19 de jul. de 2023

The Epic of Gilgamesh: The Oldest Book in the World

What if we told you that the oldest book in the world is around 4,000 years old? Of course you would say, well, stop your delusions the book is a late 15th century invention, just under six hundred years old. It's true, but come with me and I'll explain better.

The Epic of Gilgamesh (São Paulo: Autêntica, 2017) is a work whose origin is estimated to be 4,000 years old, since it was written around 2,000 years BC. The “document” that resulted in the book we know today has been buried since the fire, in 612 BC, that devastated the Library of Nineveh. This city, in the region of Ancient Mesopotamia, is located, today, near the city of Mosul, in Iraq.

In 1849, British archaeologists found the ruins of this ancient library and with it 30,000 tablets with cuneiform writing from which more than 1,200 different writings are found, among them the Epic of Gilgamesh.

Tablet V from the Epic of Gilgamesh from the Babylonian period, between 2003 and 1595 BC.

An interesting fact is that this narrative contains texts similar to those that would later appear in the Bible, dating from the 8th century BC. This is the case of the flood and a subject archetypically similar to Adam, described in what is called the Pentateuch of the Christian Old Testament or the Jewish Torah.

The great Hellenic works of Homer – Iliad and Odyssey – of the 8th and 9th centuries BC. also feature passages similar to the adventures of Gilgamesh. It is undoubtedly a very important book for antiquity.

What does the story of Gilgameshi tell?

There is a doubt that lasts until the present day, if Gilgamesh was just a literary character or if he actually existed? Just in case, Gilgamesh was one of the kings of the Uruk dynasty, whose reign would have taken place around 2659 BC.

In addition, he was one of the best known predecessors of the Sumerian kings, being venerated as a hero and not infrequently seen as a deity. The work begins, precisely, with an exaltation of Gigalmesh, emphasizing its virtues.

Invincible and self-centered, yet a capable king, Gilgamesh's subjects beseech the goddess Aruru to create a being equal to their monarch so that he will be able to challenge him. With a little clay (and perhaps the bible's similarity with this text is no coincidence) Aruru creates Enkidu, who starts to live in the forest.

At a certain point, Gilgamesh, upon learning of Enkidu's existence, asks a courtesan – and not just any courtesan, but the most irresistible in the kingdom – to go to the forest, seduce him and take him to the city. Right on the first date, both measure strength, fight bravely and, after recognizing the strength of the other, end up becoming friends.

After living in the city for a while, Enkidu and Gilgamesh decide to go on adventures when they find themselves with the need to face Humbada, a feared giant. Later, on their return to the palace, Gilgamseh's lack of correspondence with the love of the goddess Isthar causes her to send the celestial Bull, which is defeated by the duo. Furious, Isthar then curses and Enkidu falls ill with a fatal illness.

Later, Gilgamesh alone seeks out Utnapishtim, an old man who survived the great flood recounted in the work. He wants to know what the secret of immortality is and he sets out, then, in search of the answer to this great question. The outcome of the story has to do with this search and adventure carried out by Gilgamesh, who at the end returns to his kingdom.

Of course, the story is much more complex than this brief summary, presented full of jumps, but with care to offer the minimum of spoilers. It is a fascinating story that has impressively survived the time

Gilgamesh – Palacio de Sargao II 
em Khorsabad. Escultura de 713-706-AC6 a.

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