The Giant King of Ancient Babylon, in this documentary the Gilgamesh character is described and considered in full before we pass to the later developments of Chaldean mythology. The materials of the Gilgamesh epic, the great mythological poem of ancient Babylonia, originally belonged to the older epoch of Babylonian mythology. The Gilgamesh epic ranks with the Babylonian myth of creation as one of the greatest literary productions of ancient Babylonia. The main element in its composition is a conglomeration of mythic matter, drawn from various sources, with perhaps a substratum of historic fact, the whole being woven into a continuous narrative around the central figure of Gilgamesh, prince of Erech. It is not possible at present to fix the date when the epic was first written. Our knowledge of it is mainly from mutilated fragments belonging to the library of Ashurbanipal, but from internal and other evidence we gather that some at least of the traditions embodied in the epic are of much greater antiquity than his reign. Thus a tablet dated 2100 b.c. contains a variant of the deluge story inserted in the 11th tablet of the Gilgamesh epic. Probably this and other portions of the epic existed in oral tradition before they were committed to writing, that is, in the remote Sumerian period. Ashurbanipal was an enthusiastic and practical patron of literature. In his great library at Nineveh (the nucleus of which had been taken from Calah by Sennacherib) he had gathered a vast collection of volumes, clay tablets, and papyri, most of which had been carried as spoil from conquered lands. He also employed scribes to copy older texts, and this is evidently how the existing edition of the Gilgamesh epic came to be written. From the fragments now in the British Museum it would seem that at least four copies of the poem were made in the time of Ashurbanipal. There they were destined to lie for over 2000 years, till the excavations of Sir A. H. Layard, George Smith, and others brought them to light. It is true that the twelve tablets of the Gilgamesh epic (the fragments of them which have been discovered) are defaced. The epic, which centers round the ancient city of Erech, relates the adventures of a half-human, half-divine hero, Gilgamesh by name, who is king over Erech in ancient Babylon. Two other characters figure prominently in the narrative—Eabani, who evidently typifies primitive man, and Ut-Napishtim, the hero of the Babylonian deluge myth. The first and most important of the trio, the hero Gilgamesh, may have been at one time a real person, though nothing is known of him historically. Possibly the exploits of some ancient king of Erech have furnished a basis for the narrative. His name for a time provisionally read Gisdhubar, or Izdubar, but now known to have been pronounced Gilgamesh, and this suggests that he was not Babylonian but Elamite or Kassite in origin, and from indications furnished by the poem itself we learn that he conquered Erech at the outset of his adventurous career. It has been suggested also that he was identical with the Biblical Nimrod, like him a hero of ancient Babylon. So much for the historical aspect of Gilgamesh. His mythological character is more easily established. In this regard he is the personification of the sun. He represents, in fact, the fusion of a great national hero with a mythical being. Throughout the epic there are indications that Gilgamesh is partly divine by nature,though nothing specific is said on that head. His identity with the solar god is veiled in the popular narrative, but it is evident that he has some connection with the god Shamash, to whom he pays his devotions and who acts as his patron and protector.
Narrated and Created
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Channel: Mythology Seven Documentaries (M7Documentary/M7Doc)