The Epic of Gilgamesh (excerpt) Written down at least 5000 years ago, the Epic of Gilgamesh is believed to be the oldest “book” in existence. The story follows the life and adventures of Gilgamesh, a legendary demi-god king of Sumer



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The Epic of Gilgamesh (excerpt)
Written down at least 5000 years ago, the Epic of Gilgamesh is believed to be the oldest “book” in existence. The story follows the life and adventures of Gilgamesh, a legendary demi-god king of Sumer. Read the excerpt below and answer the following two questions:


  1. What characteristics of civilization are exemplified in the Epic of Gilgamesh?

  2. To what extent is the Epic of Gilgamesh a good example of cultural diffusion? Use you dictionaries to look up the meaning of “cultural diffusion.” Does the story told in the excerpt remind you of any other story you may have heard?

Just as dawn began to glow the land assembled around me - the carpenter carried his hatchet, the reed worker carried his (flattening) stone, ... the men ...

The child carried the pitch, the weak brought whatever else was needed.

On the fifth day I laid out her exterior.

It was a field in area, its walls were each 10 times 12 cubits in height,

the sides of its top were of equal length, 10 times It cubits each.

I laid out its (interior) structure and drew a picture of it (?).
I provided it with six decks, thus dividing it into seven (levels).

The inside of it I divided into nine (compartments).

I drove plugs (to keep out) water in its middle part.

I saw to the punting poles and laid in what was necessary.

Three times 3,600 (units) of raw bitumen I poured into the bitumen kiln,

three times 3,600 (units of) pitch ...into it, there were three times 3,600 porters of casks who carried (vegetable) oil, apart from the 3,600 (units of) oil which they consumed (!) and two times 3,600 (units of) oil which the boatman stored away.


I butchered oxen for the meat (!), and day upon day I slaughtered sheep.

I gave the workmen (?) ale, beer, oil, and wine, as if it were river water,

so they could make a party like the New Year's Festival... and I set my hand to the oiling(!).
The boat was finished by sunset.

The launching was very difficult.

They had to keep carrying a runway of poles front to back, until two-thirds of it had gone into the water (?).

Whatever I had I loaded on it: whatever silver I had I loaded on it, whatever gold I had I loaded on it.

All the living beings that I had I loaded on it, I had all my kith and kin go up into the boat, all the beasts and animals of the field and the craftsmen I had go up.

Shamash had set a stated time: 'In the morning I will let loaves of bread shower down,

and in the evening a rain of wheat!
Go inside the boat, seal the entry!'

That stated time had arrived.

In the morning he let loaves of bread shower down, and in the evening a rain of wheat.

I watched the appearance of the weather-- the weather was frightful to behold!

I went into the boat and sealed the entry.

For the caulking of the boat, to Puzuramurri, the boatman,

I gave the palace together with its contents.
Just as dawn began to glow there arose from the horizon a black cloud.

Adad rumbled inside of it, before him went Shullat and Hanish, heralds going over mountain and land.

Erragal pulled out the mooring poles, forth went Ninurta and made the dikes overflow.
The Anunnaki lifted up the torches, setting the land ablaze with their flare.

Stunned shock over Adad's deeds overtook the heavens, and turned to blackness all that had been light.

The... land shattered like a... pot.

All day long the South Wind blew ..., blowing fast, submerging the mountain in water,

overwhelming the people like an attack.

No one could see his fellow, they could not recognize each other in the torrent.

The gods were frightened by the Flood, and retreated, ascending to the heaven of Anu.

The gods were cowering like dogs, crouching by the outer wall.


Ishtar shrieked like a woman in childbirth, the sweet-voiced Mistress of the Gods wailed: 'The olden days have alas turned to clay, because I said evil things in the Assembly of the Gods!

How could I say evil things in the Assembly of the Gods, ordering a catastrophe to destroy my people!!

No sooner have I given birth to my dear people than they fill the sea like so many fish!'
The gods--those of the Anunnaki--were weeping with her, the gods humbly sat weeping, sobbing with grief(?), their lips burning, parched with thirst.

Six days and seven nights came the wind and flood, the storm flattening the land.

When the seventh day arrived, the storm was pounding, the flood was a war--struggling with itself like a woman writhing (in labor).

The sea calmed, fell still, the whirlwind (and) flood stopped up.

I looked around all day long--quiet had set in and all the human beings had turned to clay!
The terrain was as flat as a roof.

I opened a vent and fresh air (daylight!) fell upon the side of my nose.

I fell to my knees and sat weeping, tears streaming down the side of my nose.

I looked around for coastlines in the expanse of the sea, and at twelve leagues there emerged a region (of land).

On Mt. Nimush the boat lodged firm, Nimush held the boat, allowing no sway.

One day and a second Mt. Nimush held the boat, allowing no sway.

A third day, a fourth, Mt. Nimush held the boat, allowing no sway.

A fifth day, a sixth, Mt. Nimush held the boat, allowing no sway.


When a seventh day arrived a dove and released it.

The dove went off, but came back to me; no perch was visible so it circled back to me.

I sent forth a swallow and released it.

The swallow went off, but came back to me; no perch was visible so it circled back to me.


I sent forth a raven and released it.

The raven went off, and saw the waters slither back.



It eats, it scratches, it bobs, but does not circle back to me.

Then I sent out everything in all directions and sacrificed (a sheep).


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