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Gilgamesh Flood Tablet

British Museum Flood Tablet

 Gilgamesh Flood Tablet

The Gilgamesh Flood Tablet contains the flood story from the Epic of Gilgamesh, which is an epic poem from ancient Mesopotamia that is often regarded as the earliest surviving great work of literature. The flood story was added to the Gilgamesh Epic utilised surviving Babylonian deluge stories from older Sumerian poems which inspired the flood myth.

“Gilgamesh, where are you hurrying to? You will never find that life for which you are looking. When the gods created man they allotted to him death, but life they retained in their own keeping. As for you, Gilgamesh, fill your belly with good things; day and night, night and day, dance and be merry, feast and rejoice. Let your clothes be fresh, bathe yourself in water, cherish the little child that holds your hand, and make your wife happy in your embrace; for this too is the lot of man.”
― The Epic of Gilgamesh

Gilgamesh’s reign is believed to have been approximately 2700 BCE, shortly before the earliest known written stories. The earliest Sumerian Gilgamesh poems date from 2100–2000 BCE. One of these poems mentions Gilgamesh’s journey to meet the flood hero, as well as a short version of the flood story. The flood story was included because in it the flood hero is granted immortality by the gods and that fits the immortality theme of the epic. Gilgamesh, having failed to discover the secret of eternal life, returns to Uruk, where the sight of its massive walls inspires him to praise this enduring work of mortal men. The moral is that mortals can achieve immortality through lasting works of civilization and culture.

Reflections on Gilgamesh Flood Tablet

  • Why can the flood myth motif be found in so many cultures, including Mesopotamian, Greek, Hinduism, Chinese, Mayan and Australian Aboriginal?
  • Imagine how many thousands of written documents we have lost because documents were written on material like paper, papyrus, parchment or vellum which are all degradable and fragile.  What documents would you hope are discovered one day?
  • Can mortals achieve immortality through lasting works of civilisation and culture?
  • The earliest civilisations were created near large river systems that were prone to flooding, is this why the flood story is so pervasive?
  • Agrarian societies found that floodplains were highly productive, but at what risks?

Explore

Gilgamesh Flood Tablet

  • Title:            Gilgamesh Flood Tablet
  • Date:           7th century BCE
  • Culture:       Neo-Assyrian
  • Writing:       Cuneiform
  • Language:   Sumerian
  • Find Spot:   Nineveh
  • Materials:    Clay
  • Dimensions: L: 15.24 cm; B: 13.33 cm; D: 3.17 cm
  • Museum:      The British Museum

~~~

“If a few curses stopped me,
what kind of hero would I be?”

– Gilgamesh

~~~


Photo Credit: 1) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

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