The Epic of Gilgamish A Fragment of the Gilgamish Legend in Old-Babylonian Cuneiform

The Epic of Gilgamish
A Fragment of the Gilgamish Legend in Old-Babylonian Cuneiform

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In the year 1914 the University Museum secured by purchase a large six column tablet nearly complete, carrying originally, according to the scribal note, 240 lines of text. The contents supply the South Babylonian version of the second book of the epic ša nagba imuru, “He who has seen all things,” commonly referred to as the Epic of Gilgamish. The tablet is said to have been found at Senkere, ancient Larsa near Warka, modern Arabic name for and vulgar descendant of the ancient name Uruk, the Biblical Erech mentioned in Genesis X. 10. This fact makes the new text the more interesting since the legend of Gilgamish is said to have originated at Erech and the hero in fact figures as one of the prehistoric Sumerian rulers of that ancient city. The dynastic list preserved on a Nippur tablet mentions him as the fifth king of a legendary line of rulers at Erech, who succeeded the dynasty of Kish, a city in North Babylonia near the more famous but more recent city Babylon. The list at Erech contains the names of two well known Sumerian deities, Lugalbanda and Tammuz. The reign of the former is given at 1,200 years and that of Tammuz at 100 years. Gilgamish ruled 126 years. We have to do here with a confusion of myth and history in which the real facts are disengaged only by conjecture.

The prehistoric Sumerian dynasties were all transformed into the realm of myth and legend. Nevertheless these rulers, although appearing in the pretentious nomenclature as gods, appear to have been real historic personages. The name Gilgamish was originally written dGi-bil-aga-miš, and means “The fire god (Gibil) is a commander,” abbreviated to dGi-bil-ga-miš, and dGi(š)-bil-ga-miš, a form which by full labialization of b to u̯ was finally contracted to dGi-il-ga-miš. Throughout the new text the name is written with the abbreviation dGi(š), whereas the standard Assyrian text has consistently the writing dGIŠ-ṬU-BAR. The latter method of writing the name is apparently cryptographic for dGiš-bar-aga-(miš); the fire god Gibil has also the title Giš-bar.

A fragment of the South Babylonian version of the tenth book was published in 1902, a text from the period of Hammurapi, which showed that the Babylonian epic differed very much from the Assyrian in diction, but not in content. The new tablet, which belongs to the same period, also differs radically from the diction of the Ninevite text in the few lines where they duplicate each other. The first line of the new tablet corresponds to Tablet I, Col. V 25 of the Assyrian text, where Gilgamish begins to relate his dreams to his mother Ninsun.

The last line of Col. I corresponds to the Assyrian version Book I, Col. VI 29. From this point onward the new tablet takes up a hitherto unknown portion of the epic, henceforth to be assigned to the second book.

At the end of Book I in the Assyrian text and at the end of Col. I of Book II in the new text, the situation in the legend is as follows. The harlot halts outside the city of Erech with the enamoured Enkidu, while she relates to him the two dreams of the king, Gilgamish....