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The Epic of Gilgamesh
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Archive EPIC > 2019 - April to June The Epic of Gilgamesh

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message 1: by Rosemarie, Moderator III/ from Canada / YA Classics (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rosemarie | 11297 comments Mod
Our epic read this month is The Epic of Gilgamesh.


Gasmask Dandy | 10 comments (Not certain if this is the right place to post, so if a mod wants to scrub this post feel free to do so and redirect me to the right thread.)

Anyway.... Super excited to read this book. It's not too long if I recall correctly, and I've been getting back into epics.


message 3: by Rosemarie, Moderator III/ from Canada / YA Classics (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rosemarie | 11297 comments Mod
This is exactly the right place to comment!
I will be reading this book as well, but not in April. Hopefully in May.


Susan Budd (susanbudd) | 43 comments I teach this as part of my world literature course. The text I use is here. This is the complete N. K. Sanders translation that is also published by Penguin Books.


Gasmask Dandy | 10 comments Thank you so much Susan! Good versions of Gilgamesh can be hard to come by.


message 6: by Rosemarie, Moderator III/ from Canada / YA Classics (last edited Apr 04, 2019 12:52PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rosemarie | 11297 comments Mod
Thank you, Susan!
I have that version in paperback form. I'm glad that you recommend it.


message 7: by Heather (last edited Apr 05, 2019 01:32PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Heather Purri | 16 comments As if I needed an excuse to read this for the millionth time! Do you guys know which translation(s) emphasize(s) the possible bisexual subtext the most?


message 8: by Rosemarie, Moderator III/ from Canada / YA Classics (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rosemarie | 11297 comments Mod
I haven't had a chance to research the translations yet.

Does anyone know which translation Heather is referring to?


Inkspill (runinkspill) Susan wrote: "I teach this as part of my world literature course. The text I use is here. This is the complete N. K. Sanders translation that is also published by Penguin Books."

Susan, I read this vesrion last year - I was expecting it to be a difficult read but the prose style made it easy. I can understand how it's good to teach.


Susan Budd (susanbudd) | 43 comments Hi Inkspill. The students enjoy it. This is also the first translation I ever read, so I’m partial to it.


Inkspill (runinkspill) Susan wrote: "Hi Inkspill. The students enjoy it. This is also the first translation I ever read, so I’m partial to it."

I can understand this. I've not yet read other translations but I liked how this one makes an old story seem less daunting.

I also thought it's amazing how the story is written across many tablets, and in a language that took a long time to decipher.


message 12: by Rosemarie, Moderator III/ from Canada / YA Classics (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rosemarie | 11297 comments Mod
I have just finished reading the introduction in this version The Epic of Gilgamesh The Epic of Gilgamesh by Anonymous and found it very informative.


message 13: by Book Nerd (new) - added it

Book Nerd (book_nerd_1) | 380 comments Heather wrote: "As if I needed an excuse to read this for the millionth time! Do you guys know which translation(s) emphasize(s) the possible bisexual subtext the most?"
Hm, I guess there was bisexual subtext. I read this version: Gilgamesh: A New English Version. That didn't emphasize it much.


message 14: by Heather (last edited Apr 14, 2019 07:24PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Heather Purri | 16 comments The first translation I read of it (the very bi one imo) was my favorite but I really have no idea which it was. I submitted a description to the group "What's the name of that book???" so maybe they'll find something.

It was a 'new' translation when it came out (I read it in the mid 00s but no idea when that book came out.). It was in plain English, not old-fashioned-sounding or poetic. It incorporated some archaeology of Sumer in its descriptions and incorporated some Sumerian myths that are not part of the epic. Gilgamesh's wife is named Puabi (a guess based on archaeological evidence I assume) and there's a lot on her life as a sacred prostitute. The Sumerian names of the gods were used; not the Assyro-Babylonian ones that some translations use.


Gasmask Dandy | 10 comments Almost done with it on my end. I've been listening to a public domain audiobook on youtube as I fall asleep, and I tend to lose where I'm at a lot. Will update when I've finished, which will hopefully be today.

To Mods: Are double posts allowed? I know some forums get iffy on that.


message 16: by Rosemarie, Moderator III/ from Canada / YA Classics (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rosemarie | 11297 comments Mod
What do you mean by double posts, Gasmask? You can post as many times as you want about any of the books we are reading.


Gasmask Dandy | 10 comments As in I make a post in a thread, and then the next post in the thread is also by me.


message 18: by Rosemarie, Moderator III/ from Canada / YA Classics (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rosemarie | 11297 comments Mod
Please feel free to do that, Gasmask. I do it all the time. 😄


Gasmask Dandy | 10 comments Alright, finished Gilgamesh today. I enjoyed what was there, but I felt like a lot was missing from what we have today. The translation I had combined with the missing bits and pieces made the whole thing feel very unsatisfactory - did anyone else feel this way? Or am I just too persnickety :P


Heather Purri | 16 comments Gasmask wrote: "The translation I had combined with the missing bits and pieces made the whole thing feel very unsatisfactory..."

The story was written down many times, with variations, so how well the narrative flows depends on the translation. There are translations where the story feels very complete.


Gasmask Dandy | 10 comments @Heather

The translation I got was a free audiobook off of youtube, so I feel that was the source of the problem. The translation was probably wasn't very good. Which translation are you using for this reading? You mentioned on you really loved by couldn't find (sucks, b/c I was hoping to see it for myself).


message 22: by Heather (last edited Apr 15, 2019 09:03PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Heather Purri | 16 comments This time around, I read the Stephen Mitchell translation. To me, it felt very complete and ended with closure.
Gilgamesh A New English Version by Anonymous

But, ya'll, I found my favorite one-the one I was talking about-at the library! It's the Stephan Grundy translation.
Gilgamesh by Stephan Grundy


message 23: by Rosemarie, Moderator III/ from Canada / YA Classics (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rosemarie | 11297 comments Mod
I have just finished reading this version: The Epic of Gilgamesh The Epic of Gilgamesh by Anonymous .

The story was written in prose and flowed very well. And as I said earlier, the introduction was very helpful and informative.

I really enjoyed the version that I read, which my husband got at a used book store. I have a different version on my shelf, that I purchased, and plan on reading it in June. The version I have is in verse, and contains other works from that time period. Gilgamesh A New English Version by Anonymous


message 24: by Heather (last edited Apr 16, 2019 12:03AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Heather Purri | 16 comments I’m a Wiccan and Dumuzi/Tammuz/Adonis is one of my gods so I have kind of a unique perspective on this epic. (Spoilers of the whole story ahead.)

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the goddess Inanna offers to be Gilgamesh’s queen. That is, to temporarily possess Gilgamesh’s wife’s body during sacred sex. In many ancient societies, a king’s authority to rule was given after making love to the queen, as a representative of a fertility goddess. The goddess’s approval would show the goddess’s favor, and the sexual and sacred union of the king and queen would bring fertility to the flora and fauna, just as fertility goddesses and fertility gods make love to bring fertility to flora and fauna. The cost for the king was that after a term limit or once the king got sick or reached a certain age (the rules depended on the society), he would be ritually sacrificed so that his blood could fertilize the land one last time. Gilgamesh and his wife would have other lovers to bless with sacred sex (bestowing blessings from the deities who would possess them during sacred sex), but their marital sex would be a deeper, more meaningful expression of love because it would be the union of a god and goddess.

Gilgamesh should’ve politely declined and propitiated Inanna. Utnapishtim demonstrates the virtues of propitiating upset gods. To better understand the concept, however, look to Aeneas in the Aeneid. Propitiating Juno/Hera, who is interfering with his quest, is crucial to the success of his quest. Gilgamesh, who is arrogant for much of the epic, very rudely tells Inanna that she was wrong to send her primary husband, Dumuzi, to the Underworld. That’s only part of the myth. The myth goes on to say that Inanna feels bad about her decision and descends to the Underworld to retrieve Dumuzi and is sort of successful (more on that in a minute). Gilgamesh, at this point in the story, just wants to go on swashbuckling adventures and has lost interest in his kingly duties and his wife.

(To Inanna's credit, there's a version of the story where maybe Dumuzi deserved it, maybe not. Inanna condemns Dumuzi to the Underworld because when she's dead, instead of lamenting, he's cheering himself up by watching women dance. After letting him suffer a little, she feels bad and retrieves him. This reminds me of a story where Venus gets really frustrated with her son, Cupid, who is an adult in this story, because sometimes to anger her, he shoots golden arrows at Adonis-Cupid's step-father-so that Adonis flirts with women in Venus's court. She finds it humiliating. She's also mad that Cupid has no respect for Adonis. The three of them work this out by the end of the story.)

That’s all that the story says about Dumuzi, but I’d say he looms large over it, and Mesopotamians would’ve been familiar with his story. Dumuzi is kind of Gilgamesh’s brother. Kind of because Gilgamesh isn’t a god. Gilgamesh is a demigod, just barely human enough to incarnate in a human body on the earthly plane. Dumuzi/Tammuz/Adonis is a god of love, agriculture, and shepherds. His main symbol is a bull, representing virility and the art of animal husbandry. For the Greeks and Romans, the bull was Aphrodite’s/Venus’s angry second husband, Ares/Mars, god of war, charging after Adonis (Dumuzi), her third and final husband. Dumuzi and Gilgamesh’s mother is Ninsun/Sirtur, goddess of motherhood, lactation, cowherds, and shepherds. Dumuzi’s wife, Inanna/Ishtar/Astarte/Aphrodite/Venus, is a goddess of love, war, witchcraft, and the moon. (As Aphrodite and Venus, she is exclusively a goddess of love.) See the ancient incantation to Ishtar at the end of this post for more on her attributes.

I think of Dumuzi as sort of foreshadowing Gilgamesh. Every year, Dumuzi gets killed and spends part of the year in the Underworld. His blood makes red flowers (roses, poppies, or anemones) grow. Aphrodite’s/Venus’s tears over his grave cause (red) strawberries to grow. When he’s in the underworld, the land is more barren, and he is gone, like the dormant seeds underground and animals in hibernation. This is a time when the weather gets hotter and droughts increase. When he rises from the grave, he recites very erotic poetry to his wife and they make love. The land becomes lush and the animals and humans become flush with sexual desire. Dumuzi doesn’t stay dead. He waxes and wanes with the changing of the seasons.

Gilgamesh and other slain kings will continue some sort of existence in the afterlife. Many Greeks and Romans believed in reincarnation, so they would’ve believed that the slain kings could literally come back, as Adonis does. For other Greeks and Romans, and for Mesopotamians, life would go on in some fashion in the afterlife. Enkidu (an incarnation of Ninurta, god of war, hunting, and healing) sees but a glimpse of the afterlife, which doesn’t seem to be enough to really know what it’s like. It looks terrible to him, but Gilgamesh gives offerings to the gods (including Dumuzi) to make Enkidu’s afterlife pleasant, and we find out that Gilgamesh enjoys lavish offerings after his death. Across several cultures, we only have one story of Dumuzi trying to leave the Underworld, and that’s when he first gets there. He doesn’t seem to mind it there. A lesson that comes up a lot in the Epic of Gilgamesh is that you shouldn’t make assumptions about things, because you only ever have part of the picture on your own. If you respect the gods, you can consult them for wisdom, knowledge, guidance, and assistance.

I see the gods in the story as a bridge between nature and society. Enkidu represents the wilderness and Gilgamesh represents civilization. Dumuzi in a very literal sense represents the middle ground that is agriculture and animal husbandry - developments in human society that came after living in the wilderness but before the creation of civilizations. In this story, nature is innocence and knowledge of nature, but lack of knowledge of many other things. Civilization is knowledge of things other than nature, and has some creature comforts, but it also has laziness and burdens that come with comfort and knowledge. It says, “In the city, man dies oppressed at heart.” City living causes longing for nature, adventure, and freedom. Through the gods, the humans can obtain the wisdom of both nature and civilization. In fact, Gilgamesh is rewarded once he understands the authority and benevolence of the gods and propitiates Shamash/Utu, god of the sun, truth, justice, and law (a bull is one of his symbols as well), and who is Inanna’s brother.

Like Greek and Roman mythology, Fate is clearly not set in stone and is a constantly changing thing due partly to intervention from gods but mostly from the choices that humans make in their own lives. (Death, however, is unavoidable.) Gilgamesh proves the gods’ assumptions wrong many times. However, there’s a lot of unwise hubris behind his choices, which bring about some unfortunate consequences. He’s serving himself, not others. Once Gilgamesh understands the role of death in the cosmos, he finds deeper, more meaningful fulfillment in serving his people, his wife, and the gods.

I’ll leave you with an ancient Assyro-Babylonian propitiation ritual to Ishtar, because I feel like we’ve heard Gilgamesh’s former view of her (half-way through the story) and now we should get the female perspective. This ritual is called the Prayer of the Raising of the Hand. I’m adding a numbered list and paraphrasing the instructions for simplification.

1. Sprinkle water on a garland made out of greenery.
2. Place the garland on four bricks.
3. Light a bit of Euphrates poplar as incense.
4. Cook an offering of lamb over cypress wood and other sweetly scented woods.
5. Provide a drink as an offering.
6. Recite the incantation three times without looking behind you. (It’s long, so here’s parts of it that I feel are relevant here.)

“Ruler of weapons, arbitress of the battle… Thou art the bestower of strength! Thou art strong, o lady of victory...Thou judgest the cause of men with justice and righteousness; thou lookest with mercy on the violent man, and thou settest right the unruly… O lady whose feet are unwearied, whose knees have not lost their vigour… O lady of all fights and of the battle… O thou glorious one… that subduest angry gods… O valiant Ishtar, great is thy might! ...Terrible in the fight, one who cannot be opposed, strong in the battle! O whirlwind, that roarest against the foe and cuttest off the mighty! O furious Ishtar, summoner of armies! ...fierce lioness… Let me behold thy clear light! …Secure my deliverance and let me be loved and carefully tended! Guide my footsteps in the light… The darkness hath settled down, so let my brazier be bright… let then my torch flame forth! May my scattered strength be collected… valiant daughter of the Moon-god… hath not a rival!”


message 25: by Rosemarie, Moderator III/ from Canada / YA Classics (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rosemarie | 11297 comments Mod
The versian I read didn't contain all the stories you mentioned, but I certainly did notice Gilgamesh's hubris and the pleasure he took in destruction.


message 26: by Heather (last edited Apr 17, 2019 02:06AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Heather Purri | 16 comments Well, much of it is not in the story. Here's the thing. You can't read the Odyssey without knowing who Hera and Zeus are. Homer assumed that you know who they are. You won't come away with much information on Hera just from that story, and your understanding of the story would be limited. It's like that with other pantheons. How could I really talk about the Epic of Gilgamesh without explaining who Inanna and Dumuzi are? Gilgamesh is running away from following in Dumuzi's footsteps, and his view of Inanna is accordingly quite biased.


message 27: by Rosemarie, Moderator III/ from Canada / YA Classics (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rosemarie | 11297 comments Mod
The story you mentioned is referred to briefly in the introduction.
I know very little about Sumerian and Babylonian mythology, so your information is greatly appreciated, Heather.


Inkspill (runinkspill) Gasmask wrote: "Alright, finished Gilgamesh today. I enjoyed what was there, but I felt like a lot was missing from what we have today. The translation I had combined with the missing bits and pieces made the whol..."

As I understand it, when I read it last year I came across an article that said parts of the stories missing are down to the incomplete tablets. Some story gaps have been filled in by different versions that have filtered down through the ages, but discussions continue of which parts belong to the original story.

Sanders translation, in her prose style, hides these gaps better but there was a recent translation, all I remember is the name George (I think surname) that is thought to record Gilgamesh with more accuracy. I've not read this translation yet, my understanding is it breaks up the story flow with commentary of missing or broken tablets that Gilgamesh is recorded on.


Heather Purri | 16 comments In the comments section of my review of the epic, I ranted about the Inanna and Dumuzi story's influence, so here's what I said if any of you would like more contextual info. (I already said some of it on here.)

As I alluded to, we know for sure that the Greeks and Romans incorporated the Epic of Gilgamesh and other myths of Inanna and Dumuzi into their religion. They were clear about this in their writings (that Adonis is Tammuz, Aphrodite is Ishtar, and the marriage of Aphrodite and Adonis is the marriage of Ishtar and Tammuz) and they worshiped the marriage of Aphrodite and Adonis in the exact same ways that the Mesopotamians worshiped the marriage of Inanna and Dumuzi.

Note that Aphrodite *did* originally derive from the Phoenician goddess Astarte, who is definitely another version of Inanna and Ishtar. Astarte and Aphrodite even share the same birthplace mythologically. There's also another Aphrodite birth story that parallels the Assyro-Babylonian and Hittite story of Ishtar's birth. The Greeks clearly didn't like mixing love and war (Inanna et al. has a war aspect), so out goes Aphrodite's war aspect. Aphrodite's second marriage-her marriage to Ares/Mars, a god of war-is a disaster. It culminates in Ares killing Adonis, Aphrodite's third and final husband. In the Illiad, Jupiter/Zeus cautions Aphrodite to not meddle in the affairs of war. She does it anyway, and that's how we got the Trojan War. She regained some warlike aspect under the Romans, as essentially the founding deity of Rome. That is, the mother of the demigod Aeneas, who founded Rome (see the Aeneid).

Curiously, there's a part of the Story of Cupid and Psyche that reminds me a little of Dumuzi watching women dance, which humiliates Inanna. Eros/Cupid (Ares's son), who is an adult now and needs to figure out what to do with his life, has annoying ways to kill time and entertain himself, like shooting Adonis (referred to as Cupid's "stepfather" and a "great hunter," which are clear references to Adonis) with gold-tipped arrows so that Adonis flirts with the women in Venus's court, much to Venus's humiliation. Venus, Adonis, and Cupid makeup by the end of the story. Like the Dumuzi story, it's not Dumuzi's/Adonis's fault that he ended up in those situations and his wife forgives him.

At any rate, we see the Dying Vegetation God (Dumuzi being slain and living in the Underworld during autumn and winter but returning to the upperworld in spring and summer) and Descent to the Underworld (Inanna trying to retrieve Dumuzi and being partly successful at it) archetypes alluded to in the Epic of Gilgamesh elsewhere later on. Here are the most relevant ones.

- Persephone/Proserpina descends (or is taken) to the Underworld to marry Hades/Pluto, King of the Underworld, but her parents take her back to the upperworld. Then she chooses (or is tricked) to go back. She can only visit the upperworld in spring and summer, which is when she contributes to the fertility of the land as a goddess of agriculture.

- Psyche descends to the Underworld because Venus sends her there to retrieve a gift from Persephone. It's really a quest meant to kill Psyche (Venus and Psyche makeup by the end of the story.), which doesn't work, but Psyche does fall under a sleeping curse. Psyche's husband, Cupid wakes her by pricking her with a gold-tipped arrow. Psyche and Cupid are love gods, which also means they're fertility gods.

- As a child, Dionysus/Bacchus is on the earthly plane disguised as a goat, for his safety. (Dionysus also has horns in his god form. See The Bacchae by Euripides.) He is slaughtered, dismembered, and eaten, except for his heart, which Athena/Minerva snatches. In the upperworld, he is resurrected from his heart. This is fitting, as he is a love god. (He's the son of Zeus/Jupiter and Demeter/Ceres in that version.) Or, he's born in the Underworld. As a child, he's slaughtered and dismembered, and Athena snatches his heart. From his heart, he's resurrected in the Underworld and raised there. (He's the son of Hades and Persephone in that version.) He eventually grows up on the earthly plane, often dressed as a woman as a disguise, which he ends up liking and sometimes crossdresses as an adult (and his male priests crossdressed as well). He grows up to be a god of love and agriculture (and other things) and marries a human woman-Ariadne-who he turns into a goddess. He sometimes dismembers humans and animals and eats their meat and drinks their blood, and he shares the spoils with his followers. (It's been speculated that this is the Greco-Roman version of the vampire archetype. That's why you see a vampire Dionysus/Bacchus in fiction, such as Xena, True Blood, and Lost Girl.)

- The Egyptian god Osiris/Asir is a god of love, agriculture, music, and death (King of the Underworld). His wife, Aset/Isis is a goddess of love, motherhood (and lactation, cows, and cowherds), agriculture, witchcraft, healing, mummification, fate, the moon, and the heavens (Queen of the Heavens). Osiris's brother, Set, slaughters and dismembers Osiris. Osiris finds himself in the Underworld - the place where the sun sets (This is important because the sunset 'touches' the earth.). Isis collects his limbs and reassembles Osiris through witchcraft and mummification. This way, during spring and summer, he can meet Isis at the edge of the Underworld to make love and bring fertility to the land. Like followers did with Dumuzi, Tammuz, and Adonis, followers of Osiris created gardens dedicated to Osiris. A bull is one of Osiris's symbols, as horned male animals are common symbols of fertility gods (as with Dionysus). A bull is Dumuzi's primary symbol. As for Isis, the Greeks and Romans sometimes equated her with Aphrodite/Venus. Aset-her Egyptian name (Isis and Osiris are the Greek names)-sounds suspiciously like Astarte. In Isis's/Aset's mythology, "Queen" Astarte of Byblos, Phoenicia finds Osiris's dismembered body and gives it to Isis/Aset! (Isis/Aset was Queen Isis/Aset, so "queen" could mean goddess.)

And so on! And those are only two of the archetypes from the Epic of Gilgamesh!


message 30: by Lesle, Main Moderator/Admin (new)

Lesle | 7567 comments Mod
I am not reading this at this time but want you to know Heather and Inkspill, I feel like I have been reading with you...Thank you!


message 32: by Rafael, Moderator II from Brazil and Master of the Bookshelf! (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rafael da Silva (morfindel) | 581 comments Mod
Heather wrote: "In the comments section of my review of the epic, I ranted about the Inanna and Dumuzi story's influence, so here's what I said if any of you would like more contextual info. (I already said some o..."

Good commentary.


Gasmask Dandy | 10 comments I've been really enjoying your commentary and info! I've been dipping my toes in Pagan and Esoteric stuff lately, so it's always great to have more stuff to look into. Keep it up :)


message 34: by Heather (last edited Apr 25, 2019 03:05PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Heather Purri | 16 comments Thanks, Rafael! Gasmask, not a classical read, but Journey to the Dark Goddess: How to Return to Your Soul is an excellent book on working with the Descent to the Underworld archetype (specifically the myths of Inanna, Psyche, and Persephone) for personal development. You don't have to be a Pagan to benefit from it, but it's written for Pagans so expect some rituals. You can rewrite the rituals to change the goddesses to relevant male gods, like Adonis, Bacchus, Mercury/Hermes (psychopomp of the dead), etc.

The heart of Paganism is using mythology and epics as a roadmap for our own personal quests (through occult techniques, Freudian and Jungian techniques, and some other methods like Brené Brown's techniques). Like mythology was intended to do. Change, vulnerability, depression, etc. are approachable when you confront them, instead of shoving them into a dark corner only to erupt during a crisis when you're already stressed out. Confronting what you're grappling with opens you up to embracing empathy, authenticity, confidence, compassion, hope, etc.
(Anyone can PM me with further questions about Paganism.)


Inkspill (runinkspill) Heather wrote: "In the comments section of my review of the epic, I ranted about the Inanna and Dumuzi story's influence, so here's what I said if any of you would like more contextual info. (I already said some o..."

I'm at the beginning of trying to understand how some of these myths are linked, so far, though I’ve come across these ideas Heather I've not seen any explanations that are as clear and succinct as this. Also, thanks for the list of books in message 31.


Inkspill (runinkspill) Lesle wrote: "I am not reading this at this time but want you to know Heather and Inkspill, I feel like I have been reading with you...Thank you!"

Thanks for the confidence booster Lesle :)


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