Epic of Gilgamesh

3 Nov, 2016 890 Other literatures

“He who saw the Deep” are the first words of the standard version of The Epic of Gilgamesh, the subject of this discussion between Melvyn Bragg and his guests. Gilgamesh is often said to be the oldest surviving great work of literature, with origins in the third millennium BC, and it passed through thousands of years on cuneiform tablets. Unlike epics of Greece and Rome, the intact story of Gilgamesh became lost to later generations until tablets were discovered by Hormuzd Rassam in 1853 near Mosul and later translated. Since then, many more tablets have been found and much of the text has been reassembled to convey the story of Gilgamesh, king of Uruk the sheepfold, and Enkidu who the gods created to stop Gilgamesh oppressing his people. Together they fight Humbaba, monstrous guardian of the Cedar Forest, and kill the Bull of Heaven, for which the gods make Enkidu mortally ill. Gilgamesh goes on a long journey as he tries unsuccessfully to learn how to live forever, learning about the Great Deluge on the way, but his remarkable building works guarantee that his fame will last long after his death.”

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  • Andrew George 3 episodes
    Professor of Babylonian at SOAS, University of London
  • Frances Reynolds No other episodes
    Shillito Fellow in Assyriology at the Oriental Institute, University of Oxford and Fellow of St Benet's Hall
  • Martin Worthington No other episodes
    Lecturer in Assyriology at the University of Cambridge

Reading list

  • The Buried Book: The Loss and Rediscovery of the Great Epic of Gilgamesh
    David Damrosch Google Books →
  • The Ark before Noah: Decoding the Story of the Flood
    Irving Finkel Google Books →
  • From Distant Days: Myths, Tales and Poetry from Ancient Mesopotamia
    Benjamin R. Foster (trans.) (Capital Decisions, 1995) Google Books →
  • Civilizations of Ancient Iraq
    Benjamin R. Foster and Karen Polinger Foster (Princeton University Press, 2011) Google Books →
  • The Epic of Gilgamesh: The Babylonian Epic Poem and Other Texts in Akkadian and Sumerian
    Andrew George (trans.) (Penguin, 2003) Google Books →
  • The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic: Introduction, Critical Edition and Cuneiform Texts
    Andrew George (trans.) (Oxford University Press, 2003) Google Books →
  • Complete Babylonian
    Martin Worthington (Teach Yourself, 2010) Google Books →
  • Gilgamesh Among Us: Modern Encounters with the Ancient Epic
    Theodore Ziolkowski (Cornell University Press, 2011) Google Books →

Related episodes

Programme ID: b080wbrq

Episode page: bbc.co.uk/programmes/b080wbrq

Auto-category: 892.1 (Ancient Mesopotamian literature)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello. He who saw the deep, that's a quotation, the first words of the epic of Gilgamesh said to be the first great masterpiece of literature.