AskDefine | Define gilgamesh

Dictionary Definition

Gilgamesh n : a legendary Sumerian king who was the hero of an epic collection of mythic stories

Extensive Definition

According to the Sumerian king list, Gilgamesh was the son of Lugalbanda and the fifth king of Uruk (Early Dynastic II, first dynasty of Uruk). He ruled circa 2600 BC. He became the central character in the Epic of Gilgamesh - one of the best known works of early literature, which says that his mother was Ninsun (whom some call Rimat Ninsun), a goddess. Gilgamesh is described as two-thirds god and one-third human.
According to the "Tummal Inscription", Gilgamesh, and eventually his son Urlugal, rebuilt the sanctuary of the goddess Ninlil, located in Tummal, a sacred quarter in her city Nippur. In Mesopotamian mythology, Gilgamesh is credited with having been a demigod of superhuman strength who built a great city wall to defend his people from external threats.

Cuneiform references

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh is said to have ordered the building of the legendary walls of Uruk. An alternative version has Gilgamesh, towards the end of the story, boasting to Urshanabi, the ferryman, that the city's walls were built by the Seven Sages. In historical times, Sargon of Akkad claimed to have destroyed these walls to prove his military power.
Fragments of an epic text found in Me-Turan (modern Tell Haddad) relate that Gilgamesh was buried under the waters of a river at the end of his life. The people of Uruk diverted the flow of the Euphrates River crossing Uruk for the purpose of burying the dead king within the riverbed. In April 2003, a German expedition discovered what is thought to be the entire city of Uruk - including, the former bed of the Euphrates, the last resting place of its King Gilgamesh.
Despite the lack of direct evidence, most scholars do not object to consideration of Gilgamesh as a historical figure, particularly after inscriptions were found confirming the historical existence of other figures associated with him: kings Enmebaragesi and Aga of Kish. If Gilgamesh was a historical king, he probably reigned in about the 26th century BCE. Some of the earliest Sumerian texts spell his name as Bilgames. Initial difficulties in reading cuneiform resulted in Gilgamesh making his re-entrance into world culture in 1891 as "Izdubar".
In most texts, Gilgamesh is written with the determinative for divine beings (DINGIR) - but there is no evidence for a contemporary cult, and the Sumerian Gilgamesh myths suggest the deification was a later development (unlike the case of the Akkadian god kings). With this deification, however, would have come an accretion of stories about him, some potentially derived from the real lives of other historical figures, in particular Gudea, the Second Dynasty ruler of Lagash (2144–2124 BCE).
Whether based on a historical prototype or not, Gilgamesh became a legendary protagonist in the Epic of Gilgamesh. The name Gilgamesh appears once in Greek, as "Gilgamos" (Γιλγαμος). The story is a variant of the Perseus myth: The King of Babylon determines by oracle that his grandson Gilgamos will kill him, and throws him out of a high tower. An eagle breaks his fall, and the infant is found and raised by a gardener.



  • The Buried Book: The Loss and Rediscovery of the Great Epic of Gilgamesh
  • George, Andrew [1999], The Epic of Gilgamesh: the Babylonian Epic Poem and Other Texts in Akkadian and Sumerian, Harmondsworth: Allen Lane The Penguin Press, 1999 (published in Penguin Classics 2000, reprinted with minor revisions, 2003. ISBN 0-14-044919-1
  • George, Andrew, The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic - Introduction, Critical Edition and Cuneiform Texts, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2 volumes, 2003.
  • The Epic of Gilgamesh
  • Hammond, D. & Jablow, A. [1987], "Gilgamesh and the Sundance Kid: the Myth of Male Friendship", in Brod, H. (ed.), The Making of Masculinities: The New Men's Studies, Boston, 1987, pp.241-258.
  • The Epic of Gilgamesh Glossary, Appendices, Appendix (Chapter XII=Tablet XII). A line-by-line translation (Chapters I-XI).
  • The Epic of Gilgamesh
  • Gilgamesh: A New English Version
  • Das Gilgamesch-Epos
  • The Standard Babylonian, Epic of Gilgamesh

External links

Original cuneiform text

Translations for several legends of Gilgamesh in the Sumerian language have been written by:
gilgamesh in Arabic: جلجامش
gilgamesh in Bulgarian: Гилгамеш
gilgamesh in Catalan: Gilgamesh
gilgamesh in Czech: Gilgameš
gilgamesh in Danish: Gilgamesh
gilgamesh in German: Gilgamesch
gilgamesh in Estonian: Gilgameš
gilgamesh in Modern Greek (1453-): Γκιλγκαμές
gilgamesh in Spanish: Gilgamesh
gilgamesh in Esperanto: Gilgameŝ
gilgamesh in Persian: گیلگامش
gilgamesh in French: Gilgamesh
gilgamesh in Korean: 길가메시
gilgamesh in Croatian: Gilgameš
gilgamesh in Indonesian: Gilgames
gilgamesh in Icelandic: Gilgamesh
gilgamesh in Italian: Gilgamesh
gilgamesh in Hebrew: גילגמש
gilgamesh in Georgian: გილგამეში
gilgamesh in Kurdish: Gilgameş
gilgamesh in Latin: Gilgamus
gilgamesh in Lithuanian: Gilgamešas
gilgamesh in Limburgan: Gilgamesh
gilgamesh in Hungarian: Gilgames
gilgamesh in Dutch: Gilgamesj
gilgamesh in Japanese: ギルガメシュ
gilgamesh in Norwegian: Gilgamesj
gilgamesh in Polish: Gilgamesz
gilgamesh in Portuguese: Gilgamesh
gilgamesh in Romanian: Ghilgameş
gilgamesh in Russian: Гильгамеш
gilgamesh in Serbian: Гилгамеш
gilgamesh in Finnish: Gilgameš
gilgamesh in Swedish: Gilgamesh
gilgamesh in Thai: กิลกาเมช
gilgamesh in Turkish: Gılgamış
gilgamesh in Ukrainian: Гільгамеш
gilgamesh in Slovak: Gilgameš
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