Has it been a while since you thought about our old pal, Gilgamesh, the King of Uruk, the superstar of Sumeria? Gilgamesh holds title as the subject of the oldest written story – one about a Babylonian superhero. Let’s take a walk down memory lane to see why people still remember Gilgamesh after more than 4,000 years.
Gil, as his friends called him, was fortunate enough to have at least five epic poems written about him on clay tablets that survived thousands of years. In the 1870s, someone was smart enough to translate Gil’s story. This translation caused a ruckus, as there are several similarities between Gil’s story and Old Testament stories, including a Great Flood, which upset certain theologians.
So, where to begin? Gil was not only King of Uruk, he was also 66 percent god, 33 percent man and 25 percent Dacron. Like Shaft himself, Gil was one bad “shut your mouth.”
Gil built cities and ziggurat pyramids and had his way with the ladies whenever he was so inclined. He was one of the first #MeToo offenders. He was so bad he wouldn’t even wash his hands before eating. His subjects wailed piteously to the Sumerian gods for relief from Gil’s bad behavior.
To calm Gil down, the gods made a wild man named Enkidu to act as a counter-weight to Gil. Like Tarzan, Enkidu grew up with wild animals. He was just as strong as Gil. Enkidu got word of what a bad dude Gil was and decided to confront him. When Enkidu arrived at Gil’s palace, Gil was just about to have his way with a bride on her wedding night. Enkidu assumed the role of special counsel to stop Gil’s de- praved behavior. Enkidu stood in the doorway and told Gil that he shall not pass. Gil, unused to being told what to do, was not amused. An epic rassling match took place between Gil and Enkidu, which ultimately Gil won.
As in all classic male bonding stories and cop buddy movies, after their rough start, Gil and Enkidu become fast friends. They decide to go have adventures together. They go to a forest guarded by a demon to cut down some magic trees. They kill the demon and take his trees to make a raft to float back home. On arriving home, the goddess Ishtar falls in love with Gil. Gil is more interested in Enkidu than Ishtar. He ignores her, and she becomes a woman- goddess scorned. Ishtar gets her daddy, Anu the god of the sky, to send the bull of heaven to smite Gil. Gil and Enkidu take on the bull of the sky. After a huge battle, the bull of heaven becomes a barbecue lunch for the boys. This aggravates the gods to no end. They decide the boys must be punished. Celestial cooties are unleashed to infect Enkidu. He dies after a long and gooey illness.
Gil is emotionally crushed by Enkidu’s death. The clay tablet about Enkidu’s death says Gil did not want to bury his friend but sat Shiva beside Enkidu’s body for seven days. This foreshadowed the scene in “Gone with the Wind” where Rhett Butler refused to allow Bonnie Blue Butler to be buried until Mammy finally convinced him. Gil is reported to say, “Enkidu, my friend/ For six days and seven nights I wept over him/ I did not allow him to be buried/ Until a worm fell out of his nose.” That is true devotion on a level of Damon and Pythias or Heckle and Jekyll.
Gil is so stressed out he stops being king and puts on animal skins. He goes on a quest to mourn Enkidu and to try to learn how to live forever. Gil ends up meeting a megadude named Utnapishtim who tells him how the gods had sent a great flood to drown all mankind except for Utna, who built a big boat to save his family and all the animals of Earth. Utna gets to live forever but tells Gil that man can never become immortal. Gil is a bit of a whiner and pleads for eternal life.
Utna tells Gil if he can stay awake for a whole week, he can have eternal life. Gil immediately overindulges in Sumerian Thanksgiving turkey. Full of tryptophan, Gil falls asleep and loses his chance for immortality. When Gil wakes up, Utna tells him to go home. Utna’s wife, who had a hankering for Gil, tells Gil about a secret plant that will give Gil eternal life. Gil gets the plant and is ready to head for home with the key to eternal life. Unfortunately, Gil runs into a talking snake who steals the plant from him. The snake eats the plant, sheds its skin and becomes young again. Gil remains mortal and will cross the Great Divide.
So, what have we learned today? Don’t trust talking snakes. If a worm falls out of your dead friend’s nose, it’s time to call the undertaker. If it looks like it’s going to rain for a long time, build an ark. If you are enough of a Sumerian superhero, people will still be reading about you more than 4,000 years after you are dead. And now you know the rest of the story.