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Epic of Gilgamesh Helle, Sophus


The Epic of Gilgamesh is a Babylonian narrative poem that recounts the adventures of the eponymous King Gilgamesh, the legendary ruler of the city state of Uruk. Stories about Gilgamesh were told from at least the 21st century BCE to the second century CE in a variety of formats, including a Sumerian cycle of poems, an epic poem in Akkadian, prose versions in Hittite and Hurrian, and visual depictions, not to mention oral retellings that have not survived in the archeological record. The Babylonian epic developed continuously from the early second to the early first millennium BCE. Scholars recognize three main phases: an Old Babylonian epic that is imperfectly preserved; a Middle Babylonian phase of revision and experimentation; and an edited version in the Standard Babylonian language, composed around the 11th century BCE. The latter version, consisting of twelve Tablets (the twelfth of which forms an appendix to the main narrative of the first eleven), is the best-preserved and best-known account of Gilgamesh's story. The epic can be divided into two parts, the first of which tells of Gilgamesh's love and triumphs, the second of his loss and failures. Gilgamesh is a restless, tyrannic king in Uruk, and the gods send the wild man Enkidu to befriend and distract him. The two become close friends, possibly lovers, and set off on a series of heroic adventures, killing the monster Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven. But halfway through the epic, Enkidu dies, and the second half of the story relates Gilgamesh's profound grief and his ultimately futile attempt to achieve immortality.

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