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docs_148D63A1.pdf - THE EPIC OF G ILG A M ESH ca. 1900-250...

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THE EPIC OF GILGAMESHca. 1900-250b.c.e.he Epic of Gilgameshis the great-est work of ancient Mesopotamiaand one of the earliest pieces of worldliterature. The story of its main pro-tagonist, King Gilgamesh, and his questfor immortality touches on the most fun-damental questions of what it means tohe human: death and friendship, natureand civilization, power and violence,travel adventures and homecoming, loveand sexuality. Because of the appeal of itscentral hero and his struggle with themeaning of culture in the face of humanmortality, the epic spread throughout theancient Near East and was translatedinto various regional languages duringthe second millenniumB.C.E.As far aswe know, no other literary work of theancient world spread so widely acrosscultures and languages. And yet, after along period of popularity,Gilgameshwasforgotten,seeminglyfor good:aftercirculating in various versions for manycenturies, it vanished from human mem-ory for over two thousand years. Its redis-covery by archeologists in the nineteenthcentury was a sensation and allows us toread a story that for many centuries wasknown to many cultures and peoplethroughout the Near East hut has comedown to us today only by chance on brit-tle clay tablets.KING GILGAM ESH AND HIS STORYGilgamesh was thought to be a priest-king of the city-state of Uruk in South-ern Mesopotamia, the lands around therivers Euphrates and Tigris in modern-day Iraq. He probably ruled around2700b.c.e.and was remembered forthe building of Uruk’s monumentalcity walls, which were ten kilometerslong and fitted with nine hundred tow-ers; portions of these walls are still vis-ible today. We will never know for surehow the historical king compares tothe epic hero Gilgamesh. But soonafter his death, he was venerated as agreat king and judge of the Under-world. In the epic he appears as “two-thirds divine and one-third human,”the offspring of Ninsun, a goddess inthe shape of a wild cow, and of ahuman father named Lugalbanda. Bysome accounts,Gilgameshmeans "theoffspring is a hero," or, according toanother etymology, “the old man is stilla young man.”Gilgameshwas not written by onespecific author hut evolved graduallyover the long span of a millennium.The earliest story of Gilgamesh appearsaround2100b.c.e.in a cycle of poemsin the Sumerian language. Sumerianis the earliest Mesopotamian language.It is written in “cuneiform” script—wedge-shaped charactersincisedinclay or stone—and has no connectionto any other known language. Aboutsix hundred years after Gilgamesh’sdeath, kings of the third dynasty ofUr, another Mesopotamian city-state,claimed descent from the legendaryking of Uruk and enjoyed hearing ofthe great deeds of Gilgamesh at court;the earliest cycle of Gilgamesh poemswas written for these rulers. As in thelater epic, in the Sumerian cycle ofpoems Gilgamesh is a powerful kingandanawe-inspiring warrior.Gil-gamesh's shattering realization that hewill die and can attain immortality onlybv making a name for himself appears

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Term
Fall
Professor
Barrick

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