Gilgamesh Tablet Fragment

Gilgamesh Tablet Fragment


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Tag: Epic_of_Gilgamesh

I was taking photos in the main hall of the Sulaymaniyah Museum and came across a display case containing a small clay tablet. The description beside it said the tablet was part of the Epic of Gilgamesh and a fragment of tablet V. Immediately I thought it was a ‘replica’ as the description was superficial. It did not say the tablet was genuine, that it was newly discovered or even told about the many new pieces of information it had revealed.

A newly discovered tablet V of the epic of Gilgamesh. The left half of the whole tablet has survived and is composed of 3 fragments. The Sulaymaniyah Museum, Iraq. Photo © Osama S.M. Amin.

After the US-led invasion of Iraq and the dramatic looting of Iraqi and other museums, the Sulaymaniyah Museum (directed by the council of ministers of Iraqi Kurdistan) started an initiative. They paid smugglers to ‘intercept’ archeological artifacts on their journey to other countries. No questions were asked about who was selling the piece or where it came from. The Sulaymaniyah Museum believed this condition kept smugglers from selling their merchandise to other buyers, as they would have otherwise done so ‘with ease and without any legal consequences.’


Tablet V Fragments Reveal New Information About the Epic of Gilgamesh

I was taking photos in the main hall of the Sulaymaniyah Museum and came across a display case containing a small clay tablet. The description beside it said the tablet was part of the Epic of Gilgamesh and a fragment of tablet V. Immediately I thought it was a ‘replica’ as the description was superficial. It did not say the tablet was genuine, that it was newly discovered or even told about the many new pieces of information it had revealed.


A newly discovered tablet V of the epic of Gilgamesh. The left half of the whole tablet has survived and is composed of 3 fragments. The Sulaymaniyah Museum, Iraq. Photo © Osama S.M. Amin.

After the US-led invasion of Iraq and the dramatic looting of Iraqi and other museums, the Sulaymaniyah Museum (directed by the council of ministers of Iraqi Kurdistan) started an initiative. They paid smugglers to ‘intercept’ archeological artifacts on their journey to other countries. No questions were asked about who was selling the piece or where it came from. The Sulaymaniyah Museum believed this condition kept smugglers from selling their merchandise to other buyers, as they would have otherwise done so ‘with ease and without any legal consequences.’


The description of the newly discovered tablet V of the Epic of Gilgamesh in English and Kurdish next to its display case. Note the description is “superficial and brief” and does not reflect the importance of this discovery! Photo © Osama S.M. Amin.

In late 2011, the Sulaymaniyah Museum acquired a collection of clay tablets: The collection was composed of 80-90 tablets of different shapes, contents and sizes. All of the tablets were, to some degree, still covered with mud. Some were completely intact, while others were fragmented. The precise location of their excavation is unknown, but it is likely that they were illegally unearthed from, what is known today as, the southern part of theBabel (Babylon) or Governorate, Iraq (Mesopotamia).

While the seller negotiated the prices, Professor Farouk Al-Rawi (of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London) rapidly examined each item in terms of its content and originality. He even found a few fakes! The seller wanted a large sum of money for the tablet of the Epic of Gilgamesh. He did not know what it represented, he only knew it was relatively large. Still, this tablet captured the attention of Professor Al-Rawi when he skimmed the cuneiform inscriptions on it. He immediately intervened and told Mr. Hashim to buy it, “just give him what he wants, I will tell you later on,” Al-Rawi said to Abdullah. The final price was $800.


Obverse of the newly discovered tablet V of the Epic of Gilgamesh. The Sulaymaniyah Museum, Iraq. Photo © Osama S.M. Amin.

Millimeter by millimeter Professor Al-Rawi cleaned the tablet. It was composed of 3 fragments and amazingly the fragments were already joined together… by whom, the excavators or the smugglers? We’ll never know.

Soon enough Al-Rawi realized that this tablet was one of the tablets of the Epic of Gilgamesh. He informed his colleague Professor Andrew R. George about this discovery and with the help of Mrs. Hero Talabani (wife of the former Iraqi president Mr. Jalal Talabani) Professor George received a funded visit to the Sulaymaniyah Museum. Professors Al-Rawi and George resided in a guest house belonging to the General Directorate of the Antiquities of Sulaymaniyah.


Mr. Hashim Hama Abdullah, director of the Sulaymaniayh Museum (left) and Mr. Kamal Rashid, director of the General Directorate of Antiquities of Sulaymaniayh (right) discuss the importance of the tablet and how it was found. The Sulaymaniayh Museum, Iraq. Photo © Osama S.M. Amin.

In November 2012, work started on reading and translating the cuneiform texts it took five days. Al-Rawi also drew sketches of both the tablet’s obverse and reverse sides. According to Al-Rawi and George, the new tablet is inscribed in Neo-Babylonian cuneiform language and represents the left half of the sixth tablet column. The tablet can be found at number T.1447 in the Sulaymaniyah Museum. It is 11 cm in height, 9.5 cm in width, and 3 cm in thickness.

The museum’s description beside the tablet said that it dates back to the old-Babylonian period (2003-1595 BCE).While Al-Rawi and George’s article hints it was inscribed by a neo-Babylonian writer (626-539 BCE).

  • The revised reconstruction of Tablet V yields text that is nearly twenty lines longer than previously known.
  • The obverse (columns i-ii) duplicates the Neo-Assyrian fragments which means the Epic tablet can be placed in order and used to fill in the gaps between them. It also shows the recension on Tablet V was in Babylonia, as well as Assyria and that “izzizūma inappatū qišta” is the same phrase that other tablets being with.
  • The reverse (columns v-vi) duplicates parts of the reverse (columns iv-vi) of the late Babylonian tablet excavated at Uruk that begins with the inscription “Humbāba pâšu īpušma iqabbi izakkara ana Gilgāmeš”.
  • The most interesting piece of information provided by this new source is the continuation of the description of the Cedar Forest:
    • Gilgamesh and Enkidu saw ‘monkeys’ as part of the exotic and noisy fauna of the Cedar Forest this was not mentioned in other versions of the Epic.
    • Humbaba emerges, not as a barbarian ogre, and but as a foreign ruler entertained with exotic music at court in the manner of Babylonian kings. The chatter of monkeys, chorus of cicada, and squawking of many kinds of birds formed a symphony (or cacophony) that daily entertained the forest’s guardian, Humbaba.

    I am a consultant neurologist not an archeologist so many thanks goes to Mr. Kamal Rashid, (director of the General Directorate of Antiquities of Sulaymaniyah) Mr. Hashim Hama Abdullah, (director of the Sulaymaniyah Museum) and Miss Hazha Jalal, (manager of the tablets’ section of the Museum) for their kind help and unlimited cooperation.


    Miss Hazha Jalal, manager of the tablet’s section of the Sulaymaniyah Museum, holds the tablet. The Sulaymaniyah Museum, Iraq. Photo © Osama S.M. Amin.


    The author (left) interviews Miss Hazha Jalal, manager of the tablets’ section of the Sulaymaniyah Museum. Photo © Osama S.M. Amin.

    Miss Hazha Jalal, (manager of the tablet’s section at the Sulaymaniyah Museum of Iraqi Kurdistan) speaks (using Kurdish language) about this tablet: “The tablet dates back to the Neo-Bablyonian period. It is a part of tablet V of the Epic. It was acquired by the Museum in the year 2011 and Dr. Farouk Al-Raw transliterated it. It was written as a poem and this version has added many new things, for example Gilgamesh and his friend met a monkey. We are honored to house this tablet and anyone can visit the Museum during its opening hours from 8:30 AM to 2:00 PM. The entry is free for you and your guests. Thank you.”

    I mean, new is relative here, seeing as how the fragments were "discovered" in 2011, translated in 2012 and the article cited on the website was published in June 2014, but it's the first I've heard of it, and the first reference I can find online to the specific tablet. Some very interesting stuff, like monkeys being mentioned as animals of the forest, and the siege-engine who is Humbaba being presented in some aspects as a king.

    Plus, it's always nice to see such important pieces of history preserved, especially in contrast to the destruction seen recently of other historical artefacts.


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    “The U.S. government’s forfeiture of the Tablet renders the Tablet unsalable and worthless to Hobby Lobby,” the suit reads. Hobby Lobby is now seeking to recover the price paid for its purchase.

    The piece is known as the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet, and it is one of 12 tablets inscribed with the Epic of Gilgamesh found in 1853 in Assyrian ruins in Iraq. According to the lawsuit against Christie’s, the provenance supplied by the auction house claimed that the tablet was acquired by dealers in San Francisco before 1981. A curator at the Museum of the Bible uncovered evidence that that provenance was false in 2017, the suit claims.

    In statement to ARTnews, a spokesperson for the Museum of the Bible said, “We support the Department of Homeland Security&rsquos efforts to return this Gilgamesh fragment to Iraq,” adding, “Before displaying the item in 2017, we informed the Embassy of Iraq that we had the item in our possession but extensive research would be required to establish provenance. We have continued these private discussions with Iraqi officials.”

    In response to the lawsuit, a Christie’s spokesperson said in a statement to Artnews, &ldquoThis filing is linked to new information that has come to light regarding an unidentified dealer&rsquos admission to government authorities that he illegally imported this item then falsified documents over a decade ago, in order to perpetrate an illegal sale and exploit the legitimate market for ancient art. Now that we are informed of this activity pre-dating Christie&rsquos involvement, we are reviewing all representations made to us by prior owners and will reserve our rights in this matter. Assertions within the filing that suggest Christie&rsquos had knowledge of the original fraud or illegal importation do not comport with our own investigation of this matter.&rdquo


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    The Standard Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh

    The Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh is preserved on three groups of manuscripts (clay tablets), which give an account of the poem at different stages in its evolution, from the eighteenth century BC to the first millennium BC.

    So far eleven pieces of Old Babylonian versions of the epic are extant, and eighteen pieces are known from later in the second millennium (Middle Babylonian and other intermediate manuscripts). If these twenty-nine fragments were all that had survived we would not be able today to give an accurate account of the poem's narrative and plot. Fortunately we have 184 fragments from the first millennium (count at January 2003). These come from ancient libraries in Assyria, most notably the library of the seventh-century king, Ashurbanipal, and from slightly later collections of tablets found in Babylonia, chiefly at Babylon and Uruk.

    These Babylonian and Assyrian fragments bear witness to a standardized edition of the poem, which we call the Standard Babylonian epic. This last version of the poem was the result of a deliberate work of editorial, according to tradition carried out by a learned scholar called Sin-leqi-unninni, who probably flourished about 1100 BC. The oldest sources for his version are from the ninth or eighth centuries the last dated manuscript comes from about 130 BC, when Babylonia was a dominion of the Parthian kingdom.

    The edition of the Standard Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh published in Andrew George's critical edition of the poem (further details available from Oxford University Press) is a composite variorum edition, in which the evidence of the different first-millennium manuscripts is combined. The result is a transliterated text reconstructed from the cuneiform witnesses according to the editor's judgement.

    George's composite transliteration and translation of the standardized first-millennium text was based on a previous transliteration of the text of each individual manuscript. The text was established by first-hand study of each individual tablet and, for the most part, a newly drawn hand-copy (facsimile) of the cuneiform. The cuneiform of every fragment was published alongside the composite text.

    Readers of the epic who do not read cuneiform may wish to consult the evidence of individual manuscripts. To this end, George's synoptic ("score") transliterations of each of the twelve tablets of the Standard Babylonian Epic of Gilamesh are published here as PDF files.


    2 Answers 2

    In 1977, Jeffrey H. Tigay published the article Was There an Integrated Gilgamesh Epic in the Old Babylonian Period? (Ancient Near Eastern Studies in Memory of Jacob Joel Finkelstein, Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, Memoir 19 (1977): 215-18). Tigay noted that the assumption that the “canonical” version of the Gilgamesh Epic was based on an Old Babylonian version had never been substantiated. The Old Babylonian Gilgamesh texts might have been independent, disconnected stories, just like the older Sumerian Gilgamesh stories. Tigay tries to put forward evidence that the Old Babylonian version existed as an integrated epic.

    The Pennsylvania and Yale tablets (Gilg P and Gilg Y, respectively) appear to come from the same edition, which contained at least four tablets: the first tablet has not survived, the second deals with the advent of Enkidu, and the third with the preparations for the journey to the Cedar Mountain. This series implies that there was a fourth tablet describing the journey itself. None of the other Old Babylonian clay tablets belong to the same edition. However, they contain episodes that can be found in the “canonical” version and not in the Old Babylonian one. The Akkadian fragment unearthed in Boghozköi (Anatolia), which dates to the 14th-13th century covers part of the journey to the Cedar Forest and the episode of the Bull of Heaven. The Hittite retelling of the epic (fragmentary and in prose), which was also found in Boghozköi, covers events found in tablets I-V and tablets VII-X of the canonical version and presupposes events from tablet VI. The tablets clearly suggest the existence of an integrated epic in the Hittite empire but do not prove the existence of an integrated Old Babylonian version.

    However, there are a number of features in the canonical version that can also be found in the Old Babylonian texts but not the in the Sumerian ones. The theme that unifies the epic is "Gilgamesh's quest to overcome death in some fashion". A turning point in Gilgamesh's quest is the death of Enkidu, which has this effect on Gilgamesh because Enkidu is not his servant, as in the Sumerian texts, but his friend. The integrating features related to Enkidu's status and the effect of his death on Gilgamesh were already present in the Old Babylonian fragments. Gilgamesh's tyranny of Uruk, which motivated the gods to create Enkidu, is also mentioned in the Pennsylvania tablet. These and several other features are missing in the Sumerian Gilgamesh texts, and they only make sense in the context of an integrated epic. For Tigay, this confirms the existence of an integrated Old Babylonian Gilgamesh epic.

    Walther Sallaberger's book Das Gilgamesch-Epos. Mythos, Werk und Tradition (C. H. Beck, 2008) discusses the Old Babylonian version on pages 69-72. Sallaberger describes the themes and features that distinguish the Old Babylonian version from the Sumerian Gilgamesh texts and which can also be found in the Standard Babylonian version. The German Assyriologist does not question the existence of an integrated Old Babylonian Gilgamesh epic.

    The paper by Andrew R. George cited by b a (“Shattered tablets and tangled threads: Editing Gilgamesh, then and now”) points out that

    [The twelve extant Old Babylonian tablets and fragments] demonstrate that already in the eighteenth century the Babylonian written epic was quite different from the Sumerian poems, that it was from the start a long poetic narrative bound together by common themes and exhibiting a unified plot.

    However, there are differences in wording that suggest that the epic's origin “surely lay in narrative poetry transmitted orally”. The epic only became more “standardised” in its Standard Babylonian version this text remained remarkably stable until the last extant manuscript of the epic, which dates from around 130 BC.

    What George describes on pages 8-10 of his article is not a comparison of four “versions” of the Standard Babylonian epic, as b a assumes, but the reconstruction of several lines based on three manuscripts, each of which only provides incomplete lines of the passage in question. On pages 13-15 he shows how a specific passage evolved over time, and on pages 15-17 he discusses “recensions”, i.e. variations between different manuscripts of the Standard Babylonian epic.

    b a's answers seems to interpret George's paper as evidence that there was not even a single Standard Babylonian version, thereby assuming a concept of sameness of texts that is reasonable for printed text (think Gutenberg, 15th century AD) but which seems anachronistic for literary texts that were copied by hand over the course of many centuries, and in the case of Gilgamesh, often by apprentice scribes. (In fact, even early printed texts exhibited variation, even within the same print run of, for example, Shakespeare's First Folio.)

    Note: b a's answer appears to misinterpret the phrase "Standard Babylonian version" as "standard version". However, "Standard" is capitalised because it refers to Babylonian (as in "Standard Chinese") and not to "version". Standard Babylonian refers to a specific literary style used during the Mature and Late periods of Akkadian literature. This style can be distinguished from the older Hymnic-Epic style. (See Benjamin R. Foster: Before the Muses: An Anthology of Akkadian Literature, CDL Press, 2005, pages 3-4.) The Standard Babylonian version may be called the “standard version” because that is the version that remained (relatively) stable until the last extant manuscript of the epic.


    An Old Babylonian Version of the Gilgamesh Epic/Commentary on the Yale Tablet

    ​ Lines 13–14 (also line 16). See for the restoration, lines 112–13.

    Line 62. For the restoration, see Jensen, p. 146 (Tablet III, 2 a ,9.)

    Lines 64–66. Restored on the basis of the Assyrian version, ib. line 10.

    Line 72. Cf. Assyrian version, Tablet IV, 4, 10, and restore at the end of this line di-im-tam as in our text, instead of Jensen’s conjecture.

    Lines 74, 77 and 83. The restoration zar-biš, suggested by the Assyrian version, Tablet IV, 4, 4.

    Lines 76 and 82. Cf. Assyrian version, Tablet VIII, 3, 18.

    Line 78. (ú-ta-ab-bil from abâlu, “grieve” or “darkened.” Cf. uš-ta-kal (Assyrian version, ib. line 9), where, perhaps, we are to restore it-ta-[bil pa-ni-šú].

    Line 87. uš-ta-li-pa from elêpu, “exhaust.” See Muss-Arnolt, Assyrian Dictionary, p. 49a.

    Line 89. Cf. Assyrian version, ib. line 11, and restore the end of the line there to i-ni-iš, as in our text.

    Line 96. For dapinu as an epithet of Ḫuwawa, see Assyrian version, Tablet III, 2a, 17, and 3a, 12. Dapinu occurs also as a description of an ox (Rm 618, Bezold, Catalogue of the Kouyunjik Tablets, etc., p. 1627).

    Line 98. The restoration on the basis of ib. III, 2a, 18.

    Lines 96–98 may possibly form a parallel to ib. lines 17–18, which would then read about as follows: “Until I overcome Ḫuwawa, the terrible, and all the evil in the land I shall have destroyed.” At the same time, it is possible that we are to restore [lu-ul]-li-ik at the end of line 98.

    Line 101. lilissu occurs in the Assyrian version, Tablet IV, 6, 36.

    Line 100. For ḫalbu, “jungle,” see Assyrian version, Tablet V, 3, 39 (p. 160).

    Lines 109–111. These lines enable us properly to restore Assyrian version, Tablet IV, 5, 3 = Haupt’s edition, p. 83 (col. 5, 3). No doubt the text read as ours mu-tum (or mu-u-tum) na-pis-su.

    Line 115. šupatu, which occurs again in line 199 and also line 275. šú-pa-as-su (= šupat-su) must have some such meaning as ​ “dwelling,” demanded by the context. [Dhorme refers me to OLZ 1916, p. 145].

    Line 129. Restored on the basis of the Assyrian version, Tablet IV, 6, 38.

    Line 131. The restoration muḳtablu, tentatively suggested on the basis of CT XVIII, 30, 7b, where muḳtablu, “warrior,” appears as one of the designations of Gilgamesh, followed by a-lik pa-na, “the one who goes in advance,” or “leader”—the phrase so constantly used in the Ḫuwawa episode.

    Line 132. Cf. Assyrian version, Tablet I, 5, 18–19.

    Lines 136–137. These two lines restored on the basis of Jensen IV, 5, 2 and 5. The variant in the Assyrian version, šá niše (written Uku meš in one case and Lu meš in the other), for the numeral 7 in our text to designate a terror of the largest and most widespread character, is interesting. The number 7 is similarly used as a designation of Gilgamesh, who is called Esigga imin, “seven-fold strong,” i.e., supremely strong (CT XVIII, 30, 6–8). Similarly, Enkidu, ib. line 10, is designated a-rá imina, “seven-fold.”

    Line 149. A difficult line because of the uncertainty of the reading at the beginning of the following line. The most obvious meaning of mi-it-tu is “corpse,” though in the Assyrian version šalamtu is used (Assyrian version, Tablet V, 2, 42). On the other hand, it is possible—as Dr. Lutz suggested to me—that mittu, despite the manner of writing, is identical with miṭṭú, the name of a divine weapon, well-known from the Assyrian creation myth (Tablet IV, 130), and other passages. The combination miṭ-ṭu šá-ḳu-ú-, “lofty weapon,” in the Bilingual text IV, R², 18 No. 3, 31–32, would favor the meaning “weapon” in our passage, since [šá]-ḳu-tu is a possible restoration at the beginning of line 150. However, the writing mi-it-ti points too distinctly to a derivative of the stem mâtu, and until a satisfactory explanation of lines 150–152 is forthcoming, we must stick to the meaning “corpse” and read the verb il-ḳu-ut.

    Line 152. The context suggests “lion” for the puzzling la-bu.

    Line 156. Another puzzling line. Dr. Clay’s copy is an accurate reproduction of what is distinguishable. At the close of the line there appears to be a sign written over an erasure.

    Line 158. [ga-ti lu-]uš-kun as in line 186, literally, “I will place my hand,” i.e., I purpose, I am determined. ​ Line 160. The restoration on the basis of the parallel line 187. Note the interesting phrase, “writing a name” in the sense of acquiring “fame.”

    Line 161. The kiškattê, “artisans,” are introduced also in the Assyrian version, Tablet VI, 187, to look at the enormous size and weight of the horns of the slain divine bull. See for other passages Muss-Arnolt Assyrian Dictionary, p. 450 b . At the beginning of this line, we must seek for the same word as in line 163.

    Line 162. While the restoration belê, “weapon,” is purely conjectural, the context clearly demands some such word. I choose belê in preference to kakkê, in view of the Assyrian version, Tablet VI, 1.

    Line 163. Putuku (or putukku) from patâku would be an appropriate word for the fabrication of weapons.

    Line 165. The rabûtim here, as in line 167, I take as the “master mechanics” as contrasted with the ummianu, “common workmen,” or journeymen. A parallel to this forging of the weapons for the two heroes is to be found in the Sumerian fragment of the Gilgamesh Epic published by Langdon, Historical and Religious Texts from the Temple Library of Nippur (Munich, 1914), No. 55, 1–15.

    Lines 168–170 describe the forging of the various parts of the lances for the two heroes. The ṣipru is the spear point Muss-Arnolt, Assyrian Dictionary, p. 886b the išid paṭri is clearly the “hilt,” and the mešelitum I therefore take as the “blade” proper. The word occurs here for the first time, so far as I can see. For 30 minas, see Assyrian version, Tablet VI, 189, as the weight of the two horns of the divine bull. Each axe weighing 3 biltu, and the lance with point and hilt 3 biltu we would have to assume 4 biltu for each pašu, so as to get a total of 10 biltu as the weight of the weapons for each hero. The lance is depicted on seal cylinders representing Gilgamesh and Enkidu, for example, Ward, Seal Cylinders, No. 199, and also in Nos. 184 and 191 in the field, with the broad hilt and in an enlarged form in No. 648. Note the clear indication of the hilt. The two figures are Gilgamesh and Enkidu—not two Gilgameshes, as Ward assumed. See above, page 34. A different weapon is the club or mace, as seen in Ward, Nos. 170 and 173. This appears also to be the weapon which Gilgamesh holds in his hand on the colossal figure from the palace of Sargon (Jastrow, Civilization ofBabylonia and Assyria, Pl. LVII), though it has been given a somewhat grotesque character by a perhaps intentional approach to the scimitar, associated with Marduk (see Ward, Seal Cylinders, Chap. XXVII). The exact determination of the various weapons depicted on seal-cylinders merits a special study.

    Line 181. Begins a speech of Ḫuwawa, extending to line 187, reported to Gish by the elders (line 188–189), who add a further warning to the youthful and impetuous hero.

    Line 183. lu-uk-šú-su (also l. 186), from akâšu, “drive on” or “lure on,” occurs on the Pennsylvania tablet, line 135, uk-ki-ši, “lure on” or “entrap,” which Langdon erroneously renders “take away” and thereby misses the point completely. See the comment to the line of the Pennsylvania tablet in question.

    Line 192. On the phrase šanû bunu, “change of countenance,” in the sense of “enraged,” see the note to the Pennsylvania tablet, l.31.

    Line 194. nu-ma-at occurs in a tablet published by Meissner, Altbabyl. Privatrecht, No. 100, with bît abi, which shows that the total confine of a property is meant here, therefore, the “interior” of the forest or heart. It is hardly a “by-form” of nuptum as Muss-Arnolt, Assyrian Dictionary, p. 690 b , and others have supposed, though nu-um-tum in one passage quoted by Muss-Arnolt, ib. p. 705 a , may have arisen from an aspirate pronunciation of the p in nubtum.

    Line 215. The kneeling attitude of prayer is an interesting touch. It symbolizes submission, as is shown by the description of Gilgamesh’s defeat in the encounter with Enkidu (Pennsylvania tablet, l. 227), where Gilgamesh is represented as forced to “kneel” to the ground. Again in the Assyrian version, Tablet V, 4, 6, Gilgamesh kneels down (though the reading ka-mis is not certain) and has a vision.

    Line 229. It is much to be regretted that this line is so badly preserved, for it would have enabled us definitely to restore the opening line of the Assyrian version of the Gilgamesh Epic. The fragment published by Jeremias in his appendix to his Izdubar-Nimrod, Plate IV, gives us the end of the colophon line to the Epic, reading . di ma-a-ti (cf. ib., Pl. I, 1. . a-ti). Our text evidently reproduces the same phrase and enables us to supply ka, as well as ​ the name of the hero Gišh of which there are distinct traces. The missing word, therefore, describes the hero as the ruler, or controller of the land. But what are the two signs before ka? A participial form from pakâdu, which one naturally thinks of, is impossible because of the ka, and for the same reason one cannot supply the word for shepherd (nakidu). One might think of ka-ak-ka-du, except that kakkadu is not used for “head” in the sense of “chief” of the land. I venture to restore [i-ik-]ka-di, “strong one.” Our text at all events disposes of Haupt’s conjecture iš-di ma-a-ti (JAOS 22, p. 11), “Bottom of the earth,” as also of Ungnad’s proposed [a-di pa]-a-ti, “to the ends” (Ungnad-Gressmann, Gilgamesch-Epos, p. 6, note), or a reading di-ma-a-ti, “pillars.” The first line of the Assyrian version would now read

    šá nak-ba i-mu-ru [ d Gis-gi(n)-maš i-ik-ka]-di ma-a-ti,

    We may at all events be quite certain that the name of the hero occurred in the first line and that he was described by some epithet indicating his superior position.

    Lines 229–235 are again an address of Gilgamesh to the sun-god, after having received a favorable “oracle” from the god (line 222). The hero promises to honor and to celebrate the god, by erecting thrones for him.

    Lines 237–244 describe the arming of the hero by the “master” craftsman. In addition to the pašu and paṭru, the bow (?) and quiver are given to him.

    Line 249 is paralleled in the new fragment of the Assyrian version published by King in PSBA 1914, page 66 (col. 1, 2), except that this fragment adds gi-mir to e-mu-ḳi-ka.

    Lines 251–252 correspond to column 1, 6–8, of King’s fragment, with interesting variations “battle” and “fight” instead of “way” and “road,” which show that in the interval between the old Babylonian and the Assyrian version, the real reason why Enkidu should lead the way, namely, because he knows the country in which Ḫuwawa dwells (lines 252–253), was supplemented by describing Enkidu also as being more experienced in battle than Gilgamesh.

    Line 254. I am unable to furnish a satisfactory rendering for this line, owing to the uncertainty of the word at the end. Can it ​ be “his household,” from the stem which in Hebrew gives us מִשְׁפָּחָה “family?”

    Line 255. Is paralleled by col. 1, 4, of King’s new fragment. The episode of Gišh and Enkidu proceeding to Ninsun, the mother of Gish, to obtain her counsel, which follows in King’s fragment, appears to have been omitted in the old Babylonian version. Such an elaboration of the tale is exactly what we should expect as it passed down the ages.

    Line 257. Our text shows that irnittu (lines 257, 264, 265) means primarily “endeavor,” and then success in one’s endeavor, or “triumph.”

    Lines 266–270. Do not appear to refer to rites performed after a victory, as might at a first glance appear, but merely voice the hope that Gišh will completely take possession of Ḫuwawa’s territory, so as to wash up after the fight in Ḫuwawa’s own stream and the hope is also expressed that he may find pure water in Ḫuwawa’s land in abundance, to offer a libation to Šhamašh.


    "I will proclaim to the world the deeds of Gilgamesh. This was the man to whom all things were known this was the king who knew the countries of the world. He was wise, he saw mysteries and knew secret things, he brought us a tale of the days before the flood. He went on a long journey, was weary, worn-out with labour, returning he rested, he engraved on a stone the whole story."

    &mdashThe Epic of Gilgamesh, translated by N. K. Sandars (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1972), p. 61.

    The Epic of Gilgamesh is a series of Mesopotamian tales that recount the exploits of Gilgamesh, King of Uruk. We learn of his overwhelming power, his friendship with Enkidu, and his quest for eternal life. We also read of a great flood that devastated the region. Several cuneiform texts dating to approximately 750 B.C.E. that make up the Gilgamesh epic were found by archaeologists who excavated the library of King Ashurbanipal at Nineveh. Scholars have also discovered other texts and additional fragmentary evidence that places the origin of the Gilgamesh stories in the age of the Sumerian city-states. A list of kings indicates that there was a ruler of Uruk named Gilgamesh in about 2600 B.C.E.

    The Text's History

    Though The Epic of Gilgamesh appears in numerous anthologies of primary sources in ancient history, and the story's earliest versions are likely quite ancient, the text is in many respects a modern one. There is no set of perfectly intact cuneiform tablets that offers the Epic as we encounter it in books today. Nineteenth and twentieth century scholars located and deciphered several partial texts and painstakingly cobbled them together to offer a "complete," or at any rate coherent narrative. Moreover, these texts were written in different languages at different times, and they were not found at a single location, but at several places in both Mesopotamia and Asia Minor (modern Turkey). The Gilgamesh referred to in the Epic has an historical correlate in a King Gilgamesh who is mentioned in lists of Sumerian kings, but there is no definitive evidence regarding his life and actions apart from the fragmentary texts that comprise the Epic. Finally, though a King Gilgamesh evidently lived during the third millenium B.C.E., and there are fragments of texts on Gilgamesh that date to the second millenium B.C.E., the most substantial text fragments of the Epic were discovered in a library that dates to the first millenium B.C.E. (For further information on these various ancient manuscripts, see the Introduction and Appendix to Sandars' translation of the Epic, cited above.)

    Questions to Consider

    1. What are some of the problems that can accompany historians' use of a text that has been reconstructed from several fragments and then translated and amended to provide a narrative that appears complete?
    2. Does is matter whether or not there was a "real" historical Gilgamesh? Why or why not? What are the limitations of or opportunities for historical study that our answers to these questions establish?
    3. How important are the issues of the dating of this text and the fragmentary character of the Epic ? How might we explain or challenge the long chronological gap beetween the date of the text artifacts and the dates of the reign of the historical King Gilgamesh? How can we find out more about the current state of scholarship regarding the Gilgamesh texts?

    Text Sources

    The book version of the text most often used in college-level courses--and the one quoted above--is N.K. Sandars' translation, The Epic of Gilgamesh (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972). Other English translations are also available. Passages taken from The Epic of Gilgamesh also appear in most of the World or Western Civiilization readers. Teachers and students may find these books more useful for their purposes than an online version of the text. The questions on the next page (click on Questions about the Gilgamesh text below) do not refer readers to any particular edition of the text.

    Internet Sources

    An online introduction to and summary of the Gilgamesh text can be found at:

    Examples of cuneiform tablets and further information on ancient Mesopotamian languages and cultures are found at this site listed below, maintained by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago:

    The University of Birmingham, England, offers background information and discussions of current research at its Cuneiform Database website:

    Christopher Siren's site contains helpful information on Mesopotamian mythology as well as useful links to other sites:

    See also the web pages on the Epic of Gilgamesh developed by Prof. Lee Huddleston of the University of North Texas at his site on the Ancient Near East (Appendix V):
    http://www.hist.unt.edu/ane-09.htm

    Questions about the Text

    These questions are of an introductory nature, and can be used as the basis for classroom discussions, papers, or both.


    What a newly-found fragment of an ancient Babylonian poem tells us about being human

    The Epic of Gilgamesh is a Babylonian poem composed in ancient Iraq, millennia before Homer. It tells the story of Gilgamesh, king of the city of Uruk. To curb his restless and destructive energy, the gods create a friend for him, Enkidu, who grows up among the animals of the steppe. When Gilgamesh hears about this wild man, he orders that a woman named Shamhat be brought out to find him. Shamhat seduces Enkidu, and the two make love for six days and seven nights, transforming Enkidu from beast to man. His strength is diminished, but his intellect is expanded, and he becomes able to think and speak like a human being. Shamhat and Enkidu travel together to a camp of shepherds, where Enkidu learns the ways of humanity. Eventually, Enkidu goes to Uruk to confront Gilgamesh’s abuse of power, and the two heroes wrestle with one another, only to form a passionate friendship.

    This, at least, is one version of Gilgamesh’s beginning, but in fact the epic went through a number of different editions. It began as a cycle of stories in the Sumerian language, which were then collected and translated into a single epic in the Akkadian language. The earliest version of the epic was written in a dialect called Old Babylonian, and this version was later revised and updated to create another version, in the Standard Babylonian dialect, which is the one that most readers will encounter today.

    Not only does Gilgamesh exist in a number of different versions, each version is in turn made up of many different fragments. There is no single manuscript that carries the entire story from beginning to end.

    Rather, Gilgamesh has to be recreated from hundreds of clay tablets that have become fragmentary over millennia. The story comes to us as a tapestry of shards, pieced together by philologists to create a roughly coherent narrative (about four-fifths of the text have been recovered). The fragmentary state of the epic also means that it is constantly being updated, as archaeological excavations – or, all too often, illegal lootings – bring new tablets to light, making us reconsider our understanding of the text. Despite being more than 4,000 years old, the text remains in flux, changing and expanding with each new finding.

    The newest discovery is a tiny fragment that had lain overlooked in the museum archive of Cornell University in New York, identified by Alexandra Kleinerman and Alhena Gadotti and published by Andrew George in 2018. At first, the fragment does not look like much: 16 broken lines, most of them already known from other manuscripts. But working on the text, George noticed something strange. The tablet seemed to preserve parts of both the Old Babylonian and the Standard Babylonian version, but in a sequence that didn’t fit the structure of the story as it had been understood until then.

    The fragment is from the scene where Shamhat seduces Enkidu and has sex with him for a week. Before 2018, scholars believed that the scene existed in both an Old Babylonian and a Standard Babylonian version, which gave slightly different accounts of the same episode: Shamhat seduces Enkidu, they have sex for a week, and Shamhat invites Enkidu to Uruk. The two scenes are not identical, but the differences could be explained as a result of the editorial changes that led from the Old Babylonian to the Standard Babylonian version. However, the new fragment challenges this interpretation. One side of the tablet overlaps with the Standard Babylonian version, the other with the Old Babylonian version. In short, the two scenes cannot be different versions of the same episode: the story included two very similar episodes, one after the other.

    According to George, both the Old Babylonian and the Standard Babylonian version ran thus: Shamhat seduces Enkidu, they have sex for a week, and Shamhat invites Enkidu to come to Uruk. The two of them then talk about Gilgamesh and his prophetic dreams. Then, it turns out, they had sex for another week, and Shamhat again invites Enkidu to Uruk.

    Suddenly, Shamhat and Enkidu’s marathon of love had been doubled, a discovery that The Times publicised under the racy headline “Ancient Sex Saga Now Twice As Epic”. But in fact, there is a deeper significance to this discovery.

    The difference between the episodes can now be understood, not as editorial changes, but as psychological changes that Enkidu undergoes as he becomes human. The episodes represent two stages of the same narrative arc, giving us a surprising insight into what it meant to become human in the ancient world.

    The first time that Shamhat invites Enkidu to Uruk, she describes Gilgamesh as a hero of great strength, comparing him to a wild bull. Enkidu replies that he will indeed come to Uruk, but not to befriend Gilgamesh: he will challenge him and usurp his power. Shamhat is dismayed, urging Enkidu to forget his plan, and instead describes the pleasures of city life: music, parties and beautiful women.

    After they have sex for a second week, Shamhat invites Enkidu to Uruk again, but with a different emphasis. This time she dwells not on the king’s bullish strength, but on Uruk’s civic life: “Where men are engaged in labours of skill, you, too, like a true man, will make a place for yourself.” Shamhat tells Enkidu that he is to integrate himself in society and find his place within a wider social fabric. Enkidu agrees: “the woman’s counsel struck home in his heart”.

    It is clear that Enkidu has changed between the two scenes. The first week of sex might have given him the intellect to converse with Shamhat, but he still thinks in animal terms: he sees Gilgamesh as an alpha male to be challenged. After the second week, he has become ready to accept a different vision of society. Social life is not about raw strength and assertions of power, but also about communal duties and responsibility.

    Placed in this gradual development, Enkidu’s first reaction becomes all the more interesting, as a kind of intermediary step on the way to humanity. In a nutshell, what we see here is a Babylonian poet looking at society through Enkidu’s still-feral eyes. It is a not-fully-human perspective on city life, which is seen as a place of power and pride rather than skill and cooperation.

    What does this tell us? We learn two main things. First, that humanity for the Babylonians was defined through society.

    To be human was a distinctly social affair. And not just any kind of society: it was the social life of cities that made you a “true man”.

    Babylonian culture was, at heart, an urban culture. Cities such as Uruk, Babylon or Ur were the building blocks of civilisation, and the world outside the city walls was seen as a dangerous and uncultured wasteland.

    Second, we learn that humanity is a sliding scale. After a week of sex, Enkidu has not become fully human. There is an intermediary stage, where he speaks like a human but thinks like an animal. Even after the second week, he still has to learn how to eat bread, drink beer and put on clothes. In short, becoming human is a step-by-step process, not an either/or binary.

    In her second invitation to Uruk, Shamhat says: “I look at you, Enkidu, you are like a god, why with the animals do you range through the wild?” Gods are here depicted as the opposite of animals, they are omnipotent and immortal, whereas animals are oblivious and destined to die. To be human is to be placed somewhere in the middle: not omnipotent, but capable of skilled labour not immortal, but aware of one’s mortality.

    In short, the new fragment reveals a vision of humanity as a process of maturation that unfolds between the animal and the divine. One is not simply born human: to be human, for the ancient Babylonians, involved finding a place for oneself within a wider field defined by society, gods and the animal world.

    This article first appeared on Aeon.