A Book History of the Epic of Gilgamesh and Looking at the Book as Artifact

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What was the first book? You can argue that it goes back as far as someone placing their hand on a wall in a cave and leaving their mark behind. It could be argued that it was the hieroglyphics, it could be argued it was stone tablets from 2100 BC. There is an immense number of “”firsts.”” The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the oldest book artifacts that has been unearthed.

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The Epic of Gilgamesh is a cuneiform text which is estimated to have been written in 2100 BC. This paper explores the book history of the Epic of Gilgamesh as well as examining the book as an artifact.

What is the Epic of Gilgamesh? A History

Gilgamesh was first discovered and translated in the 19th century. The story became popular quickly because the 11th tablet detailed the events of the Flood story from the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament.

In Mesopotamian culture the language of learning, Sumerian and Akkadian was a treasured curriculum that had to be mastered by student scribes. According to Andrew George in the Penguin edition of the Epic of Gilgamesh: The Babylonian Epic Poem and Other Texts in Akkadian and Sumerian (Preface and Introduction), all the literature that we have in Sumerian derives from the tablets written by these young Babylonian scribal apprentices, many of which were found in the remains of the houses of their teachers . It can be assumed that the Epic of Gilgamesh was written by these scribes due to the fact that not only were the tablets found in the remains of the scribe’s teacher’s homes, but also because not many would have been well enough educated in order to write this epic.

The Sumerian literary texts that achieved the most publicity are the five poems of Gilgamesh. However, these are not the same as the Babylonian Gilgamesh epic that were written in Akkadian but are separate tales with similar themes. The Sumerian poems acted as a source material for the Babylonian epic. So even one of the oldest books in history, has even more history behind it and couldn’t have developed without older Sumerian texts. Other Akkadian works have been recovered from this time frame. Some of them were well kept and finely written, these include three Babylonian tablets of Gilgamesh which we owe our knowledge of the story to.

The Discovery of the Tablets

Gilgamesh was first discovered and translated in the 19th century.

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