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The Epic of Gilgamesh: A Story You Must Read

As readers of the past few months likely already know, I am a huge fan of epics. The mythical to semi-mythical stories of past heroes, from the almost certainly fantastical ones like Beowulf to the near-historical ones like The Song of the Cid, are not only brilliantly entertaining and exciting stories written in a beautiful, but also show essential characteristics of mankind. They show the fabulous heights and disgusting depths of man, from his ability to be heroic to his penchant for cowardice and degeneracy. Furthermore, figuring out how to apply those stories to modern life, as is done in both Undying Glory and The Bronze Age Mindset, may be one of the best ways to revitalize modern man and help him recover his heroic spirit.

So, if epics are to be read, it makes sense to start at the beginning, which is The Epic of Gilgamesh.

As described by the author of the translation I read, Gerald Davis, “The Epic of Gilgamesh is the oldest story that has come down to us through the ages of history. It predates the Bible, the Iliad and the Odyssey. The Epic of Gilgamesh relates the tale of the fifth king of the first dynasty of Uruk (in what is modern day Iraq) who reigned for one hundred and twenty-six years, according to the ancient Sumerian King List.” It’s the oldest story known to man, first written down on the cuneiform clay tablets of the Sumerians.

And what is it about? Man’s quest for immortality, the attempts of a great hero, Gilgamesh, to have it all.

It’s a tale of heroism, of growing up, of learning the truth.

The heroic spirit is shown when Gilgamesh says:

“Shall I not fight Humbaba, the Fierce, because I am afraid of facing Death? Shall I be accounted a coward? I think not. It is only through deeds of glory that I will achieve eternal renown. To every warrior is Death preferable to Dishonor. Though I may dread Humbaba, yet shall I venture into the depths of the Forest of Cedars to confront him.”

The theme of growing up is shown by Gilgamesh transitioning from the tyrant of his city, an overlord that, like Uday Hussein, rapes men’s wives on their wedding day, to a hero that slays monsters and battles against impossible odds. Rather than stay and prey on those that are weak, Gilgamesh leaves with a friend and battles against those that are strong and worthy of fighting. He grows up, transitioning from a tyrant into a man of honor.

And, finally, he learns the truth of from the survivor of the Great Flood. That part of the story is, I think, the best and most important, so I won’t spoil it, but it is a crucial part of the hero’s journey.

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Besides all of that, which is certainly great on its own, The Epic of Gilgamesh is interesting because of its depiction of the Great Flood. Written before any of the Bible, a key part of the storyline is a man who, like Noah, survived a Great Flood on an ark with animals and his family while the rest of humanity is wiped out. As told in the story:

The city of Shuruppak, a place you have knowledge of, is set upon the banks of the river Euphrates. This aforementioned city is ancient, and Gods once dwelled therein. But, in those days of yore, the multitudes teemed upon the face of the Earth and the unceasing clamor and wickedness of the people aroused the wrath of the Gods. And thus the Great Gods purposed a mighty Deluge to rain down in order to wipe out mankind. A vow of secrecy was sworn by the Great Gods. Their father, Anu, Lord of the Gods, swore the oath. Also did their advisor, the valorous Enlil, God of Storms, swear to it. Also did their Chamberlain Ninurta, God of War, swear to it. Also did Ennugi, God of Canals, swear to it. “Ea, God of Wisdom, the cunning one, did also swear the oath not to relate the secret unto any man. But Ea was crafty. Unto no man did Ea divulge the secret. Instead, Ea spoke the secret unto the reed fence of my house, and I did chance to overhear his words. ‘O reed fence, O reed fence, hearken unto my words,’ said Ea. ‘Pay heed, O reed fence, pay heed to my words. Tell your master, Utanapishtim of Shuruppak, son of Ubaratutu, to pull down his house and fashion a vessel therefrom. Advise him to abandon all possessions and save his life. Tell him to disdain worldly riches and preserve life instead. Aboard this vessel shall he take the seed of every creature that lives upon the Earth. This boat, which he is to build, the measurements shall be equal for the width and the length thereof. Tell him to cover this vessel, as the Firmament covers the Abyss.’

There are some small differences of course, namely in who tells the Noah character about the coming flood and how to survive, but the story is overwhelmingly the same. What does that mean? How does it relate to Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, all of which believe in the Noah story. Does it speak to the veracity of scripture, or is it evidence that the Old Testament is a collection of stories from other religions? Gilgamesh came first, does that affect your opinion of anything?

I have no answers, I know not what it means that other religions believe in the Noah story. I’ll leave that to greater minds to contemplate. But it is important to consider.

The story of Gilgamesh, written so many years ago, back in the deepest recesses of human memory, may not be as thrilling as a modern novel. But it’s an important one. You should take the time to read it.

By: Gen Z Conservative