"The Epic of Gilgamesh", or the poem "About everything that has seen" (Akkad. Ša nagba imuru) is one of the oldest surviving literary works in the world, the largest work written in cuneiform, one of the greatest works of literature of the Ancient East. The "Epic" was created in Akkadian based on Sumerian legends for one and a half thousand years, starting from the XVIII-XVII centuries BC. e. Its most complete version was discovered in the middle of the 19th century during excavations of the cuneiform library of King Ashurbanipal in Nineveh. It was recorded on 12 six-column tablets in small cuneiform, included about 3 thousand verses and was dated to the 7th century BC. e. Also in the XX century, fragments of other versions of the epic were found, including those in the Hurrian and Hittite languages.
In 1839, a young Englishman, Austin Henry Layard, set out on an overland trip to Ceylon. However, in Mesopotamia, he lingered on the excavation of the Assyrian mounds. This "delay" dragged on for many years; at this time, the ancient cities of Nineveh (1849) and Nimrod were excavated. It was through these excavations that Layard brought much of the Assyrian sculpture collection to the British Museum, as well as thousands of broken tablets from the palace in Nineveh.
During further excavations, the cuneiform library of King Ashurbanipal was found in the city. Layard's assistant, Ormuzd Rassam, who excavated the second part of the library in 1852, which contained the tablets from the Assyrian collection of the Gilgamesh epic, donated cuneiform tablets from this library to the British Museum.
More than 25 thousand tablets were delivered safe and sound to the British Museum in London. The decryption was started by an English intelligence officer in Baghdad, Henry Rawlinson. On the way to Baghdad, Rawlinson, then an army officer and employee of the East India Company, discovered what became the main key to deciphering the wedge-shaped letter - the Behistun inscription, inscribed on a rock near Kermanshah, in Persia. This inscription was written in Old Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian. Rawlins' work in Baghdad was continued by him in London, where he returned in 1855.
Later, a talented self-taught assistant of the Egyptian-Assyrian branch of the museum, George Smith, was engaged in the research of the found tablets. On December 3, 1872, he gave a talk to the Society for Biblical Archeology. In his report, he stated that he had discovered a flood myth similar to the one in the Bible.
This was the famous 11th tablet from the Assyrian collection of epics. Shortly after this talk, Smith published The Chaldean Report of the Flood, along with a summary of the epic. Immediately awakened interest in the epic. However, the flood tablet was incomplete and other tablets were required. The Daily Telegraph donated 1,000 guineas to equip a new expedition to Nineveh, which Smith organized on behalf of the British Museum. Soon after arriving in Nineveh, Smith found the missing lines from the flood description, which were then, as now, the most complete part of the entire epic. More tablets were found in the same year and the following year, and Smith was able to compile an extensive description of the epic before, in 1876, he fell ill and died near Aleppo at the age of 36.
Continuing to decipher the tablets, Smith discovered that the message of the flood was part of some great poem called by the Babylonians "The Legends of Gilgamesh." According to the scribes, the "Tales" consisted of 12 songs, each of which was about 300 lines. He soon realized that part of the story was missing, as several tablets were missing. As a result of an expedition organized by him in 1873, 384 tablets were found, among which was the missing part of the Epic.
In publishing The Deluge, Smith argued that it was probably a copy from a much earlier version written in Uruk (the biblical Erech, modern-day Warka). Important to the story of the Epic of Gilgamesh was the American archaeological expedition from the University of Pennsylvania, which in the late 19th century, led by John Peters, began excavations at the Niffar Barrow (ancient Nippur) in southern Iraq. By this time, archeology had accumulated a lot of experience in conducting excavations, but this expedition showed stupid frivolity: the first season of work in Nippur in 1888-89 began when Peters and his group rode at a frantic gallop through the thicket of reeds to the excavation site, and ended when the same the expedition left the mound, and hostile Arabs performed a battle dance on the site of the destroyed camp. Nevertheless, the next year, the work was continued,and about 40 thousand tablets were found and distributed between museums in Philadelphia and Istanbul. Among these tablets were several containing the earliest versions of the Gilgamesh cycle in the Sumerian language.
Most of the ancient texts are of a commercial and administrative nature, of little interest to the general public. The more important are the results of excavations in Nippur, Nineveh and other centers of the early civilization of Mesopotamia, since they revealed to us the most interesting literary monuments.
The Epic of Gilgamesh was supposed to be quite famous in the second millennium BC, since one version of the poem, in Akkadian, has been found in the archives of the Hittite capital, Bogazkei (in Anatolia). It has also been translated into Hittite. In southern Turkey, passages have been found at Sultantepe. A small but important fragment from Megiddo, in Palestine, indicates the existence of a Canaanite version of the epic, as well as the possibility that the biblical writers were familiar with the Epic of Gilgamesh.
In the early and middle of the 20th century, a number of other tablets were found containing fragments of the Epic in different languages.
In 2015, the famous epic expanded by another 20 new lines. This happened after employees of the Museum of Iraqi History bought several dozen clay tablets from a smuggler, unaware of their true content. As it turned out later, on one of the tablets a fragment of the epic, unknown until that moment, was recorded.
The Epic of Gilgamesh was created over a period of one and a half thousand years. Cuneiform tablets have survived to our time, in which the songs about Gilgamesh, which are part of the "Epic", are recorded in four languages of the Ancient East - Sumerian, Akkadian, Hurrian and Hittite. The oldest of the texts are written in the Sumerian language. The most important is the Akkadian version, which is a tremendous artistic achievement.
The surviving Sumerian legends about Gilgamesh are not combined into any group of works. In total, nine of them have survived, and they all belong to the category of epic monuments. Three legends are known only from paraphrases, the remaining six have survived and were published.
Early legends refer to the so-called Nippurian Canon, which was part of the Akkado-Sumerian epic. Initially, their protographers were probably part of a cycle telling about the rulers of the city of Uruk from the First Dynasty of Uruk. In addition to the epic of Gilgamesh, who was the fifth ruler of Uruk, legends about Enmerkar, the second ruler of Uruk, and Lugalband, the fourth ruler and father of Gilgamesh, have survived to our time.
Akkado-Sumerian legends associated with Gilgamesh have been preserved in lists dated to the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC. e. (circa XVIII century BC). However, on the basis of numerous clues and inaccuracies of the scribes, as well as on the basis of the nature of the language, which looked archaic for that time, researchers believe that the poem was created much earlier. Taking into account the fact that the poem, apparently, was created before the establishment of the unity of the divine pantheon by the kings of Ur, and also on the basis of data on the spread of the Akkadian language in the south of Mesopotamia, the creation of the poem is attributed to the XXIII-XXI centuries BC. e.
The following legends are currently known:
Gilgamesh and Agha - tells about the conflict between Akka, king of Kish, with Gilgamesh. Unlike other works about Gilgamesh, the king is not endowed with fairy-tale features. This poem was not included in the Epic of Gilgamesh.
Gilgamesh and the Mountain of the Living (Gilgamesh and the Land of the Living, Gilgamesh and the Mountain of the Immortal) - tells the story of Gilgamesh's campaign to the giant Huwave, who protected the sacred cedars.
Gilgamesh and the heavenly bull - describes the love of the goddess Innin (Ishtar) for Gilgamesh, which he rejected, and the battle of Gilgamesh and his slave Enkidu with the heavenly bull, sent by the angry goddess. The end of the poem has not survived.
Gilgamesh and the willow (Gilgamesh, Enkidu and the underworld) - tells how Gilgamesh, at the request of the goddess Innin, expelled the lion-headed eagle and the lilith that settled there from the willow, after which he made a chair and a bed for the goddess of wood, and a drum and a stick for himself (according to the newest interpretation - a wooden ball and bat for the game). Later, the drum fell into the underworld, and the slave Enkidu sent after him could not return, as he violated several prohibitions. Only after Gilgamesh's request did the gods allow him to communicate with the spirit of Enkidu.
Death of Gilgamesh - describes how Gilgamesh seeks immortality, but learns that it is unattainable. The poem has survived only in fragments.
The Flood - contains a story about the creation of man, the emergence of royal power, the flood, as well as how King Ziusudra escaped the flood by building a ship and became immortal. The end of the tablet was destroyed.
No one remembered Gilgamesh as a historical person any more when these legends were created. Written in the genre of an epic poem, they are primitive in content and archaic in form, which greatly differs from the Akkadian poem about Gilgamesh, which was created not much later.
According to the Epos researchers, the first songs about Gilgamesh were created at the end of the first half of the 3rd millennium BC. e. The first tablets that have come down to our time were created 800 years later. The creation of the Akkadian version of the poem, which, probably, finally took shape in the last third of the 3rd millennium BC, is also attributed to this time. e. In the second millennium BC. e. in Palestine and Asia Minor, another version of the Akkadian poem was created - "peripheral". The translation of the Epic into the Hurrian and Hittite languages is also attributed to this time. From the end of the second millennium to the 7th-6th centuries BC e. the final version of the "Epic" was created - "Nineveh", which was found in the library of Ashurbanipal.
The "Epic" was based on both mythological motives based on the religious beliefs of the Sumerians, and historical legends. Gilgamesh was a historical figure in the Sumerian city of Uruk around 2800-2700 BC. e. His name, which is conventionally rendered in the Sumerian language as "Bil-ga-mes", is mentioned in a Sumerian tablet with a list of Sumerian rulers, dated at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC. e. However, early enough Gilgamesh began to deify. From the 18th century BC e. his name in the form "Bilgemes" or "Bilgamez" is mentioned among the Sumerian deities. Numerous legends arose around him, in which he was represented as a divine hero, the son of the goddess Ninsun and the hero of Lugalbanda (according to another version, the spirit "lilu"). Later the name of Gilgamesh became very popular in Babylonia, the Hittite kingdom and Assyria,the image of a hero fighting with animals was associated with him, his companion was the hero of a half-bull, half-man. Later it was believed that Gilgamesh is a deity that protects people from demons, the judge of the underworld. His images were placed at the entrance to the house, since it was believed that in this way the dwelling was protected from evil spirits. At the same time, Gilgamesh did not play any special role in the official cult.
The Sumerians were the first educated inhabitants of Mesopotamia; it was their language that was the language of the oldest tablets from Nippur, associated with the history of Gilgamesh. The Sumerians already knew the irrigation system before they were conquered by the Semitic tribes in the third millennium. The Sumerians themselves were possibly conquerors who came from the north and east during the fourth millennium. Their language was still in use, although the Sumerians themselves did not play a big role at the beginning of the second millennium, when the Epic of Gilgamesh was written in this language.
Because of their wealth, the cities were the coveted prey of the wild Semitic tribes of Arabia and the warlike peoples of Elam and the Persian highlands. Soon after the fall of the royal dynasty of Uruk, when the Semites established themselves in Agad in the north, their king, Sargon, destroyed the walls of Uruk. There used to be a saying: “There are powerful walls in Uruk,” and Gilgamesh was their builder.
During the era of the early Sumerian kings, each city already had a temple dedicated to one major god. They were magnificent buildings, decorated with reliefs and mosaics, with a courtyard and an inner sanctuary and sometimes, as in Uruk, with a ziggurat. The ziggurat was a miniature holy mountain; he served as a mediator between heaven and earth, where the gods could converse with people. Thus, when Gilgamesh calls out to his mother, the goddess Ninsun, she goes to the roof of the temple to pray and offer a sacrifice to the great sun god. The temples were served by priests, in whose hands, at one time, there was almost all the wealth of the state and among whom there were many archivists and teachers, scientists and mathematicians. In the early centuries, they had unlimited power, until “the royal dignity descended from heaven,” that is, no royal dynasties were formed. The influence of the temples remained significant, however.
The main characters of the "Epic" are the demigod Gilgamesh - a mighty warrior, the king of Uruk, and also Enkidu - a wild man, whom the goddess Aruru created from clay. The goddess created Enkidu in response to the requests of the inhabitants of Uruk, who are dissatisfied with their ruler - Gilgamesh, whom they accuse of having no limit to his rampage. Enkidu must confront Gilgamesh, and possibly defeat him.
Enkidu is not familiar with civilized life, he lives in the steppe among wild animals and does not suspect what he was created for. At the same time, Gilgamesh has visions, from which he understands that he is destined to find a friend.
Once the news came to Uruk that some mighty man appeared in the steppe, who did not allow hunting, protecting animals. Gilgamesh decides to send a harlot to him, believing that this will force the beasts to leave Enkidu. He achieved his goal - Enkidu was seduced, after which the harlot took him with her to the city, where he joined civilization and for the first time tasted bread and wine.
In the city of Enkidu meets with Gilgamesh. A duel takes place between them, but none of them succeeds in winning. After that, they become friends and together begin to perform feats. They fought with the fierce Humbaba, who guards the mountain cedars, then a monstrous bull sent by the goddess Ishtar, who was furious with Gilgamesh for his refusal to share love with her, becomes their rival. The murder of Humbaba provokes the wrath of the gods, which falls on Enkidu, as a result of which he dies.
Enkidu's death shocked Gilgamesh, with grief he flees into the desert, yearning for his friend, his despair is immense. Gilgamesh realizes for the first time that he is mortal and realizes that death is the fate of all people.
As a result of his wanderings, Gilgamesh finds himself on the island of the blessed, where Ut-napishtim lives - a man who alone of all became immortal. Gilgamesh wants to understand how Ut-napishtim succeeded, who tells about the history of the Flood, after which he was the only survivor. After that, Ut-write tells Gilgamesh that for the sake of him the council of the gods will not gather again. He then invites Gilgamesh to find a way to overcome sleep, but this turns out to be impossible.
The wife of Ut-napishtim, who took pity on the hero, persuaded her husband to give him a gift at parting. Gilgamesh gains knowledge of the flower of eternal youth, which is very difficult to find. Gilgamesh managed to find, but not taste the flower: when he decided to bathe, the snake eats the flower, sheds its skin and becomes young.
After the incident, the hero returned to Uruk, where he invited his helmsman Urshanabi to walk with him along the city walls, which were built by Gilgamesh himself. Gilgamesh shows the walls and expresses the hope that descendants will remember his deeds.
In Canto XII, which has a later origin and was mechanically attached to the Epic, is a literal translation into Akkadian of the second part of the Sumerian poem Gilgamesh and the Willow. It tells the story of how Enkidu decides to descend into the underworld to return the drum, but at the same time violates magical prohibitions and cannot return. Gilgamesh makes a request to the gods, and as a result he was allowed to communicate with the spirit of Enkidu, who told how bleak the fate of the dead is. This part, despite the fact that it is not linked to the previous plot, made it possible to emphasize the idea that no one can escape death.
The Sumerian songs lack the connecting rod found by the Akkadian poet. The strength of character of Akkadian Gilgamesh, the greatness of his soul - is not in external manifestations, but in relations with the man Enkidu. "The Epic of Gilgamesh" is a hymn to friendship, which not only helps to overcome external obstacles, but transforms, ennobles.
Also, the epic reflects many views of the philosophy of that time on the world around us (elements of cosmogony, the story of the "Great Flood" in a later edition), ethics, place and destiny of man (the search for immortality). In many ways, The Epic of Gilgamesh is compared with the works of Homer - the Iliad, which he is a thousand years older than, and the Odyssey.
"Old Babylonian" version. Three different versions of the Epic of Gilgamesh in Akkadian have survived to this day. The oldest of these is the so-called "Old Babylonian" version. It is preserved in 6 fragments on tablets dating from the 18th-17th centuries BC. e.
Pennsylvania table. Corresponds to songs I and II from the later version of the "Epic". Published by Stephen Langdon.
Yale table. Corresponds to songs II and III from the later version of the Epic. Perhaps it goes back to the same list as the "Pennsylvania Table". Published by Morris Yastrov and Albert Clay.
The first fragment from Tell Harmal. Corresponds to song IV from the later version of the Epic. Published by Van Dyck.
The second fragment is from Tell Harmal.
Bauer table. Corresponds to song V from the later version of the Epic.
Meissner table. Corresponds to the X (and possibly VIII) song from the later version of the Epic.
1. Fragments found during excavations of the city of Ashur. They contain the well-preserved lyrics of Song VI. These fragments are dated XIII-XII centuries BC. e.
2. More than a hundred fragments found during excavations of the Ashurbanipal library in Nineveh. They contain fragments of all songs, and the lyrics of songs I, VI, XI and XII have been completely preserved and have only minor damage. 8 fragments have not yet been published. All fragments are dated to the 7th century BC. e.
3. A student's copy found during excavations of the settlement of Sultan-Tepe (Northern Mesopotamia). Contains fragments of songs VII and VIII. Dated to the 7th century BC. e.
4. Fragments found during the excavation of the city of Uruk. Tentatively dated to the 6th century BC. e.
In comparison with the "Old Babylonian" version, the "Nineveh" version contains an introduction, according to the first verse of which the new title of the poem appeared - "About everything that has seen". In addition, the poem probably had a conclusion.
Initially, the "Nineveh" version ended with Canto XI, the ending of which was the conclusion of the poem. However, later the XII song was mechanically attached to it, which has a later origin. It is a literal translation into Akkadian of the Sumerian poem Gilgamesh and the Willow.
The “Old Babylonian” and “Nineveh” versions are generally similar to each other. Their text is largely the same. The main differences are in the replacement of a number of words (mostly obsolete words are being replaced by more modern synonyms), as well as in the expansion or contraction of the lyrics. The expansion took place either through the multiplication of epic formulas (and some were borrowed from other works), or through repetitions. Also, in a number of cases, some pieces of text were rearranged.
The "peripheral" version differs significantly from the other two - it is shorter. In fact, it is not just a translation of the "Old Babylonian" version, but a complete revision of it. It contains abbreviations - it probably lacks episodes that had a specific meaning for Babylon (for example, episodes that took place before the appearance of Enkidu in Uruk, conversations with the elders, etc.). In addition, moments that were unacceptable from a religious point of view (in particular, the shaming of the goddess Ishtar) were removed from it. As a result, the "peripheral" version is actually a new poem about Gilgamesh.
The composition and development of the poem
The most complete version of the "Epic" is recorded on 12 six-column tablets in small cuneiform and includes about 3 thousand verses. In modern translations of the text of the poem, it is customary to divide it into 12 parts, each of which is indicated by a Roman numeral (from I to XII). Each part, called a table or song, corresponds to a separate tablet in the Nineveh version.
A similar division was initially carried out mechanically - when there was no space left on one plate, a new one began. However, in the "Nineveh" version, the division into tables is more harmonious, each of the tables contains a separate song:
|Gilgamesh's Rampage and the Creation of Enkidu|
|Enkidu's Coming to Uruk and the Friendship of Heroes|
|Preparations for the campaign against Humbaba|
|Hike against Humbaba|
|Battle with Humbaba|
|Ishtar and Gilgamesh. Heavenly Bull Fight|
|Enkidu's illness and death|
|Mourning and Burial of Enkidu|
|Gilgamesh's Journey to the Shore of the World Ocean|
|Ferry of Gilgamesh across the Ocean|
|Gilgamesh on Utnapishti Island. Return|
|Summoning the spirit of Enkidu from the underworld|
As part of the poem, 4 songs can be distinguished, which, according to the assumption of some researchers, were originally independent:
- "Enkidiada", which tells the story of the savage hero Enkidu, as well as how he was introduced to the culture;
- a campaign against Humbaba (Huvava);
- an episode with Ishtar, the prototype of which was the Sumerian goddess Innin, as well as a fight with a bull;
- the journey of Gilgamesh in an attempt to gain immortality.
At present, prototypes of songs about the campaign against Humbaba and about the fight with the bull, written in the Sumerian language, are known. However, when creating the "Epic" these songs could not be mechanically connected, since the connection between them in terms of idea and composition is well thought out and has a deep philosophical meaning. At the same time, a number of songs about Gilgamesh, which the author of the Epic, probably considered unsuitable for his purposes, were not included. So the song about Gilgamesh and Agg was not used.
In addition to songs from the heroic epic, the mythological epic was also used in the creation of the poem. In particular, the text from the poem "Ishtar's Walking to the Underworld" was used.
The Epos was first translated into Russian by the poet Nikolai Gumilyov in 1918. As a basis, he took the shortly before that published French translation of the "Epic", made by the French orientalist E. Dorm. At the same time, Gumilyov was consulted by Vladimir Shileiko, an expert on Sumerian and Assyrian texts, who wrote an introduction to the translation published in 1919. Like Dorm's translation, Gumilev's translation is flawed. In addition, Gumilev supplemented the translation with excerpts from his own composition.
The next translation into Russian was made by Shileiko himself.
Shileiko finished his translation of the Epic in 1920. Shileiko also paid attention to the poetic form of the Epos. To transmit it in Russian, he chose a dolnik as a meter, which was introduced into Russian poetry by A. Blok. The translation was to be published as part of the Assyrian-Babylonian Epic by the Vostochnaya Literatura publishing house, but in 1925 the publishing house was closed, and the volume never came out, and after the author's death its manuscript was lost. The Shileiko family has preserved a second copy of the manuscript. Excerpts from it were published in 1987 in the collection of V. Ivanov "Shoots of Eternity" and in 1994 in the collection of A. V. Shileiko "Through Time". Only in 2007, V. V. Yemelyanov published "The Assyrian-Babylonian Epic"
The next translation of the Epos into Russian was undertaken in 1961 by the orientalist IM Dyakonov. Unlike Gumilyov, Dyakonov translated from Akkadian. At the same time, he was familiar with the manuscript of Shileiko's translation and also used dolniks to convey the poetic form as a meter. The translation was provided with extensive reference material and was distinguished by philological accuracy. In addition, Dyakonov delimited all versions of the text, and also pointed out the difficulties of reconstructing the lost and damaged fragments. This translation was reprinted in 1973 and 2006.
Another translation of the Epos into Russian was made by SI Lipkin. If Shileiko and Dyakonov set their goal to create philologically accurate translations with a detailed reference apparatus, Lipkin tried to make the text of the Epos more modern. He used Dyakonov's translation as a basis for translation. However, Lipkin changed the rhythm. Based on the study of the sound structure of the Epic, he replaced the dolnik with a three-syllable meter. Moreover, the translation lacks gaps and conditional reconstructions.
In 2012, a reconstructed version of the Russian translation of the Epic, translated by Dyakonov, was published, supplemented by the 2003 edition of Andrew George, undertaken by a group of employees of the Department of History and Philology of the Ancient Near East of the Institute of Oriental Cultures and Antiquity of the Russian State University for the Humanities.