Gilgamesh: mythical king


Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh the Flood Story. ‘Long ago I lived in the city of Shuruppak when the gods decided to send a mighty flood to destroy all humans. Through the reed wall of my house the god of fresh water and wisdom, Ea, warned me. He told me to build a big boat and fill it with my family, animals and the seeds of all plants. When the rains fell for seven days and nights my boat alone survived the flood. So the gods decided that my wife and I should live forever.’

To prove that he too could live forever, Gilgamesh tries to stay awake for seven days and nights but he straightaway falls asleep. He sleeps for seven days and nights. Each day Gilgamesh sleeps Utnapishtim’s wife bakes a loaf of bread. He wakes up to the smell of fresh bread but the seven loaves prove how long he has slept and that everything decays, day by day. Faced with this proof, Gilgamesh accepts that he cannot live forever.

The boatman Urshanabi, instructed by Utnapishtim, takes Gilgamesh to wash, throw his lion-skin into the sea and dress in a kingly robe. As a parting gift, Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh where he can find, at the bottom of the sea, a prickly plant that will make him young again.

With stones tied to his ankles, Gilgamesh dives, finds the prickly plant, cuts away the stones and surfaces with his prize. On his overland journey home he leaves the prickly plant beside a cool pool when he goes for a refreshing dip. A snake sniffs the prickly plant. She eats it and acquires the ability to stay young by shedding her skin and growing a new one.

Gilgamesh returns to Uruk without the prickly plant but having travelled to the edge of the world and brought back the Flood Story. He has become a mythical king. The lapis lazuli tablets on which his story is written can be returned to their box. This is the story of Gilgamesh and all that he endured.

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Clue to the gods decreeing Enkidu’s death

Clue to lions killed by Gilgamesh

Image on a pot of a scorpion-man (girtablullu)

Story texts written on clay tablets

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A statue honours dead Enkidu

Gilgamesh wears lionskins in the wild

The goddess Shidduri advises Gilgamesh

Urshanabi agrees to take Gilgamesh in his boat