See verse translation by H. Mason (1970); prose translation by N. K. Sandars (1960); A. Heidel, Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels (2d ed. 1949); D. Damrosch, The Buried Book: The Loss and Rediscovery of the Great Epic of Gilgamesh (2007).
Hero of the ancient Akkadian-language Epic of Gilgamesh. The great literary work of ancient Mesopotamia, the epic is known from 12 incomplete tablets discovered at Nineveh in the library of Ashurbanipal. Gaps in the narrative have been filled in with fragments found elsewhere. The character Gilgamesh is probably based on the Gilgamesh who ruled Uruk in the 3rd millennium BC. The epic presents Gilgamesh as a great warrior and builder, who rejects the marriage proposal of the goddess Ishtar. With the aid of his friend and companion Enkidu, he kills the divine bull that Ishtar sends to destroy him. Enkidu's death prompts Gilgamesh to seek Utnapishtim, survivor of the legendary flood, to learn how to escape death. He obtains a youth-renewing plant only to have it stolen. The epic ends with the return of the spirit of Enkidu, who gives a dismal report on the underworld.
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According to the Tummal Inscription, Gilgamesh, and eventually his son Urlugal, rebuilt the sanctuary of the goddess Ninlil, located in Tummal, a sacred quarter in her city Nippur. In Mesopotamian mythology, Gilgamesh is credited with having been a demigod of superhuman strength who built a great city wall to defend his people from external threats.
Fragments of an epic text found in Me-Turan (modern Tell Haddad) relate that Gilgamesh was buried under the waters of a river at the end of his life. The people of Uruk diverted the flow of the Euphrates River crossing Uruk for the purpose of burying the dead king within the riverbed. In April 2003, a German expedition discovered what is thought to be the entire city of Uruk—including the former bed of the Euphrates, the last resting place of its King Gilgamesh.
Despite the lack of direct evidence, most scholars do not object to consideration of Gilgamesh as a historical figure, particularly after inscriptions were found confirming the historical existence of other figures associated with him: kings Enmebaragesi and Aga of Kish. If Gilgamesh was a historical king, he probably reigned in about the 26th century BC. Some of the earliest Sumerian texts spell his name as Bilgames. Initial difficulties in reading cuneiform resulted in Gilgamesh making his re-entrance into world culture in 1891 as "Izdubar".
In most texts, Gilgamesh is written with the determinative for divine beings (DINGIR) - but there is no evidence for a contemporary cult, and the Sumerian Gilgamesh myths suggest the deification was a later development (unlike the case of the Akkadian god kings). With this deification, however, would have come an accretion of stories about him, some potentially derived from the real lives of other historical figures, in particular Gudea, the Second Dynasty ruler of Lagash (2144–2124 BC).
Whether based on a historical prototype or not, Gilgamesh became a legendary protagonist in the Epic of Gilgamesh. The name Gilgamesh appears once in Greek, as "Gilgamos" (Γιλγαμος). The story is a variant of the Perseus myth: The King of Babylon determines by oracle that his grandson Gilgamos will kill him, and throws him out of a high tower. An eagle breaks his fall, and the infant is found and raised by a gardener.
Translations for several legends of Gilgamesh in the Sumerian language have been written by: