork (cylinder seals; sculptures) and continues on - image may be earlier than the putative existence of the hero of Uruk - it may be associated with Gilgamesh or others (Nergal, Enkidu, Shakkan) at different periods Literary techniques used to combine in the Sumerian stories into a unified epic - presence of Gilgamesh provides continuity - theme change after the death of Enkidu (search for fame to quest for immortality) - prologue of Tablet 1 echoed in epilogue at end of Tablet XI - repeated motif of 3 dreams - repeated phrases - transitions are still apparent Themes: Friendship, fate vs. free will, nature vs. civilization, mortality of mankind, kingship (kingship must be supported even if individual kings are imperfect) Enkidu has some female aspects: “hair like a woman” and first dressed in female clothes Gilgamesh Considered an actual, historical character in antiquity; also regarded as a god Gilgamesh likely an [almost] secular king in early Dynastic period (monarchy) - at his time, royal death pits would have been present 2 different traditions on his parentage 1. Lugalbanda: king of Uruk 2 kings before Gilgamesh in Sumerian king list and epics; shepherd No contemporary inscriptions at Uruk found for Gilgamesh or Lugalbanda  - maybe an archetypal and divine king in a mythological tradition 2. A lillu (man with demonic qualities), high priest of Kullab (in Uruk); also from Sumerian King list Mother: Ninsun, the goddess of Lady Wild Cow; from her he inherits two-thirds divinity Ruler of Uruk, specifically modern Warka in Iraq - Walls of Uruk attributed to Gilgamesh thUruk called “Uruk the Sheepfold” - enormously important city in late 4 millennium BC - two separate towns on either side, probably of a canal - one town: patron deity is An[u] - other town: patron deity is Inanna (Ishtar) - therefore, close connection between Anu and Ishtar in the story - very early tradition of literacy in Shuruppak (in Utnapishtim) seen by cuneiform clay tablets One tradition links him to Ur rather than Uruk Difference between Siduri’s and Ut-napishtim’s speech: both tell him to accept mortality but Siduri goes farther, telling him to cherish what he has Summary (Standard Version) Tablet 1 Prologue: “Of him who found out all things” used as a title in antiquity - 6 lines of prologue echoed in epilogue in Tablet XI - Colophon shows that “he was superior to other kings” - parentage of Gilgamesh given and his 2/3 divinity “Uruk the Sheepfold” refers to people in city’s wall Gilgamesh is extremely powerful and oppressive - forces men to work - exercises ius primae noctis (right to have sex with newlywed virgin brides before their grooms) – don’t know how prevalent this right was People pray to Aruru (Mother Goddess; also Ninhursag, Mami, Nintu) Aruru creates Enkidu by pinching clay off of her, who is opposite in Gilgamesh’s nature, i.e. wise, sober, e.t.c. Enkidu is a “wild man” with long hair, stays with cattle and wild beast, frees animals from hunter’s traps – an innocent Hunter is troubled and asks his father for advice then asks Gilgamesh Both advise the hunter to take Shahmat (a harlot) to Enkidu Hunter and Shahmat wait for Enkidu near the watering hole for 3 days Shahmat bares herself, seducing Enkidu and they have sex for 6 days and 7 nights He is no longer “innocent” being physically weaker but cleaner and wiser (“profound like a god” since he is self-aware) Animals are scared of Enkidu Shahmat tells him about Gilgamesh and Enkidu wants to fight him but Shahmat convinces him otherwise by relating Gilgamesh’s dream and his mother’s interpretation of it Gilgamesh has two dreams of the thunderbolt of Anu and an axe being thrown upon him and being loved and admired by all the people of Uruk; Ninsun interprets the dream to be that Gilgamesh will soon get a strong partner, i.e. Enkidu Therefore, concludes Shahmat, the two will “love one another” Tablet 2 Shahmat dresses Enkidu with one of her garments and takes him to the city Enkidu stays with shepherds eating human food and killing wolves to help herdsman - shepherds are peripheral to Mesopotamian civilization - this indicates him shifting towards human life but not completely since hie is with the shepherds Enkidu confronts Gilgamesh at the door of a newlywed couple (father-in-law’s house) that Gilgamesh is going to and they wrestle but neither one wins Gilgamesh and Enkidu become friends Gilgamesh wants to secure immortality through fame so he decides to kill the monster Humbaba Enkidu and elders of Uruk try to dissuade him but do not succeed Tablet 3 Elders suggest Gilgamesh to travel with Enkidu (who knows the Pine Forest and is strong) Gilgamesh asks mother Ninsun for advice, who makes an offering to Shamash and asks wife Aya for help; Ninsun also adopts Enkidu as her son - adoption was rather prevalent in the Ancient world due to more orphans - by adopting Enkidu, he becomes a brother and equal of Gilgamesh - difference with Sumerian where Enkidu is more of a servant Gilgamesh and Enkidu pray and probably make offerngs of juniper and incense at a shrine Tablet 4 Gilgamesh and Enkidu travel 50 leagues (240 km) per day for about 17 days and stop to have lunch, fill water skins, dig well Gilgamesh sees bad dreams but Enkidu interprets dreams favourably Something happens on journey (lion attack?), leaving Enkidu paralyzed - Gilgamesh seems to blame himself and the events that happened here for the bad things that happen later Tablet 5 (Gilgamesh and the Halub-tree or Gilgamesh and the Land of the Living) Pine forest of Humbaba is in modern Lebanon, described in great detail for audience that were probably unfamiliar with forests (portrayed as lush) - in southern Mesopotamia, trees would likely be in an orchard; no forest so this was an exotic locale for them Humbaba is dismissive of both of them, Gilgamesh gets scared, Enkidu encourages him - Humbaba is supposed to be ugly (coiled intestines on his face) and with dwarf-like proportions - battle provides aetiology for the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountains: “they stirred up the ground with the heels of their feet, Sirara and Lebanon were split apart at their gyrations” Shahmash comes and surrounds Humbaba with winds, so Humbaba is about to lose Humbaba bargains that Gilgamesh can have the timber in his forest; Enkidu spurs Gilgamesh to kill Humbaba With his last breath, Humbaba gives the curse that none of them shall “grow to be old men” Gilgamesh makes a door and raft to bring Humbaba’s head down the river Tablet 6 (Gilgamesh and the Bull of Heaven) Gilgamesh cleans and dresses himself after the adventure Ishtar is smitten and proposes him to be her lover and husband Gilgamesh rejects her, describing the fate of her past lovers - Dumuzi, from Descent of Ishtar - Allalu-bird – “hit him and broke his wings” - Lion – “dug seven and seven pits” - Horse – “decreed he should gallop seven leagues (non-stop) … be overwrought and thirsty … endless weeping for his mother Sililu” - Shepherd o In akkadian version, Ishtar turned shepherd into wolf so his own shepherd boys hunted him down o Lesson: Ishtar was essentially “throwing away her boy-toy” o Similar to Actaeon who saw goddess Artemis in the bath; she turned him into a stag and was hunted and torn apart by his own hunting dogs o Lesson from Greece: Artemis’ virgin
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