The Epic of Gilgamesh, Lecture by Andrew George

Ladies and gentlemen,
it's a great pleasure to welcome you to
this evening's lecture on The Epic of Gilgamesh. More than 4,000
years ago in what's today the nation of
Iraq, people were working on versions of this
poem about the greatest hero the world had ever seen– King Gilgamesh of Uruk. One-third man, two-thirds
god, tyrant, traveler, and tragic figure. He, who continues to speak
to us to this day reflecting eternal values of love and
friendship, courage, fear, and acceptance of death. We'll learn about his
work of world literature from the leading scholar on
the subject, the distinguished Professor of Babylonian Dr.
Andrew George of the Department of Languages and Cultures of the
Near Middle East at the School of Oriental and African Studies
at the University of London. Professor George is author of
the critical two volume omnibus edition of the
Gilgamesh epic that now anchors all studies of
the text on rock solid ground, as well as a prize
winning translation made available to the general
public on his own insistence through Penguin Classics
in the Folio Society. Many of you are probably
already familiar with it. It constitutes the
most up to date and reliable translation of
the text into any language. Professor George
has his training from the University
of Birmingham, where he completed his
doctoral dissertation in Babylonian
topographical texts under the supervision
of WG Lambert in 1985. Since '83, he has taught
Akkadian and Sumerian Language and Literature at the School
of Oriental and African Studies in London. He's a fellow of
the British Academy and an honorary member of the
American Oriental Society, and has so far
authored nine books and more than 110 scholarly
articles, several of them on tonight's topic. Following the lecture, we
are fortunate to have with us an illustrious panel,
three professors who call Harvard their home
and who have all themselves worked in various aspects of the
epic at one point or another. Each has agreed to
offer a five minute perspective on a topic of
their choice as a comment to Professor George's lecture. The panel consists of former
William Door Boardman Professor of Fine Arts, Dr. Irene Winter,
Hancock Professor of Hebrew and Other Oriental Languages,
Dr. Peter Machinist, and Ernst Birnbaum Professor of
Comparative Literature, Dr. David Damrosch. Following their remarks,
we will open the discussion to the audience for
questions and comments. This evening's event has been
organized in collaboration with a lot of institutions,
as you just heard, and particularly we are
grateful to the Provostial Fund for the Arts
and Humanities, who has made this possible. The background is, of course,
for the Harvard College, ANE 103, Ancient Lives,
where 70 students have spent the afternoon
with our guest asking questions and leading
discussions in preparation for their main course
assignment this year, a live performance of
selected parts of the epic under the sound guidance
of their instructor from the American Repertory
Theater, Brendan Eisley. Our lecture tonight is thus
also part of a learning activity for our students on how
to think about and deal with key aspects of human nature
and historical development over a long span of time. And it will form an element in
their interactive engagement with course topics through
personal and sensory experience with the past. As you heard, for those
of you who have the time, you will also have
a chance to share in this sensory journey for
the following event, which will occur immediately after
this lecture at the Semitic Museum. You are invited to
tour the galleries and have some Mesopotamian
culinary nibbles or rather, at least it's closest
proxy which is Watertown, Massachusetts. And if you are 21, to sample
the wine that we have imported from the mountains where
Gilgamesh and Enkidu slew Humbaba, as well as
beer brewed according to ancient recipes from Phrygia. So whether you will be joining
us in the Semitic Museum or not, I welcome you and
hope that you will join me in welcoming our main speaker
for the evening, Professor Andrew George. Ladies and gentlemen,
it's wonderful to be here. I'm very, very happy to have
been invited to address you. It's wonderful to see
an almost full house, and let me express
my gratitude also to the people who
brought me here, the institutions
who helped do that, and to Dr. Barjamovic
for the invitation he sent me some months ago. I'm going to talk about one
of my favorite subjects, Gilgamesh, subtitled Recovering
the Masterpiece of Babylonian Literature, because
that's what it is. But first of all, we do have
to ask ourselves the question, what is Gilgamesh? Because Gilgamesh is, well,
pretty much everywhere. There is a book by
Theodore Ziolkowski of the University
of Princeton that explains what I've just said,
that Gilgamesh has really entered the artistic
consciousness of the West, of modern Iraq, of
Europe, of North America. Because since about 1912,
when the first translation into a modern language was
achieved, it was reliable. Artists, poets, musicians,
dramatists, operatists, librettists have fed on the
ancient story of Gilgamesh and turned it into their own
property, which is only right. That they could do so is a sign
of the humanity and importance of the ancient epic. And I hope that by the time
we get to the end of my talk, it will emerge why this
particular text, The Epic of Gilgamesh, 4,000
years old as it is, has had this profound influence
on modern Western culture. Because I think it's fair
to say that after the Bible, no other ancient
Near Eastern text has been as influential on the
modern world as Gilgamesh has. And so far as I know, while
the Bible is a scripture and has that help of
being a scripture, there is not yet
any sect anywhere in the world that considers
The Epic of Gilgamesh to be scripture. Though I may be
wrong, of course. So Gilgamesh, then, is a
4000-year-old Babylonian poem. And I thought of five
ways that we can approach Gilgamesh, this old poem. We're going to talk
again about the story, we're going to talk about
archeology and decipherment, we're going to talk
about how the poem is reconstructed from all those
bits that I will show you, something about poetry
to get a measure of the aesthetics of the
text, and then, well, does it mean anything
to us 4,000 years later? Is there a message
in this ancient poem? First of all, then,
the story, to give you the backbone that you need
to listen to the rest. We should know
what the poem says. Well, we divided up into several
chunks and the first chunk introduces Gilgamesh,
king in Uruk– Uruk, an ancient city in the
south of Babylonia, now Iraq. He was an imposing giant figure,
kingly, heroic, glorious. And I'm afraid the best
reputation that we've got of him from the ancient
world is none of those things. Here it is. We know it's
Gilgamesh because he's standing on top of the head of
one of his slaughtered enemies. Gilgamesh was king,
but he was a tyrant. He was an autocrat
who had his own way and abused his rights as a king. And it's interesting that
the Babylonian poet does not seek to turn this
greatest of kings and most glorious of heroes
into a one dimensional hero. He turns him instead
into a human being. He's a tyrant, this man,
because he's been given power and he uses it absolutely. And the gods listen to the
complaints of the town of Uruk, and they send a wild man
down, who is in every respect the image of Gilgamesh,
except that where Gilgamesh is a man of the city. Enkidu– and that is his
name– is a man of the wild. The poet has to find a way of
bringing Enkidu to the city to meet Gilgamesh so that he can
divert his superhuman energies and stop him abusing his people. And this is done
through a sequence of events involving
the seduction of Enkidu by a prostitute. His humanization,
turning from an animal into a man, and his
socialization, first of all, in the shepherd's camp where
he learns to eat and drink like a human being
and is clothed. And then, his humanization
into society, his socialization in the city itself. So Enkidu comes to Uruk,
the city of Gilgamesh, fully intent on teaching
Gilgamesh a lesson because he's heard about
Gilgamesh's tyranny. And like all instinctive beings,
he has a feeling of unfairness. You know it seems to me that
even small children understand the concept of
fairness intuitively, and Enkidu falls
into that category. He meets Gilgamesh
determined to stop his abuse. They fight. They struggle. They come to a standstill. Neither is the winner, but
they recognize in each other a bosom friend, and that is
what they become and remain. Enkidu and Gilgamesh
team up, and they leave town to go on an
adventure to the Cedar Forest, where the ogre
Humbaba– there he is on the left, a representation
probably of Humbaba with his wrinkly face–
who guards the Cedar Forest over in Lebanon. Gilgamesh and Enkidu resolve
to go there to do him to death and to fell his cedars and
bring them back to Uruk. And so they do. And here is an old
Babylonian plaque depicting Gilgamesh and
Enkidu slaughtering Humbaba the tree monster in his
forest before they cut down the cedars. And that is their first
glorious expert of heroism. The second one is when
they come back to Uruk after defeating Humbaba and
chopping down his cedars. And Ishtar, the
goddess of Uruk, is so impressed with the
beauty of Gilgamesh that she falls in love with
him, if she can fall in love, and that is a
difficult proposition for a goddess like Ishtar,
who is in fact a prostitute. She is attracted
by his physique, his manliness, his beauty,
and she proposes to him that he marry her. And he says no,
no one but a fool would marry a
prostitute like you. Look at what's happened
to your previous lovers. They've all come unstuck. I will have nothing
to do with you. And she, as the goddess
of his town Uruk, is absolutely insulted
by that, and runs up to her father in heaven
and says, give me, father, the Bull of Heaven
with which to teach Gilgamesh and Enkidu a lesson. And if you don't, I
shall scream so loud that the dead will arise from
netherworld and eat the living. The first, I think,
occasion in human literature where zombies have
been brought into play. Well, the zombies are something
that her father doesn't want to have walking
around the Earth. He'd rather they stay
in the netherworld. And he gives to his
daughter the Bull of Heaven, the
constellation Taurus, a fiery bull in the sky. He brings it down to Uruk
where it causes much damage, but in the end, of course,
Gilgamesh and Enkidu defeat it and slay it as you
can see on this rather wretched clay plaque now in Berlin. And that is the point of
the greatest achievements of this pair. They have slaughtered an
ogre in the Cedar Forest, and they have slaughtered
the Bull of Heaven. But neither is it completely
unambiguously a glorious thing to have done, because the ogre
was placed in the Cedar Forest to protect the cedar by the
gods, and the Bull of Heaven, well, is the Bull of Heaven,
also belonging to the gods. And while they are
having a banquet in the palace
after these events, the gods are in council, and
Enkidu lies down to sleep, and he witnesses the
council in a dream. And the gods determine that
because these two heroes have behaved badly, overstepped the
mark, one of them shall die. And the one that shall
die shall be Enkidu. And so Enkidu falls sick
and after a long illness in which he is partly
raving and having dreams of the netherworld, he dies. And there is then a
long epic funeral, only recently recovered. I think that's a
desideratum in all funeral in at least the
ancient Mediterranean and the ancient Near East. Sorry, all epics in the
ancient Mesopotamian and the ancient
Near East, that you have to have a good funeral. All the grave goods
are recounted and duly set up before the gods. In order that Enkidu when
he gets to the netherworld finds that the gods on his side. And this is represented,
this episode, by a grave at Abu Salabikh
showing a dead human being. Not certain Enkidu. In fact, not at all Enkidu. And on the right,
some crushed jewelry from Ur of the
Chaldees, excavated by Leonard Woolley in the 1920s,
in the great grave pit there, the royal cemetery of Ur,
which neatly demonstrates the richness of royal graves. Certainly Enkidu's
grave was a rich one. Now Enkidu was
Gilgamesh's lover. They loved each other. And the death of Enkidu
brings about a huge change in Gilgamesh. He has lost the human he
loved most in all the world. And this drives him crazy,
not just because he's lost his friend, but
also because he suddenly understands that death is real. And he fears for himself. What grows in him is
a horror of death, because he knows that he
too, like Enkidu, will die. And he's driven to
go on a mad quest to the ends of the Earth to
seek the secret of immortality. Because he knows that
far away somewhere beyond the ends of
the Earth, there still lives an ancestor of his
who was once king in Sumer– a different city, not
Uruk, but not far away. But who still lives
thousands of years later, and is in fact immortal. And Gilgamesh
reasons that if there is one human who
became immortal perhaps he could do that as well
and get what he wants. An evasion of his own death. And so he sets out for
the ends of the Earth. And in the end, he gets there. He's taken across
the waters of death into the presence of
Utnapishtim, his ancestor, who lives immortal beyond the end
of the world with his wife. And Utnapishtim
explains to him the fact that his own immortality. The fact that this immortality
was given to him by the gods, because they didn't
know what else to do with him when Utnapishtim
survived the great flood long ago in human history,
when the gods resolve to wipe out mankind. And nearly succeeded, except
that one among their number told Utnapishtim
to build an ark. Get all his family aboard. All the seeds of living things. Yes, it's the story of Noah. It's the Babylonian original. Utnapishtim tells this story
to Gilgamesh, and says, I'm immortal because
the gods didn't know what to do
after that with me, so they put me on
this island far away, and gave me
immortality like them. But that's not going
to happen for you. You become immortal
as I have, because it was a one-off solution
to a one-off event. But why don't you try and
stay awake for a week? Just to show– just to
demonstrate whether you're even ready to conquer death. See whether you
can conquer sleep. Gilgamesh, who has been
traveling for months and months without having a wink of sleep
says, of course I can do that, and immediately falls asleep. And it's demonstrated
to him by the fact that he hasn't eaten for
seven days, the food that's been put for him, that
he has slept for a week. And he is distraught. And he realizes then– he begins to realize that he's
not going to become immortal anytime soon. In fact, not at all. So Utnapishtim sends
him on his way home, having failed in his
quest for immortality, but tells him where he can
get some kind of compensation. Not immortality, but
a plant but with– if he eats it will
make him young again. A plant of rejuvenation. And Gilgamesh
dives to the bottom of the ocean, plucks the
plant, but he doesn't trust what he's been told. He's very human, this
Gilgamesh, as we'll find out. And he says, I'll put this in my
belt and take it home to Uruk, and when I get there I'll
try it out on a young man. If the young man gets young
again, then I'll know it works, and I'll take some myself. So he goes home. And on the way, just
before getting to Uruk, there's a nice pool. And he's tired,
and dirty, and hot. And so he puts his things
by the side of the pool and goes in for a dip. One of the things he
puts besides the pool is the plant of rejuvenation. And the snake, sniffing the
fine scent of the plant, wriggles out from
where he'd been hiding, picks up the plant of
rejuvenation in it's mouth, and wriggles away again. And as it wriggles away
it sheds it's skin. And at that point
Gilgamesh knows two things. He knows, first
of all, that what Utnapishtim had told him about
the properties of this plant was true. But he also knows
that he himself having had this plant in his hands
has now lost it for good, and failed completely. And with that, he goes home. And that's the end of the story. Now with that story firmly
embedded in your memories, we'll go a bit further
and look at the archeology and decipherment of Gilgamesh. It's 4000-year-old
narrative poem in Babylonia. And we'll ask two
particular questions. Where did the sources
of the poem come from? And who deciphered
and published them? These are actually longer
stories than they might be– or than you might expect. And it really begins
in the 19th century when Austen Henry
Layard, the gentleman on the left there in Bakhtiari
dress, who is a gentleman adventurer, set out
for Ceylon from London, and didn't get there. He got to Mesopotamia,
as it was then called. And he was interested– fascinated in the ruined mounds
that he saw all around him in northern Mesopotamia. One of them in particular, which
was opposite the modern city of Mosul across the Tigris. Mosul, the town that
even now the Iraqi army is preparing to take back
from the Islamic state in the north of Iraq. And here's a map
of Mosul in 1852, and you can see opposite it the
great walled enclosure, which is the ancient city of Nineveh. And within that
walled enclosure you can see two citadels,
one here, and one here. This is where Austen Henry
Layard started to dig. Because he thought, these
mounds the local people say are the ruins of ancient cities. I'm not going to go to
I'm going to investigate these ancient cities. He dug at Nimrud first, and
then came back to Mosul, and started digging here
at this citadel mound. And on this photograph
from the 1930s you can still see the pits
in the surface of the mound where he dug. Here is the Tigris flowing
from the north to the south, and Mosul across the
river as it was then. Later in– by 1989 you'd see
that the city has encroached upon this flat land here. And this photograph on the right
is taken from the city wall here. You can see the city walls
stretching to this great mound where Layard dug
in the distance. And Layard found there was
a palace of an Assyrian king called Sennacherib, the one who
besieged Jerusalem in Kings. And he dug tunnels in the mound. And he found the remains of
the monumental palace building. And he could follow the
corridors and the chambers– the walls of the corridors
and the chambers, because they were lined with
great bas-relief monuments. Great limestone slabs
with pictorial scenes upon them and some
writing, as you can see here in this
lithograph surrounding the– lining the walls of
this particular chamber. And maybe some of you have
been to the British Museum and seen these slabs. They were what attracted
Mesopotamian archaeologists first and foremost to digging
these mounds in this area, these wonderful
bas-reliefs depicting the might of the Assyrian
army and it's conquests, and other wonderful things like
the lion hunts of Ashurbanipal. But in this very building–
in this very chamber here there was,
according to Layard, and here he is sitting
in Western dress drawing the bas-reliefs
on these monuments. There was a mound of clay
tablets, knee deep, he said. And these clay tablets
he couldn't read, but he recognized that
they were covered in what was called cuneiform writing. And he sent them back to
the British Museum in 1850, and another batch in 1853. And they became the foundation
of the science of Assyriology, because they were
tablets from Assyria. So the discipline, which is
interested in deciphering cuneiform in Mesopotamia
is called Assyriology. Assyriology got nowhere
fast, because there wasn't anyone in the
British Museum who could cope with 20,000
tablets of cuneiform writing, until 1866 when a
young man called George Smith was
employed to start making sense of these things. But let's have a look at
what they looked like. This is a tablet of Gilgamesh
from that pile of tablets in that room in
Sennacherib's palace. It actually belongs to
Sennacherib's grandson, Ashurbanipal, belongs– it has a label here saying,
property of Ashurbanipal, king of the world,
king of Assyria. But it's a manuscript of
Gilgamesh, tablet six, the episode when
Gilgamesh and Enkidu defeat the Bull of Heaven. I've also illustrated here
from a different time, a different period, a different
place, a mound of tablets to show you that when
clay tablets fall from shelves, as there
typically stored on, they break on the floor. And you can see that
this one is also broken. Not only the two parts that you
can see there, but also the bit that's missing, because
originally this would have had three columns of text. One, two, three, but the
third column has almost gone. And that's a perennial problem
besetting Assyriologists, that we work with
broken sources. Now George Smith,
employed in 1866 to make sense of
all these tablets, was an extraordinary
Assyriologist. He was the first man to draw
a salary as an Assyriologist, because he was paid by
the British Museum only to work on cuneiform tablets. And it– 150 years
ago, so I reckon he's the first salaried
Assyriologist. And after a few
years he discovered all sorts of wonderful things. You can still see the
marks on the tablets M for mythology in
pencil, H for historical, and R for religious. And among the M
mythological tablets were tablets about a hero
that he called Izdubar. Do We now call him Gilgamesh. And he discovered that
there was a narrative of the flood in
the Izdubar legends in the Epic of Gilgamesh. And he gave a paper
on it to the Society of Biblical Antiquaries. Is that right? But no, The Society of
Biblical Archeology in London. And it caused a
complete sensation because this was very clearly
at a narration of the flood story that was closely related
to this story in Genesis, the story of Noah. But it wasn't complete,
the Babylonian story in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Izdubar, as Smith called it. Bits we're missing,
so the Daily Telegraph provided 1,000 guineas for
George Smith to go out to Iraq and to find the missing piece. As if it was as easy as that. But he did actually
go to Nineveh twice. And he did find the missing
piece of the flood story, believe it or not. Not actually Gilgamesh,
though he did he didn't know that at the time. But another flood story embedded
in another long narrative poem of mythological content. That was so successful the Daily
Telegraph said, job achieved, come home immediately. But he went back and bought
a lot of tablets in Baghdad. And these were not Assyrian
tablets from the north, from Mosul, they
were from the south. And they were different kind
of tablet, slightly later in a different script, but
the same body of material. That is to say there were
Gilgamesh tablets in there. And the British Museum set
about buying these things. They were excavated
by the ordinary people in the mountains of Iraq
for commercial reasons. The local people
sensed that there was a market for these things. George Smith had bought some. So they started digging him up
whether they could find them, and selling to the
British Museum. And the British
Museum bought 20,000. They later sent Hormuzd
Rassam, an Assyrian Christian who had helped– led Nineveh to conduct his
own excavations in the south, in these cities around
about Baghdad, just south of Baghdad, including Babylon. And Rassam brought back another
50,000 Babylonian tablets. So by this time there
were 90,000 tablets in the British Museum, and two
people who could read them. And it's still a bit like that. Assyriology is beset by two
problems, vast quantities of tablets something
like half a million in the museums of the world. And a tiny number of people
who can decipher them. So, in this way, we ensure that
Assyriology will last forever, because we're still
trying to even work on the first 10% of
that half million. But back to Gilgamesh. What happened to these
tablets, the tablets that George Smith
identified as Gilgamesh, is that a young German in his
30s came to the British Museum and copied them, made line
drawings of the cuneiform. All of them. What he didn't do
is translate them. So that wasn't much good, except
if you could read cuneiform. And as I've said,
only two people could. But, slowly, scholars
worked through this material and made it more available. And more stuff kept turning up. So in 1930, Campbell Thompson,
an Oxford Assyriologist, published an edition of
The Epic of Gilgamesh that included 112
tablets and fragments. Mainly from Nineveh
from it's original find. A few late Babylonian tablets
from Rassam's acquisitions that had been processed
and recognized. Only a few. We're talking to or three
in that 70,000 tablets. Some old Babylonian tablets,
which were much, much– 1,000 years older than
the [INAUDIBLE] stuff, and the Syrian tablets, they had
begun to emerge on the market as the people began to
dig through the mounds that got stuff not only from
the first millennium BC, but also tablets
from much older time And elsewhere, not only
in Mesopotamia, but also in Turkey. Tablets were turning
up so Campbell Thompson was able to make use of one
Gilgamesh tablet from Anatolia. But the story is a process
of accrual of aggregation. There's much more. So when I came to
repeat the work of Campbell Thompson in 2003
there were 217 sources extant. 184 from the first millennium,
the new Assyrian manuscripts from [INAUDIBLE], and the late
Babylonian manuscripts from the south of this place– or south of the country. But also 33 much older tablets
between 4,000 and 3,000 years old. And my part in this has
been one of a succession of Assyriologists who are
pioneers in deciphering tablets, of reconstructing
the literature of ancient Mesopotamia. We stand on each
other's shoulders. I am only the most recent
person to do Gilgamesh. There will be
someone coming later who will continue their
work, and do more of it, find more of it,
decipher more of it, and present a better edition. So, as I say, pioneering work,
but a constant aggregation of new manuscripts
and new knowledge means that we get more and
more of this 4000-year-old epic poem. And just to illustrate the
fact that new material keeps turning up and fills
the gaps, here's a news article from the
London Times from 2015. We've got 226 horses
now, still rising. Last one discovered
only last year. Here's a tablet that was
found in Sulaymaniyah Museum. A lot of the work of
identifying tablets occurs not in archeology but
in museums, where it still has vast quantities of
uncatalogued collections of clay tablets to sift through. And this piece was identified
in Sulaymaniyah Museum in the Kurdish regional
government controlled part of Iraq in 2012,
and a colleague and I published it in– shortly afterwards. And then it hit
the media in 2015 where you can see
this piece here. It even got coverage
in a daily newspaper, and then got commented
on by bloggers. And here's a wonderful
blog from The History Blog. A gentleman called Bort– Bort says– he discovered there
were new passages of Gilgamesh, and he is a bit
worried about that. So he tells everyone,
for the love of all that's good in
the world don't read the new passages
out loud, that's how the older ones are summoned. Or so I've heard. Well, at least don't try to read
them in the native tongue, OK. I don't know if That
Which Shan't be Named understands English. But That We Shan't
be Named certainly understands Babylon,
in his mind. Well, I hope Bort's
not here, because we're going to read some later
in the original Babylonian. So with all these
bits I've explained that have been discovered
in archaeological excavation and in museums. What do we do with them
as Assyriologists in order to reconstruct the poem? Well, I'll just give you
an idea of what happens. Tablet's come out
in small pieces. Here's a bunch of tablets,
not Gilgamesh tablets. But never mind, you can see
the extent of the problem. They're made of baked– of sun dried clay. Not baked usually,
but sun dried. So they are very fragmentary. Particularly once you
expose them and get them out of the matrix of earth
in which they rest. They very, very
rapidly deteriorate unless they're conserved. And here's a workman at Nippur
in the 1950s painstakingly getting out a tablet
from the bulk here with a paintbrush and a
little knife to free it with. So it's difficult work
and very fragile work getting these things out of
the ground archaeologically. And then there are the
problems of conservation. But here is a very
famous Gilgamesh tablet, the floods tablet, one of
the ones that George Smith identified in the 1870s. What we do with them is we
make line drawings of what are essentially three
dimensional objects, and here is my line drawing
of this column of that tablet there. And then we find that
because the literature of ancient Mesopotamia
was essentially canonical, as belonged to a stream of
tradition in which people kept on writing out the same stuff,
you get multiple witnesses to the same text. And Gilgamesh is no exception. We get passages where there are
four or five different sources for a set of lines. Some passages we don't have
any sources for, but that the other side of the coin. And these sources are
fragmentary, but what we can do is use the different surviving
bits to put together the text that they both hold on them. So it's a kind of
jigsaw puzzle, but using fragments of different jigsaws. But since that's the same
picture you eventually get– achieve a reconstructed text. Now if you take
a look here, this is the bottom of the column
of the flood tablet down here. There. And this is another manuscript
of the same flood tablet and if you look
very carefully, you can see the signs here
are replicated here. There's [NON-ENGLISH]
and there's [NON-ENGLISH] and there's [NON-ENGLISH]
and there's [NON-ENGLISH] and there's [NON-ENGLISH]
and there's the end of [NON-ENGLISH] there. And there's [NON-ENGLISH] and
there's [NON-ENGLISH] there. You can see it. It's the same sign. So we've got two
different witnesses to the same part of
the text, and what we do with them
having drawn them is we can transliterate
them into Roman script because the script
is nicely deciphered. And there you can see the
[NON-ENGLISH], [NON-ENGLISH]. And here's the
[NON-ENGLISH] bit. And there's the
[NON-ENGLISH] bit. And there's the [NON-ENGLISH]
bit, singly by manuscript. And we can put those
together so that we get the combined manuscript. And it's beginning to look
like text that you can use, and indeed then we can
turn it into language, because the great
thing about the script is it has vowels as
well as consonants. And here we get something
from that we can read out if Bort will allow us. And if he's here,
please, he could leave. Tarkullr Errakal inassah. Illak Ninurta mihrt ushardi. Anuannaki isshu diparkti. Ina namirrishuma uhammatu matu. Sha Aded shuharrassu abu shame. Mimma namru ana
de'ummati utteru. And that's the Babylonian. I don't know whether a
Babylonian would understand that, but when Assyriologists
talk to each other they can understand it. And then you can translate,
and we get a translation here. It's the point in the
story where Utnapishtim is telling Gilgamesh
about the flood that he experienced so
long ago, a first person account of the flood. And he tells this– he painted this lovely picture
of the onset of the storm that caused the flood. The god Errakal was
uprooting the mooring-poles. Ninurta passing by,
made the weirs overflow. The Anuannaki gods carried
torches of fire, lightning, scorching the country
with brilliant flashes. The stillness of the storm
god passed over the sky, and all that was bright
then turned into darkness. So this process of
deciphering fragments, of identifying the text on
them, of putting texts together from different fragments,
and finally getting lines that can be
translated, goes on and on for every
part of Gilgamesh, and indeed for every
Babylonian narrative poem and all other
literary compositions that are part of the
stream of tradition that the Babylonians
passed down, and the Assyrians passed down. And gradually
through this process being conducted by very few
people around the world. We are recovering the oldest
literatures in human history. The Babylonian literature. The Sumerian
literature before it. But it's painstaking work. It's very rewarding work. And we begin because we can
understand this poetry, not only to hear aesthetically,
but we begin also to analyze it and see
how it's structured. And Babylonian poetry is
rather carefully structured. Each line is usually a
statement, or two statements. We haven't got long
sentences that go on forever. I was reading Charlotte
Bronte's Villette the other day, and there's a sentence
in there which goes on for a page and a half. But you can't do that
in Babylonian poetry. A sentence will normally
stop at the end of the line, or at the most go
on to two lines. But very often a line
is two statements. But the first and
the second statements kind of support each other. So, we see here, this
is about what happens when the storm hits the rivers. It uproots the mooring-poles,
and the weirs overflow. And then we get the lightning
gods coming, carrying lightning and scorching the country. And then we get the storm god. The calm before the storm. The stillness passed over the
sky, and it all goes very dark. So the ideas are carefully
separated in the poetry, and we get moved through
it through a process of short statements, which are
often bound together in pairs. And I want now to go on to have
a look at the poets art, just with a couple more examples. This one is the
seduction of Enkidu. And if you remember,
the way that Enkidu was got from the wild
into Uruk to become chum– the friend of Gilgamesh was he
was seduced by a prostitute. And this is a cadent. I won't read it, but
you can see that I've made bold some nouns in it
which are important in the way that the poetry is constructed. And if we look at
the translation the same nouns are here also
separated from the main text, but by colors. And this, again,
it's poetry which is [AUDIO OUT] constructed so
that the first two couplets are the coming together of these two
people, Shamhat the prostitute and Enkidu, to
have sex together. The second set of two
couplets four line passage is actually the
sexual intercourse. And then the third one,
again two couplets, has something else happening. So in fact we're
seeing kind of versus. The interesting thing is that
here are Shamhat unfastened the cloth of her loins,
she bared her sex, and took in her charms. So she takes her clothes off. She did not recoil. She took in his scent. She spread her clothing,
and he laid upon her. So they now come together on
the ground on her clothing. And then she did
for the man the work of the woman, his passion
caressed and embraced her. That's to say the
intercourse starts. And then it lasts for six
days and seven nights. And Enkidu was erect as
he coupled with Shamhat. The way that the poet
has organized the text is that Shamhat occurs
there and there. And Enkidu is
sandwiched between. Because his entire
concentration, his mind, his senses,
are all at that point concentrated upon
the prostitute. So here he is sandwiched
between Shamhat. And he hasn't a thought
for anything else, a glance for anything else,
he's absorbed entirely with the prostitute. But after the intercourse has
stopped, when with her delights she was fully sated, he
turned his gaze to his heard. These are the animals he
grew up with in the wild. The gazelles saw Enkidu
and started to run. The beasts of the field
shied away from his presence. And if you look
here again Enkidu is sandwiched this time,
not by the prostitute, whom he's had enough of, but the
animals with whom he grew up. His heard called here the
beasts of the field as well. So it's a mark of a very
careful poetic organization. And Babylonian
poetry is like this. It's very formal. It has a particular way
of telling narrative in short statements, but also
more complex things happen. So that here we can see that the
poet has thought very carefully about where to put
the name of Enkidu. Not here, but here. An old Babylonian
example is this– this tablet from
the 18th century BC joined from a piece in
Berlin, and the piece in the British Museum. They were put
together in 1994 when they were allowed to
kiss, just briefly, at the conference in Berlin. But then this piece went back
into the pocket of the curator from London, and
was taken home again and they are now divorced. But this is a passage in
which Gilgamesh reaches the end of the world,
and he meets an alewife who's asked what he's doing. And he says– explains, I've
got to go and see Utnapishtim, because I want to become
immortal, where is he? Can you help me get there? And she says, don't be silly. No one's ever done that. In any case, there are better
things to do with your life than go on a mad
quest for immortality. Why don't you make
merry each day? Dance and play day and night. Let your clothes be clean. Let your head to be washed. May you bathe in water. Gaze on the little one
who holds your hand. Let a woman enjoy
or repeated embrace. For such is the destiny. That text now runs out, but
it must be of mortal men. And the fourth
line of this verse, second line of this
couplet, is lost. But again we can see in play the
ideas come in two line couplets here. Make merry, dance and play. Keep nice and clean. Enjoy the company of
your family, for that's what you've got to do. Good advice. And this is actually one
of the most famous bits I think of Gilgamesh,
not only because it's such a beautiful little
picture of domestic harmony and simple living where
in lie human happiness. But also because it's so like
a passage in Ecclesiastes. Now another thing
I like about this is when it says, gaze on
the little one who hand– gaze on the little one
who holds your hand, the cadent is subbi
sehram sabitu qatika. And I don't know whether
I'm the only person in the world who thinks that
in the sound subbi and sabitu– subbi, sabitu– there's
little kissing noises, because you kiss
your babies when you bounce them on your knee. So we can– because we have the
vowels, and we have the words, we can understand and appreciate
the aesthetically the Gilgamesh epic. It's more than just a story. We can appreciate
it as well, not just for what it tells us in
terms of a narrative, but also in terms of
the way it's structured and the sound of it. Which is a wonderful thing to
be able to do after 3,000 years. The last avenue of approach to
the Epic of Gilgamesh is to ask the question, does this old
poem mean anything to a modern readership, a modern audience,
4,000-3,000 years later. Good question, right? Well, this passage
which we've just seen, ends with a statement, such
is the destiny of mortal men. So you understand here already
in the old Babylonian poem, and I haven't yet– I haven't really
properly explained that because of the nature of
our discoveries of clay tablets we have versions of the
text from the old Babylonian period the 4,000 years
ago, as well as to much later from the
Nineveh, which is 3– 2 and 1/2 thousand years ago. So we've got a
history of the text as well as the extent of
the poem to be considered. But in this old
Babylonian episode already the poet is saying,
this is human destiny. There's a message going
out here to the readership or the audience. This poet is telling
you something about the human condition. That it's the duty of humans
to make merry, to be clean, and to enjoy family life. That's what we're for. Well, this idea of
a poet who wants to tell us about
the human condition is very much more clear from
the first millennium version of the poem of which
we've got much more. And it begins like
this, we already begin to see the nature of
the interest of this poet from the very
beginning of the poem. And it starts like this. [NON-ENGLISH] He who saw the Deep, the
country's foundation, who knew the proper ways,
was wise in all matters! Gilgamesh, who saw the Deep,
the country's foundation, who knew the proper ways,
was wise in all matters! Immediately you are familiar. This is Babylonian poetry. We're doing things
two lines at the time. And here the second couplet
is the same as the first, but with the name
Gilgamesh chucked in. He explored everywhere
the seats of power, and learned of everything
the sum of wisdom. He saw what was secret,
discovered what was hidden, he brought back a tale
of before the Deluge. So he went everywhere,
learned everything, including secret stuff from
the most ancient period. It's the burden of the
two couplets there. He came a far road,
he went a long way, he went all over the world. Was weary, found peace, all his
labours were set on a tablet of stone. And there's a change here
from a very active hero going everywhere, finding
out stuff, going a long way, coming back. And suddenly everything
goes non-active. He was weary. He found peace. And he didn't even himself
write his labours on a tablet of stone. They were passively set there. It's as if he went
on this long journey, and then having come home he
couldn't do anything more. He was exhausted. He just stopped,
which is interesting. It tell us a little
bit about what we might expect in the poem. A story about a man who
went on a long journey, did everything, found out
everything, but then stopped. The end of this
prologue has an address to the reader, or the
audience, but in the singular. So the poet is talking to
each and every one of us individually. Says, climb Uruk's wall
and walk back and forth! Survey its foundations,
examine the brickwork! Were it's bricks not
fired in an oven? Did the seven sages not
lay its foundations? Typical Babylonian poetry again,
two little couplets there. Telling you what to do. You've got to climb up,
and have a look around. This great city wall
that Gilgamesh built. And ask you these questions. It's old, isn't it? Very old. Made of this expensive
material, baked brick. And then you get this
very strange statement which is in prose. Now Babylon poets didn't
put prose in their poetry. But this one did, and if he did
he did it for very good reason. So this is not some
kind of footnote. This is really very
important, and we'll find out why in a moment. We go back to poetry. While walking
around on this wall you've got to find a
tablet box of cedar and release its
clasps of bronze! Lift the lid of its secret, pick
up the tablet of lapis lazuli and read out. That's the end of the sequence
of four lines arranged in the two line couplets. Find this thing, open up the
lid, lift out the tablet, and read. And then there's a fifth
line which doesn't belong in the structure of the poem. It's extraneous. It's just as odd, this fifth
line, as this bit of prose is here. And so I say this
is important also. Extra important because
it's disjunctive. It's breaking up
the poem, and it's doing that because
the poet wants you to pay special attention now. And the special attention
to which you've got to pay– which you've got to
pay is to this line, read out the travails
levels of Gilgamesh, all that he went through. So now we say this
is not a poem anymore about a hero who is
glorious; a great king who undertakes heroic deeds. This is a poem about a person
who went through hardship. The travails of Gilgamesh. All that he went through. And that is the end
of the prologues. Everything that follows
the story of Gilgamesh, in this first millennium
version of the poem, the standard
Babylonian Gilgamesh, is expressed as the travails
of Gilgamesh, as hardship. It was an epic career of pain. And when he gets there to
the flood hero's island beyond the waters of death
at the edge of the Earth. Utnapishtim the
flood hero has things to say to him, which might
be said to all of us. There's a kind of
sermon or homily. He says to Gilgamesh,
what are you doing going on this mad quest? You look a mess. All your clothing is worn out. And you've abandoned your
city, and come out here. And you're a king. You're not supposed to
be doing this stuff. And he tells him
some home truths. Man is snapped off like a
reed in a canebrake, he says. The comely young man,
the pretty young woman- all too soon in their
prime, death abducts them! And then there's an empty line. It's kind of shocking void. That's– you're
supposed to sit up now. You sit up. My god, yes. We're thinking about death now. Well Gilgamesh has
been fleeing death. He doesn't want to
think about death. He wants to avoid death. Death horrifies him. So there's an empty space
while it all sinks in. Utnapishtim goes on. He says, no one
at all sees death. No one at all sees
the face of death. No one at all has
the voice of death. Death so savage,
who hacks men down. Yes, death is there,
he tells Gilgamesh. And you won't see him. You won't hear him,
but there here is. He is a fact of human existence. And Gilgamesh doesn't
want to hear this. But Utnapishtim continues. And he talks about
human life in general in terms of human
families, the smallest human unit of human society. Ever, he says, do we
build our households, ever do we make our
nests, every do brothers divide their inheritance, ever
do feuds arise in the land. You know, so life goes on. We start families. We have children. Then the brothers fall
out over the inheritance, and they're cross with each
other, and they don't talk. But the whole thing
goes on again. It's ever, ever, ever, ever. It all happens. Over and over again. But also what happens over
again is this stanza here. Ever the river has
risen and brought us the flood, the mayfly
floating on the water. There's a mayfly there. On the face of the sun
its countenance gazes, then all of a sudden
nothing is there. So there's a contrast here
between the communal life of human beings creating a
family and a kind of cycle that goes on and on and on
and the individual mayfly that lasts about a moment before
it disappears without trace. It sees the sun for a
moment, and it's gone. The mayfly everywhere–
mayfly everywhere is a symbol of the
brevity of human life. But first of all in Gilgamesh. And then finally, Utnapishtim
talks about human destiny. He says, the abducted and the
dead, how alike is their lot! But never was drawn
the likeness of Death. Earlier he talked about
death abducting human beings, but there's a difference
between people who are kidnapped by the
enemy and people who are dead. Because you are never going
to see the dead again. Never in the land did
the dead greet a man. And there's another
empty line there. Another shocking void, as
it sinks into Gilgamesh. That death is actually final. There's no coming back. Utnapishtim explains, the
Anuannaki, the great gods held an assembly, and
Mammitum, the mother goddess, maker of destiny,
fixed fates with them. Both death and life
they have established. But the day of death
they do not disclose. And elsewhere we find
that life is what the gods kept for themselves. Death is what they
gave to mankind. So you're going to
die, says Utnapishtim, and you don't know when. And it's final. It's final. And then we come to
the end of the poem. A meditation on death, this
poem turns out to be then. But it's not all gloom. At the end of the
poem Gilgamesh, having returned from
Utnapishtim island across the waters of death. With his friend the ferryman,
and having lost on the way the plant of rejuvenation which
was this last compensation, comes back to
Uruk, his hometown. And he addresses his
companion with these words. He says, O Ur-shanabi,
climb Uruk's wall and walk back and forth! And we immediately find we're
in a stanza we had before right at the beginning when
the poet was asking each individual in his
audience to climb Uruk's wall and walk back and forth. Survey its foundations,
examine the brickwork! Were its bricks not
fired in an oven? Did the Seven Sages not
lay its foundations? A square mile is city, a
square mile date-grove, a square mile is clay-pit,
half a square mile the temple of Ishtar: three
square miles and a half is Uruk's expense. And that's that
passage of prose again from the introductory prologue
coming up, again, at the end. And not just anywhere at the
end, but at the very, very end. This is the end of the poem. It stops at that point,
with this passage of prose, which looks as if it's
a footnote out of [INAUDIBLE] or something like that. But again, I would
say it's prose. And it's at the end and the
poet put it there deliberately. What on earth does he mean? There must be some
message here for us. For long time Assyriologists
thought the whole business was about the wall. That this was Gilgamesh's
monument, and so it is. He built the wall,
and you can still see it around Uruk, the
site in southern Iraq, where Gilgamesh once lived. But the point at the
bottom is neglected. It's a city. And it's made up of
different things. City, date-grove,
clay-pit, temple. What do these mean? Here they are. Uruk's expense. City, date-grove,
clay-pit, and temple. All taken from Babylon,
but nevertheless. They symbolize
something, I think. They symbolize the
sum of human life. City is the dwelling houses
where families procreate, live, continue over and over again the
cycle of human family building that Utnapishtim talked about. Date-grove is food production. The clay-pits represent
manufacturing industry. And the temple, spiritual
and intellectual life. And it's very interesting. It's only half as big as the
other portions of the city. There's a quote
from Tolstoy there, but I won't go into that. I don't think we need Tolstoy
at this time of the evening. Do we? Perhaps we do. I don't know. I left the slide out
that that refers to. So Uruk's expense is
the sum of human life. And what Gilgamesh is telling
Utnapishtim, he's come home. He's done his bit. He's exhausted. He stopped. [NON-ENGLISH]
Tired, but at peace. Nothing more in his
life is going to happen. He tells his companion, go
up onto the wall of Uruk and observe there the city. And what do you see? You see human life. And the curtain comes down. And that's it. The poet is saying,
yes, individuals go on their great
quests sometimes. They get what they want. More often they don't
get what they want. And all of them have
to come to terms with the great fact of human
life, which is human death. All of us. But, there is another life of
humans that is not individual. The life of humans
that is communal. And we must remember
that Babylonia is not a modern Western
country instilled with the notions of the
freedom of the individual that so inculcate our culture. Our culture is about
the individual. The rights of the individual. The place of the image. I think Babylonia was
a more Asian place. It was more– the idea
was, we are a community. We belong as part
of that community we have to act
within that community and what this poet is saying
is the individual is it a mayfly who dies without trace. But human life, as
represented by the city where you can see all human
life, goes on forever. So I think we'd have got
then a message from the poem. I don't think the
poem was created to give us that
message, but I think the interest of the
last post of Gilgamesh was very much in using
the story of Gilgamesh as a vehicle for understanding
the human condition. And out of it then
we get this idea coming very strongly that
what the individual does is not important. The important thing
is the community, the society of human beings. And I think it's this–
not only this idea, but also all the other
ideas in the poem about what it is to be human, as
opposed to being an animal. What it is to be human,
as opposed to being god. What it is to be a king. All these ideas demonstrate
a great intellect at work who knows
how to embed thoughts about the human condition
into a great story drawn from folklore. And this I think explains why
the great epic of Gilgamesh 4,000 years old, when it
was rediscovered, and became known generally to more
than assyriologists in the early 20th
century, it took off. And took on a life of its own. And has been the inspiration
of artists, and musicians, and librettists, and
dramatists, and poets who have not stayed faithful
to the epic of Gilgamesh, but created Gilgamesh among us. And of course,
Assyriologists hate this, because we think
we are the gatekeepers of the Epic of Gilgamesh. And if you are going to engage
with the Epic of Gilgamesh you should do it
through our work. But of course it's too late. The cat got out of the
bag a long time ago. Thank you very
much for listening. This is a difficult
act to follow. I'm Peter Machinist, one
of the local residents. And with really great
thanks and admiration for this discerning lecture
that Andrew George has just given us, I make bold
to offer a few remarks. They have to do with the
interplay of kingship and immortality in
the standard Akkadian version of the Gilgamesh epic. For me the epic moves
through a number of stages in which
immortality may be conceived, only to reconfigure,
even to undermine and so to reject
them one by one. Let me be more specific. The story begins, as we've
heard, with a prologue that refers to the wall of Uruk
that Gilgamesh constructed and the city of Uruk itself. And then in a
neo-Assyrian version on a tablet found at Nimrud,
with a further reference to the tablet box,
Akkadian pisanu, deposited at the
base of the wall with a text about
Gilgamesh's exploits. But at that point in the
story the significance of the wall and the tablet,
with respect to immortality, remains fully to be disclosed. Moving on, the story focuses
on the great adventures of Gilgamesh and his buddy
Enkidu in defeating and killing Humbaba, the monster
guarding the cedar forest, and then killing
the Bull of Heaven. But if these achievements are– or were intended to
win Gilgamesh, and do a kind of deathless
fame, they are quickly compromised by the disaster
that follows with the goddess Ishtar. Later comes Gilgamesh,
his heroic journey to find the flood hero,
Utnapishtim, in order to gain the personal
immortality that the latter had been awarded by the gods. But here too as we've heard
the end is in failure. And the failure
is only compounded by a second defeat, namely
of Gilgamesh's his ability to hold onto the
consolation prize of a plant that would rejuvenate him. To be sure at the end of the
basic story of the epic, that is at the end of
tablet 11, we've seen the scene of the wall
of Uruk, and of the city itself returns. And this reappearance
of the wall and the city after their mention at the
very beginning of the epic reveals their
significance, for they look like the answer to the
running issue of immortality. Immortality presented now not
as a personal deathlessness, but as the survival of
the physical structure that in this instance
Gilgamesh leaves behind. Yet even this answer
is not a final one. Indeed it is undermined,
and in two ways. First, it's followed
by an additional tablet in the first millennium standard
version of the epic namely tablet 12th. This offers a picture of the
underworld from the mouth of Enkidu, who's now in it. A picture anticipated
by Enkidu's second dream in tablet seven, rather
broken at this point. In this picture the
dead-like Enkidu do survive, sort of,
in a kind of afterlife. But the place in which
they dwell, the underworld, is horrific. Too awful to endure let
alone to contemplate, and so completely undesirable. The underworld, in short,
is hardly a solution to the question of immortality. Second, if the reappearance
of the wall in the city Uruk at the end of
tablet 11 forces as back to the wall and Uruk at the
beginning of tablet one, that return at least in the
Nimrud neo-Assyrian version of tablet one does not
stop with the wall, but takes us as we have
seen to the tablet box at the base of the wall. Inside the tablet of
Gilgamesh's exploits now gains a new significance. For its contents show that
it is not just any account, but as colleagues of
ours, Piotr [INAUDIBLE] and Christopher
Walker, have proposed, it's nothing less than
the Gilgamesh epic itself. In other words, according
to this neo-Assyrian version it is not simply the
wall and city of Uruk that constitute
Gilgamesh's is immortality. That immortality
is ultimately to be sought in the
survival of the story about the search
for immortality, which is the Gilgamesh epic. The epic thus, here with some
genuflection to Shakespeare, is about itself. And implicitly its
survival, it's immortality. And yet even this
is not the end, for we must now ask
what kind of immortality does this epic about
an epic represent? It is certainly not the personal
one that Gilgamesh seeks. And if the epic stands as
an impersonal immortality than what it offers,
what it is consumed by, is but the fruitless search
for a happy personal survival. Even more, if at the
end of the epic story we are brought back
to the beginning, it is only to start
this fruitless search all over again. Thus a continuous feedback
loop that leads nowhere. A veritable Groundhog
Day with Gilgamesh, none other than Bill Murray. Two conclusions I think can
be drawn from this analysis. The first is that the quest
for the meaning of immortality and the Gilgamesh epic
is a continuous one across the history of the
composition of the epic moving through the successive
versions of the Akkadian epic. As each of these
versions added to, qualified, even
subverted the views of the versions that
had come before. The second conclusion
is that taken as a whole this quest for meaning throws
real doubt on kingship, as represented by Gilgamesh. And immortality or put otherwise
on kingship and divinity, thus on divine kingship. The background here
was brilliantly illuminated by the late
William Moran of Harvard's near-eastern department. One of the great connoisseurs
of the Gilgamesh epic. In a letter to me
several decades ago– and I haven't found this
in his published studies but someone may know
of it, in this letter he argued that the epic
beginning with it's old Babylonian Akkadian version
was intended to sound the death knell of the tradition
of divine kingship as exemplified by the old
Akkadian kings from Naram-Sin, and the three kings from Shulgi. And that appears to
me absolutely right. The Gilgamesh epic in some is
not only an epic about itself, but an epic that
undermines itself. Thank you. Hi, I'm David Damrosch from
comparative literature. As we can see in
Andrew George we have not only the world's
greatest authority on Gilgamesh, but also someone
with great literary insight and poetic sensibility. And I think, really Andrew, you
don't need to despair on behalf of the archaeologists,
because as you yourself show us we moderns
need your work in order to understand the text,
and get the most out of it. And I think also understanding
this message today, it helps a lot to understand
as best we can what it meant to ancient audiences. So far as we can
reconstruct that. And to build on Peter
Machinist's discussion of kingship and
Gilgamesh, I thought I'd talk about
Enkidu, particularly in that pivotal episode
of the cedar forest. And if you go back to what we
have from ancient Near East, in particular the incredible
finds in Syria, Nineveh, where the best preserved
tablets of Gilgamesh are found, that we can learn a lot. This or this
expedition to get ceder was a major economic
and political activity of ancient monarchs
who needed good lumber, and it was hard to find. And Mesopotamia had
to go someplace. So as one irritated
builder wrote to Sargon the Second in
a letter that preserved, the second-rate logs we have
here are quite plentiful but truly none of them
would do for the job. They're of fir, and
are much too thin. I've tried them, but
I've rejected them. If they'd been of cedar
I would have used them. So what does– what
does this writer do? He covers his ass. The next thing he instructs
the king, now what are my Lord the King's orders? If the king orders that these
fir logs should be used, let my Lord the King
write specifically. And I will duly
comply and give them over to the accounting of
the palace superintendent. So if the wall– if the ceiling
falls down, his ass is covered. That's the basic point. So what you need is cedar log. And for 1,000 years
monarchs praise themselves for going first
to Western Persia and subsequently to
Lebanon to get the goods. Gudea of Lagash, 200
years ago, makes a path into the cedar mountains,
which nobody entered before. He cut its cedars
with great axes. So Gilgamesh has a
long tradition here of doing what it a
monarch has to do. That's the imperial context
of the quest for lumber. And this would be
a special interest to any monarchs among
the– among the audience. But most of the audience,
let's say in Nineveh, wouldn't be themselves royalty. They would be
members of the court. They would be scribes,
administrators, bureaucrats, advisers to the king. And for them a much
more direct role model, conveyor of a
message, is Enkidu. He's more like us. Professional managerial class. So and what we see in
the cedar forest episode, and again in the Ishtar episode,
is that Enkidu progressively fails in his role as a king's
companion and counselor. He should be restraining
the headstrong Gilgamesh from going and
attacking Humbaba, who is protected by the
gods, who's set there by the great god Enlil. The wise men of his
town say, don't do this. Enkidu himself says, yeah
I really shouldn't really do this, but the
headstrong king insists. Enkidu reluctantly agrees, And then Gilgamesh has a
series of warning dreams. The gods sent one dream
after another saying, you really don't
want to do this. And Gilgamesh doesn't
know what to make of these dreams in which he
is overwhelmed by volcano, he's assaulted by a wild bull,
a ferocious lion headed eagle, an axe falls on him. His flesh is frozen with
fear and he asks Enkidu, what do all these dreams mean? And this is where Enkidu
sets his own path downwards. He falls into the
classic temptation of an autocrat's adviser. He tells Gilgamesh what he
knows the king wants to hear. In a series of completely
ridiculous interpretations of the dream he
says, oh well the– they are going to bind the
wings of the eagle-headed lion. The lion had the eagle. Gilgamesh itself must
be the powerful bull even though the bull is
attacking him in the dream. Completely contrary to fact. When they reached
the cedar forest, Enkidu becomes increasingly
rash in his actions. And he's ruthless when
they captured Humbaba. The ogre pleads for mercy saying
he'll give them lavish gifts, and adding that he is protected
by the great god Enlil. So watch out. But if it can
procure the desired timber and the glory
of the victory, Gilgamesh is inclined
to spare Humbaba. This is a real political issue. Do you– do you– what do you
do with a conquered group? Do you destroy them
or do you co-opt them? And he's inclined to spare
them, but Enkidu intervenes. Instead of releasing
their captive, Enkidu says they should
murder him on the spot. As for Enlil's likely
anger, that is simply a reason to act quickly. They should achieve a fait
accompli ahead of the news cycle before the gods can hear. As he says to
Gilgamesh, finish him, slay him do away of his power
before Enlil the foremost hears what we did. Establish forever a
fame that endures. How Gilgamesh slew
ferocious Humbaba. Gilgamesh follows Enkidu's
advice and cuts Humbaba's head, but not before the ogre has
delivered a fearsome curse. Humbaba says, may the pair of
them not grow old together. None shall bury Enkidu
besides Gilgamesh, his friend. So in developing the
old adventure tale that goes back to
Sumerian times, of Gilgamesh and Humbaba. The epic poet has fashioned
a resonant portrayal of the pressures facing a
willful king's councilors, whether it is Gilgamesh
and Enkidu or Colin Powell and George W. Bush. It goes on and on, telling the
king what they want to hear. And could do progressively
fails to measure up to the task and his death will
be the result. From the point of view of
many of the poems Near Eastern audience as far
as we could tell, let's say in Nineveh where
Ashurbanipal commissioned a copy of the epic of Gilgamesh. The one with his name
on it that you saw. If they listened to
a recital of the epic in the flickering torchlight
of a banquet in the palace of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh. The Epic of Gilgamesh
is only partly a tale of great kings heroism
in his quest immortality. For Ashurbanipal's
counselors and advisers, the Epic of Gilgamesh was
equally a cautionary tale. The tragedy of Enkidu. You I follow with some aspects
of the visual culture of ancient Mesopotamia, but also
as with David just now leading forward, and as Andrew
concluded leading forward to our perception of
ancient Mesopotamia. You will have noted that in the
title to Andrew's first slide, and then his thank
you last slide, that he called the
Epic of Gilgamesh the modern master– the modern
piece of Babylonian poetry. And I would remind
everybody in the audience as an archaeologist
that it may have been the masterpiece
of Babylonian poetry, but remember how incomplete
the archaeological record is and the limitation of
places we've excavated. And I'd like to leave
open the possibility that other comparable
epics may have existed and or that epics that
entered into the vocabulary would have been part of
a Babylonian experience, or in a Syrian experience,
of their own literary world. In that respect, we have nothing
quite similar to Homer's– the Homeric ethics,
or to the Bible. Particularly the Old Testament. To the extent that
the cultures that produced them represented
them and illustrated them over and over and over again. And it's quite–
it's challenging, but it's not so difficult to
make comparable statements about the literary tradition,
and the visual tradition. With the Epic of Gilgamesh,
however, it's more challenging. There are a number of images
that seem to refer to the epic visually, and I
include three of them here because they appear
on different media. That is clay plaques is the
upper left, one of which in color Andrew showed
earlier in Berlin. And the other two, a
cylinder seal at the bottom left, and a stone
relief from the site of Tell Halaf in northern
Syria of the first millennium. So we're going from
the second millennium BC At the upper left to
the first millennium BCE In the bottom right. However, one of
the things I found in looking for artistic
representations, so-called identifiable
with the epic, is the degree to which the
same illustrations are used over and over and over again. And that's precisely
because there are a limited number
of such objects that can be related to the
direct iconography scenes in representation in the
text, and then connected to representation visually. Now many of those
objects that represent happened to be clay plaques. And I show you how to use the
Louvre current installation of clay plaques in a
vitrine at the left. But then some of the kinds
of images that we have, as Andrew has shown
us partly, of faces that seem to reflect the
text indicating Humbaba, because we're told
that his face is not unlike entrails unless you
would translate it differently these days. And one sees those
very weird lines that look like no
human face, but seemed to coil around in
themselves, and possibly therefore represent the figure
of Humbaba as he appears. Though the fact is,
however, that one would wonder why the enemy, as
it's called, of the epic heroes Gilgamesh and Enkidu, shows up
individually on single plaques. And the only thing I
can come up with that is that it's not unlike the
gorgon head in Greek tradition to the extent that
once dominated. Then it becomes apotropaic in
that it has it's own power, and Humbaba can be used against
one's enemy like the evil eye. Not unlike the gorgon
head on the shields in the classical tradition. Nevertheless, the fact
is that these epics related images do appear
in popular culture in less expensive clay plaques. It is important for
us to think about. And then Andrew did show
not only these heads, as I just showed you, but also
this figure that's bandy legged and seems to have another
entrail-like head on him in a clay plaque. So that there are aspects
of the Humbaba, if it is he, that have awkward
contorted bits of body or bowed legs that
don't necessarily appear in the literary tradition. Now, at the same time, we
do find individual plaques that once again get
replicated over and over again as illustrations of the text,
because it may or may not but seems to represent
Enkidu and the Bull of Heaven in the combat. So that there are
a couple of images. This one in
particular is one I'm very fond of that may have
walked out of the epic, but there is no
narrative that gives us that part of the story, just
the excerpt as you see it here. Now, at the same time,
if you noticed the– the figure that is going up
against the upside down bull, he seems to have wild
curls in his hair and could be there for a visual
reflection of the wild men Enkidu who is not
the king of Uruk, or even the prince of Uruk,
before he comes back to become and the king of Uruk,
and ultimately represents the duality between the
civilized man Gilgamesh and the wild men Enkidu. In fact there are
many figures that seem to replicate that wild
man with three hair curls that are doing things quite
different in showing a flowing vase of abundance, and not
necessarily tied to imagery– verbal imagery in the epic. So we do not have
guarantees that somebody who has three curls is
always already Enkidu, but rather can represent a
wild figure as our colleague Franz [INAUDIBLE] has
discussed in terms of a particular kind
of heroic figure, but not necessarily
walking out of the epic. Therefore, we come to that
very first slide I showed you in that it is surprising
to me that you go through the repertoire of
images that seem to replicate aspects of scenes in the epic. The old Babylonian
period, as up above here, seems to be better represented
than the later periods of the neo-Assyrian, and
the later North Syrian of the first millennium
when the epic itself has been constructed
into this extraordinary literary composition with a
beginning and a 12th tablet and that's almost symmetrical
with what goes on as activity in the beginning, and
reminds me of [INAUDIBLE] and the [INAUDIBLE] that he
talked about 1,000 years ago when we both were young, where
that literary structure does include a beginning
and an end that reflects in the narrative
that goes in between. And yet for the
era in which Nimrud and the texts of the
Assyrian version, and Babylon, and the later
texts where the text itself is complete, or
relatively complete, we have relatively few images. They may reflect
the death of Humbaba and or Gilgamesh
and Enkidu opposed to a monster-like creature
that they are slaying jointly, as here and there in the
periphery of northern Syria. But again we have
very few images of the era that produced
the finished poem. And so what Andrew's
lectures last night and today have inspired me to do is to
go back to that old Babylonian period and look at
what's happening in the early
redaction of the epic, rather than in the later
redaction of the epic that has its own agenda. And there I would argue with
some of my Assyriological colleagues that the
agenda of man's place and the human condition
in the universe may be different in the
first millennium from when the epic started out. And that the agenda of
the epic when it began could have better– more
to do with the ruler, potential ruler, being
tempered by life and experience to come home and
be a good ruler. Precisely because state and
state formation was important, and that that quest of the
individual with respect to death and to life
could be an adaptation of the attitude
toward human existence in the first millennium. Not necessarily going all the
way back to the role of Uruk in early years of
state formation in the fourth millennium
and the third millennium BCE Now all of that is a
way of saying that I do have one way in
which we can make some progress on the
relationship between the epic and imagery. And that comes out of a course
that Peter Machinist and I taught jointly on representation
and text and image at Harvard before he
retired and I retired. And I bring you
to the great Stele of Naram-Sin of Agade
and the Akkadian period when there may well have
been earlier incarnations of the epic already existing. That has to do with
the vocabulary that's used to describe the hero
king in words in the epic. And in particular those terms
that show up over and over and over again
about the able-ruler being full of grace, well
built and constructed, alluring, and radiant. Those attributes that
show up verbally, but then are applied in visual
imagery later on consistent with our notions of beauty. That as Andrew was saying
today many of poetic lines show up in two opposite lines– of verses show up in
two opposite lines. That very often attributes
that are associated with auspiciousness,
with beauty, with allure, end up is paired
couplets in poetry, but also end up as paired
aspects of attributes in the visual repertoire. And in this respect Naram-Sin,
I think, has them all in that he's well-formed. He's full of allure. And he does all those things
then a good ruler is supposed to do to radiate
those aspects of rule that one wants to
take away with one in terms of being a subject
to the object who is the king. So I would say that the
epic in its later form can resonate backwards in time,
as well as forwards in time, but has a lot to teach us. Thank you.

49 thoughts on “The Epic of Gilgamesh, Lecture by Andrew George

  1. Sounds like Yankee Doodle Dandy or Gilligan's Island. If the planet or asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter had a major cataclysm that became the asteroid belt, the fragments that remain wouldn't be 2 to 4 or 8 million years old, but that's quite a span of time if humans once journeyed from that rocky planet, that Mars was habitable in that time, and if the asteroid belt was a planet large enough in the so called goldilocks zone, that interplanetary civilizations could have existed at one time in human evolution in this solar system, its destruction by cataclysm or destruction by technological failure of intelligence of the species. That earth could have been seen as a planet that could sustain the species as their planet was failing with a declining civilization, thus the parallel of our current civilizations ambitions to return to the stars, or planet of origin.

  2. Hmm…

  3. I think gilganesh is 26 ft tall, the way he hold the lion like a cat.


  5. Peters remarks are boring in depressing and a perfect example of over thinking .

  6. The Epic of Gilgamesh is not the origin of the original story of the origin of the story of Noah. It is of its day, what could be compared today to the Islamic twist of the books of the Bible. Noah was mortal. It is a curious suggestion to imagine that even if it were true., after destroying all of the living creatures of the world by flood for no apparent reason, that such nasty 'gods' would not know what to do with a single survivor so they'd decide to make him immortal. The lecturer himself shows how these fables are put together.. By a couple of 'experts' without redress, which are then put into the mainstream to be taught as fact for the next hundreds of years until a truth turns up and puts the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons. Being 'experts' They do present a 'seemingly' true narrative to what are essentially unproven story's of history written by those who, as the carnal minds of men for the purpose of their rule and domination of other men, would have it to be seen to be so, in their favour Thus, as history has shown time and again, has happened over and over whereby history has been written to suit the supposed virtues of the victors by the victors over the demonized vanquished. Gilgamesh it seems was a Cananite.. And of the same Nation of Nimrod who is certainly of Nephilim blood and was Giborine at the time of his demise and on his way to being an even greater giant.

  7. Uruk in my language means to village. Ur is village in my Tamil language.

  8. But death is not an empty place 🙄 although I know where you're coming from😬

  9. I'm Chaldean, which is Babylonian. Gilgamesh was something my dad and his parents and so on all were told of the Gilgamesh story, there are some parts not in text that my dad told me saying it's been told like that since God knows when… anyways, long story short, this is a part of my cultural history. Great post!

  10. Wouldn’t it blow Gilgamesh’s mind to think that 4000 years in his future, I am hearing what was written on clay tablets about his life on a different sort of tablet, my iPad. Makes me wonder how life will be 4000 years from now.

  11. Didn't "tyrant" mean something different back in the day?The Greeks had tyrants who were just rulers.

  12. The Gilgamesh story is telling the fall of Man. The tyrant Gilgamesh will never be granted immortality because he was a tyrant. The ways of the city causes mortality. Before the Flood, man had a sort of immortality, in which one man escaped the Wrath of the Gods. In the Bible Jesus says those who believe in him will never die. It doesn't say they will die and go to heaven. But we are indoctrinated by civilization. We may never achieve immortality as long as we are indoctrinated by the tree of knowledge. We are Mortals because we are taught we are Mortals. You are what you believe. But you are also what you eat. In Enkidu's world, there is a immortal reincarnation. The man eats the chicken and the man becomes the chicken. The lion eats the man and the lion becomes a man. Not all men have tasted death. Enoch walked with God and he was not for God took him to heaven. The Book of Mormon talks about several people who never died. Jesus said when he returns, the dead will be raised and the living will not die. But we rejected his teaching because we would rather listen to books written by tyrant King Gilgamesh. Also in the Bible the two witnesses are raised from the dead and taken alive into heaven.

  13. This is what I.heard at 00:32 …

    “Eternal values of love and friendship, porridge, fear and acceptance of death”

  14. about 1:11:00 my mind was sated (satiated?) with the analysis of one particular aspect of this story.
    poor humbaba. he was just on guard duty doing his environmental warrior best against two demi gods…
    always felt bad for him. i also always thought of him in more animalistic terms. like he was a triceratops or stegosaurus type creature. guess i have to read again.

  15. I need to find a boyfriend who's into this kind of stuff,,,,,58-70 y.o…..las vegas area…!! Seriously do. LOL

  16. That's funny, in the story of "Polyidus", a snake regurgitates a plant into it's partner that was killed and brings it back to life.

  17. Embababa wasn't a 🌲 tree monster- he's the Giant who lived up high in the 🌲 & had been appointed by Enlil [Enkis half brother] to be watchman over the great 🌲's of the forests. This epic tale is my favorite! As it unfolds it takes Gilgamesh on a 3 day journey to reach this Giants abode in the sky. [Jack nBeanstalk]? As a mother- I recommend every child be read this amazing . . . epic tale of the most amazing relationship- one can't help but fall in love with 💓 Gilgamesh.

  18. she asked him to have sex,he replied,that would be unwise because she would only tire if him,like her other lovers…
    this must b the jewish version,lol
    *(im half jewish,but i can still research transcriptions by scholars
    ..gilgamesh was searching,as did anthony later for the yryth of his bloodline,fascinating story,but yud b better 2 read the correct transcriptions….blessings

  19. omg!
    ishtar,or inanna,was not a prostitute!
    she was the grandaughter of enlil,first born in wedlock*to anu.
    jeez…do yur resesrch!

  20. "the firy bull" i feel so sad when expert dont understand this lines..

  21. Illuminati wants us to believe that there is E.T. who created us needing gold and 1 day they will come back to take their place. illuminati's will make our lives hard to where we call for our masters. Then Illuminati's will show up and tell us they are the descendants of Annunaki and they will rule us rightfully. They reason why they need gold is because to prevent some country to back their money with gold. That can threaten the world cash reserve which is USA Illuminati. If ever world ash reserve is backed by gold they will loose power unless they have all the gold or least majority of them. If they get all the gold they can freely print cash without any worry to make inflations and deflations. This is why USA and England is promoting Annunaki. Any place where England and USA is present, they stand side by side. Their Flags are often found displayed next to each other all the time. All the archeologists, big museums all the major media is all owned by England and USA. Even educational departments and UNISCO and history organizations. If you ever believe Annunaki, you are ready for you''re Illuminati masters to rule over you.

  22. Wow unbelievable
    1St speach was good and historically accurate
    2nd one was more a joke
    3rd the women is throwing the old testament in the room???
    A big part (one of a lot) is a myth which was taken out the Gilgamesh epos.
    So please!
    Especially the so called scholars should take a look at the bibliotec which was found, the Babylonian especially where real writer and pencilpusher.
    A lot of the information in it show a different picture then especially the old testament…
    Very interesting

  23. What a bunch a bullshyt!

    In my Fomenko voice🤡🤣😂🤣

  24. bravo. many thanks for your lecture and contributions in this beautiful translation.

  25. 14:57? Now Enkidu was Gilgamesh lover, Gilgamesh love Enkidu? really? I didn't know Gilgamesh was Gay?

  26. Not gonna lie, young Gilgamesh had some serious conviction. Dude denied no-strings-attached sex to a hoe… Most dudes would've taken her up on the offer. This story should be taught to young men at school imo.

  27. Great treatment on Gilgamesh. Wish he would do something like this on "The Great Fatted Bull", the worlds first political satire and murder mystery, Sumerian and written about 5,000 years ago… older than the Babyleon writtings 😁 really hilarious as well as instructional. Gilgamesh was first in Sumer, then copied by the later nations, in my understanding.

  28. He died yesterday and lives tomorrow in the desert, on the tundra, on city streets, shores, mountains and plains.

  29. enjoy your life . appreciate whats about you. spend time with those who love u and those u love. worry not about the end for it will come on its own . be at peace with the world , for life is short, the cycle of things goes on

  30. I used to get annoyed at commentators. But not now. All this nonsense. God bless you all new

  31. Man what is wrong w utube. I tried to find something happy but I get same ol nonsense.

  32. Lecture starts at 3:54.
    12:00 Is it the first temper tantrum by a rude daughter?

  33. Imagine future generations excavating 50 shades of gray and hailing it as some masterpiece xD

  34. Since this story was likely written about 4000 years ago, Gilgamesh may have been contemporary with the end of the ice age flooding, if not possibly before.

  35. The Yews (a.k.a. jews) are NOT of Shem therefore they CANNOT be described as semite. When they use the term "anti-sem-ite" they are using it FALSELY claiming to be of Shem.

  36. LOL, were not "gay lovers." There bond was the bond of brotherhood. It is not really implied in this poem anything homosexual. Nothing in the text describes a sexual element and completely misses the whole damn point. Enkidu represents the uncivilized while Gilgamesh represents what was considered cultured. It was about the ability for the two to be of equal importance and form mutually supporting bonds, but also plays into the fact the king was living irresponsibly, went on a foos quest and finally had to take responsibility as a king and as a civilized human being.I have had friends i was really close too without the slightest gay urge as has most people, even gay people. To impose this kind of wish fulfillment, justification or whatever it is, hardly seems to me as anything schalrly but more of someone reading in more than was ever there.

  37. I hope you do something better with your life than mull over this all the time.

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