A legend from ancient Babylon and Akkad
, the Epic of Gilgamesh
is the oldest heroic epic
that survives to this day and is very much Older Than Dirt
. See Ur Example
below for more details.
Gilgamesh is the super strong
, ruggedly handsome, two-thirds god and one-third mortal king of Uruk, and he is bored. He spends his free time sleeping with each new bride the night of her wedding
, which their husbands are not too happy about, but he is the king, and he can do what he wants. The people of Uruk beg the gods to provide Gilgamesh with something better to do. The gods decide that what the restless, powerful, adventure-hungry
hero needs is a best friend and Worthy Opponent
. So they have the womb goddess Aruru make a wild man named Enkidu, who lives out in the wilderness among the animals, annoying farmers and hunters. One of them convinces a temple harlot, Shamhat, to make a civilized man out of him
, by sleeping with him for a week. After his first taste of sex, Shamhat convinces Enkidu to come back with her to the temple and learn how to live like a civilized human, promising she will introduce him to a best friend so he'll never be lonely again. He accepts.
So Gilgamesh and Enkidu become inseparable friends
(after beating each other to a pulp in the streets
). To celebrate, Gilgamesh decides they should go on an adventure to the Forest of Cedars, defeat the guardian monster Humbaba, and cut down the giant cedar. Why? Why not, when you only live once
. Against the advice of everybody
, they go through with it.
The partners have their next adventure when Gilgamesh turns down the goddess Ishtar's offer to sleep with her, noting the unsavoury fates that befall her lovers
, and she retaliates by unleashing the Bull of Heaven on Uruk. The two heroes manage to slay it, which the gods aren't too happy about and decide Enkidu will have to die because of this.
His friend's death only intensifies Gilgamesh's fear of dying and hatred of his own mortality — curse those one-third mortal genes! There's only one thing to do — go to the ends of the Earth and find the secret of eternal life. His advisors tell him that's crazy and that he should get over it. The Scorpion Men who guard the underground tunnel that the sun uses to reach the other side of the Earth every night tell him to turn back and get over it. Siduri, keeper of the inn at the end of the tunnel, tells him to stop causing himself so much stress and enjoy life while he has the chance
and get over his obsession. Utanapishtim, the survivor of the great flood who was made immortal, tells Gilgamesh immortality isn't for humans and he should get over his crazy wish of living forever. Sensing the pattern yet?
Utanapishtim offers Gilgamesh a test: if Gilgamesh can stay awake for seven nights, he will give Gilgamesh the immortality he wants. Gilgamesh falls asleep almost immediately — because of Utanapishtim's magic, it is implied — then lies and claims to have stayed awake, thus failing the true purpose of Utanapishtim's test
. But Utanapishtim's wife convinces him to be nice and give the seeker something
for his trouble. So he tells Gilgamesh where to find a plant that will grant eternal life and youth. The good news is he finds it. The bad news is a snake eats it when he takes a break on the way home to bathe. Tough luck. Looks like Gilgamesh the Not So Invincible After All
has to come to terms with the fact that We Are as Mayflies
and content himself with the beauty and majesty of his mighty kingdom.
The Epic of Gilgamesh contains examples of: