The Epic of Gilgamesh and the English translation.

Who wrote The Epic of Gilgamesh and translated the English text?


The poem tells of the exploits of Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk in Mesopotamia and Enkidu, The-Epic-of-Gilgamesha wild man created by the gods to stop Gilgamesh from oppressing the people of Uruk. The two men wrestle fiercely for a long time, and Gilgamesh finally prevails. They eventually become friends and set about looking for  journeys to share. Dated to at least  4,000 years ago, the epic pre-dates Homer's writing by 1500 years and, therefore, stands as one of if not the oldest piece of epic  literature.  Very simply, we have no idea who wrote this poem. The Epic of Gilgamesh does not exist in a single comprehensive copy, but rather  on incomplete Akkadian-language tablets. The gaps that occur in the tablets have been partly filled by various fragments found  in Mesopotamia and elsewhere. The story itself  had to be a product of the oral tradition that was told  before the tablets came into existence.



Hormuzd Rassam11, (1826 – 16 September 1910)  was an Assyrian archeologist in Mesopotamia who made several important discoveries from 1877 to 1882, including the clay tablets that contained the Epic of Gilgamesh, which is an Akkadin translation of an earlier Sumerian poem. He is accepted as the first-known AssyrianOttoman and Middle Eastern archaeologist.

Modern day translations draw on multiple fragments in order to provide a generally clear story of the epic. George Smith 2 (Chelsea, London 26 March 1840 – 19 August 1876), is credited with the first translation of  the text to English in the early 1870’s.  The clay tablets he translated were written in  cuneiform, an alphabet not a language, used by Near Eastern languages including Sumerian, Akkadian, Urartian and Hittite.  Cuneiform letters are formed by impressing a cut reed into soft clay. Depending on the language of use, it can contain many hundreds of letters, and to make things more challenging, it contains no punctuation. There were so few people who could read ancient cuneiform that the fragment lay undisturbed in the British Museum for nearly 20 years until Smith came along.

daily telegraphThe ''flood’’ tablet that Smith first encountered and translated, constituted the 11th part of the 12-part Epic, and belonged to a pile of shards the British Museum had collected from the Ottoman Empire 20 years earlier. On November 14, 1872, The Daily Telegraph 3, published a sneak preview of  Smith’s discovery.  This generated a firestorm of controversy as the Epic’s rediscovery was about Gilgamesh’s voyages which were analogues to an early version of the Bible's Noah—a noticeable similarity. The  Victorian debates over religion and science were at their peak when Smith translated the fragments, and Gilgamesh was pressed into clay at least 1,000 years before the Bible’s first books. The impact of the discovery challenged literary and biblical scholarship and would help to redefine beliefs about the age of the Earth.

George Smith and archaeologist-diplomat Hormuzd Rassam,  are the central figures in bringing Gilgamesh to modern light.  Currently, the Gilgamesh Epic is about 70%  complete and spread across twelve cuneiform tablets,. The portion that Smith first encountered is almost entirely readable. But large chunks of other parts are either gone forever or remain buried in the sands of Iraq, awaiting their own George Smith.


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