History and Recovery of the Epic of Gilgamesh
The critical reception of the Epic of Gilgamesh parallels the history of ancient Near Eastern archaeology over the last 150 years. The Epic first came to light in tablets from the palace library of Ashurbanipal, King of Assyria (66827 B.C.), in Nineveh. The Epic comprised twelve fragmented clay tablets inscribed with cuneiform. Since that initial discovery, portions of the tale have surfaced throughout the region, from different time periods, and in several different languages. By comparing the differences among the tablets and between various versions of the story, scholars have been able to reconstruct the history of the Epic's composition. Although the complete literary history of the Epic is quite complex, its formation can be divided into four main phases: (1) the period of oral composition and circulation, (2) the Sumerian tales of Gilgamesh, (3) the Akkadian and Babylonian epics, and (4) the Standard Version.
First, the historical Gilgamesh ruled Uruk, in southern Mesopotamia, around 2700 B.C., and a variety of historical artifacts confirm his existence. As is the custom of traditional cultures, stories of the king's exploits circulated among the populace and were repeated orally before being written down probably about 2500 B.C.
Second, the Sumerians inscribed into clay tablets at least five separate Gilgamesh stories, the earliest of which we...
(The entire section is 1365 words.)
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