Introduction: Tying in the Loose Ends of the Legend
The story of Gilgamesh is one of the best examples of glorifying the memory of a real person to the point where it has nothing to do with real life. However, despite its unrealistic details and it’s being an obvious attempt at re-writing the history, The Epic of Gilgamesh is worth taking a look at, mostly due to the striking resemblance that it bears to another significant contribution to deciphering the portrayal of the ancient world, the Bible and the Ancient Greek mythology.
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Connecting the Story to the Bible: Where the Narrations Cross
Being listed among the earliest specimen of the ancient literature, The epic of Gilgamesh bears a certain resemblance to another ancient book, which is the Hebrew Bible. While the two books were written in completely different epochs by completely different nations and for completely different reasons, they still share a considerable range of details.
The afterlife: welcome to Tilmun
The concept of the hereafter is developed in a very detailed manner in the epic due to the specifics of the plot. While the author of the narration uses completely different names to denote the idea of good and evil, the concepts remain the same as the Bible explains them. What is called Eden in the Old Testament becomes Tilmun, or Mount Mashu, in Gilgamesh, yet the concept of the mysterious hereafter remains similar to the Biblical one (The epic of Gilgamesh, n. d.).
The Flood and the purification of the Earth
Though mentioned comparatively briefly, the disaster is still described in the epic, which can be easily related to the famous Biblical catastrophe: “The hearts of the Great Gods moved them to inflict the flood” (The epic of Gilgamesh, n. d.). While in the narration, it is made very clear that there were several deities, and the reasons for slaughtering the humankind are not mentioned, the situation bears a considerable resemblance to the traditional Biblical story: “And the rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.” (Genesis 7, n. d.).
Gilgamesh and Greek Mythology: Looking for Similarities
Much like the Bible, the Ancient Greek mythology also shares several elements with The epic of Gilgamesh.
An interpretation of a hero: welcome another not Hercules
While the elements that appeared to be relatively close to the Biblical mythology appear mostly in the setting and the plot, the Greek mythology is revived in the leading character himself, i.e., in Gilgamesh. It is made very clear from the start that the latter is a very outstanding person, who challenges gods, goes on dangerous adventures and challenges his fate in every way possible.
Also, Gilgamesh is a half man and half god, seeing how his father is Lugalbanda, a hero, and his mother, Ninsun, is a goddess (The epic of Gilgamesh, n. d.). Therefore, it can be assumed that Gilgamesh is the exact representation of the Ancient Greek concept of a hero, i.e., a semi-god.
When people think of the Ancient Greek heroes, they recall Hercules immediately. However, Gilgamesh is a different type of hero. While Hercules, much like Achill, or any other character of the kind, was famous for his strength and recklessness, Gilgamesh is a more stealthy character that makes use of his brains rather than of his muscles when he tries to get rid of his fellow’s guidance: “He will give you the harlot Shamhat, take her with you,/The woman will overcome the fellow (?) as if she were strong” (The epic of Gilgamesh, n. d.). This detail brings up another famous Ancient Greek hero, Odysseus (George, 2003).
Against the wrath of gods: Gilgamesh, the predecessor of Prometheus
While it is clear that the narrator tries to convince the reader in Gilgamesh’s being a true hero, considering Gilgamesh the early version of Hercules would still be a big stretch.
Instead of describing Gilgamesh’s strength and power, the narrator often emphasizes his cunningness and boldness in that Gilgamesh goes against the will of gods: “gods are filled with rage against us” (The epic of Gilgamesh, n. d.).
Also, Gilgamesh’s goals and actions do not quite match the ones of a typical Greek hero. In that sense, the character is much closer to the Greek Prometheus, who dared to fight against the odds of the Olympus: “This that I have brought you is called ‘fire’” (Evslin, n. d.).
While Prometheus succeeded in granting people with the gift of fire and was later on doomed to incredible physical torture, Gilgamesh’s gift to the humankind turned out a bit depressing yet nonetheless valuable. On the surface, one might argue that Gilgamesh failed at making people immortal and, thus, is the exact opposite of Prometheus.
However, considering the problem a bit deeper, one will have to admit that Gilgamesh brought a gift much more valuable than immortality. By proving that the latter is pointless, Gilgamesh granted people with the will to live and appreciate the gift of life: “I have not secured any good deed for myself,/But done a good deed for the ‘lion on the ground’!” (The epic of Gilgamesh, n. d.). Therefore, in a way, Gilgamesh is a Prometheus, who, ironically enough, succeeded by failing.
Conclusion: The Mythological Character That People Needed
With that being said, one must admit that The epic of Gilgamesh bears a distinct resemblance to the Biblical stories and the Ancient Greek mythology. Therefore, one can assume that The epic of Gilgamesh is proof of the intercultural continuity. No matter what differences lay between the cultures in question, they still shared a range of similar concepts and similar concepts of the afterlife, which brings these cultures closer.
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Evslin, B. (n. d.). Prometheus. Retrieved from http://msdarlingsenglish.weebly.com/uploads/1/4/8/8/14880058/prometheus_orpheusandeurydice.pdf
Genesis 7 (n. d.). Retrieved from http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+7&version=NIV
George, A. R. (2003). The Babylonian Gilgamesh epic: Introduction, critical edition and cuneiform texts. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
The epic of Gilgamesh (n. d.). Retrieved from http://www.ancienttexts.org/library/mesopotamian/gilgamesh/