Friday, July 8, 2011


The Epic of Gilgamesh

I started reading Gilgamesh a couple days ago in an effort to kill two goals with one read.  The text is one of the oldest writings known to exist (written - or rather pressed into clay slabs - around 2500 to 2000 BC) and was composed by the Sumerians.  It falls in both the MENA section of my Where the History Comes From project AND my list of books in the 30/30 list.  I have only read the first two tablets so far and am bringing the rest - in a paper format, far lighter than the originals - on the train to Great Missenden this weekend for our Roald Dahl museum trip.  I thought I'd share some historical context I came across in my other readings, as well as things I like about the text so far.  I will update after the weekend too. 

  • As mentioned, it is one of the oldest writings known.  Kind of cool.
  • To give you an idea of how old, the pyramids were being built at the time of it's writing.  Right?! That's some old schooledness.
  • It was written even prior to Hammurabi's code which is also super old and incredibly influential in terms of law and biblical texts.  (side note: seeing the actual code in person is one of the cooler museum moments I've had)
  • Cunieform, the writing language of the Sumerians, is the first form of writing and came about from the need to document market transactions.  This I knew already but the realization I had was that the need for spreadsheets is essentially what sparked written language.  And that is the kind of realization I revel in. 
  • Art History flashbacks:

  • The largest Sumerian city was Ur, where Abraham was reputedly born.  Here is a ziggurat in that city:
  • Also, our weekdays are named because the Sumerians worshiped the sun and moon and stars (SUNday, MONday, stars in various languages). 

Notes on the text:

  • I really wish I had my History of the World in Six Glasses book here to cross-reference.  One line of the Epic says, "as with animals, his thirst was slaked with (mere) water" which tells me the author has partaken of the devil's brew.  I can't remember when beer was documented to have existed.  Alas, since I don't have my book I will have to do some Googling. 
More to come...