An Old Babylonian Version of the Gilgamesh Epic

An Old Babylonian Version of the Gilgamesh Epic

by Anonmyous, Morris Jastrow
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An Old Babylonian Version of the Gilgamesh Epic by Anonmyous



The Gilgamesh Epic is the most notable literary product of Babylonia as
yet discovered in the mounds of Mesopotamia. It recounts the exploits
and adventures of a favorite hero, and in its final form covers twelve
tablets, each tablet consisting of six columns (three on the obverse
and three on the reverse) of about 50 lines for each column, or a total
of about 3600 lines. Of this total, however, barely more than one-half
has been found among the remains of the great collection of cuneiform
tablets gathered by King Ashurbanapal (668-626 B.C.) in his palace
at Nineveh, and discovered by Layard in 1854 [1] in the course of his
excavations of the mound Kouyunjik (opposite Mosul). The fragments of
the epic painfully gathered--chiefly by George Smith--from the _circa_
30,000 tablets and bits of tablets brought to the British Museum were
published in model form by Professor Paul Haupt; [2] and that edition
still remains the primary source for our study of the Epic.

For the sake of convenience we may call the form of the Epic in the
fragments from the library of Ashurbanapal the Assyrian version,
though like most of the literary productions in the library it not
only reverts to a Babylonian original, but represents a late copy of
a much older original. The absence of any reference to Assyria in
the fragments recovered justifies us in assuming that the Assyrian
version received its present form in Babylonia, perhaps in Erech;
though it is of course possible that some of the late features,
particularly the elaboration of the teachings of the theologians or
schoolmen in the eleventh and twelfth tablets, may have been produced
at least in part under Assyrian influence. A definite indication
that the Gilgamesh Epic reverts to a period earlier than Hammurabi
(or Hammurawi) [3] i.e., beyond 2000 B. C., was furnished by the
publication of a text clearly belonging to the first Babylonian
dynasty (of which Hammurabi was the sixth member) in _CT_. VI, 5;
which text Zimmern [4] recognized as a part of the tale of Atra-hasis,
one of the names given to the survivor of the deluge, recounted on
the eleventh tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic. [5] This was confirmed
by the discovery [6] of a fragment of the deluge story dated in the
eleventh year of Ammisaduka, i.e., c. 1967 B.C. In this text, likewise,
the name of the deluge hero appears as Atra-hasis (col. VIII, 4). [7]
But while these two tablets do not belong to the Gilgamesh Epic and
merely introduce an episode which has also been incorporated into the
Epic, Dr. Bruno Meissner in 1902 published a tablet, dating, as the
writing and the internal evidence showed, from the Hammurabi period,
which undoubtedly is a portion of what by way of distinction we may
call an old Babylonian version. [8] It was picked up by Dr. Meissner
at a dealer's shop in Bagdad and acquired for the Berlin Museum. The
tablet consists of four columns (two on the obverse and two on the
reverse) and deals with the hero's wanderings in search of a cure
from disease with which he has been smitten after the death of his
companion Enkidu. The hero fears that the disease will be fatal and
longs to escape death. It corresponds to a portion of Tablet X of
the Assyrian version. Unfortunately, only the lower portion of the
obverse and the upper of the reverse have been preserved (57 lines
in all); and in default of a colophon we do not know the numeration
of the tablet in this old Babylonian edition. Its chief value,
apart from its furnishing a proof for the existence of the Epic
as early as 2000 B. C., lies (a) in the writing _Gish_ instead of
Gish-gi(n)-mash in the Assyrian version, for the name of the hero,
(b) in the writing En-ki-du--abbreviated from dug--"Enki is
good" for En-ki-dú in the Assyrian version, [9] and (c) in the
remarkable address of the maiden Sabitum, dwelling at the seaside,
to whom Gilgamesh comes in the course of his wanderings. From the
Assyrian version we know that the hero tells the maiden of his grief
for his lost companion, and of his longing to escape the dire fate of
Enkidu. In the old Babylonian fragment the answer of Sabitum is given
in full, and the sad note that it strikes, showing how hopeless it
is for man to try to escape death which is in store for all mankind,
is as remarkable as is the philosophy of "eat, drink and be merry"
which Sabitum imparts. The address indicates how early the tendency
arose to attach to ancient tales the current religious teachings.

"Why, O Gish, does thou run about?
The life that thou seekest, thou wilt not find.
When the gods created mankind,
Death they imposed on mankind;
Life they kept in their power.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940012444776
Publisher: SAP
Publication date: 05/17/2011
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 104 KB

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Old Babylonian Version of the Gilgamesh Epic 1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
duduong More than 1 year ago
The first half of the book is commentary. The second half consists of the poem itself. The formatting assumes a page width twice the actual on the Nook, however, and it is a real pain to read. Do not buy this.