Gilgamesh: Origination of Storytelling
and How this Link to the Past is Still Relevant
Gilgamesh, over 5,000 years old, is the oldest written work, so then how is it still relevant today? This lies in the structure of the story, in its themes and in its intrinsic values and quests for such things as immortality and the questions about death and mortality that are explored in this book. Gilgamesh, the oldest written work and a poetic narrative, holds clues to the origin of storytelling and how stories have involved, intriguing literary critics and historians to this day. Through analyzing the storytelling aspects of
and how this connects to the historical progression of literature and text, presented in such examples as the Greek dramas, one may seek to explore this story’s impact up to present day.
To begin, let’s take a look at the history behind this ancient fiction. Gilgamesh
was created from oral recounts of the deeds of Gilgamesh, a king during this time in Ancient Sumeria, and is most likely derived from a New Year’s Festival that was celebrated in that culture. This story is also unique in that it was created and recorded
about 1,500 years before the ancient Greek dramas, and the story itself originated eight hundred years before the written word.
Another important consideration in examining this work is to consider the cultural setting out of which it was born. During the reign of Gilgamesh there was a New Year’s Festival that was celebrated every year. This New Year’s festival may have traditionally been a purely ritualistic event celebrated in the privacy of a temple but by the time of Gilgamesh’s reign this was a secular public event that drew masses of people to witness it. In this festival the worship and praise of nature and for fertility of crops took place, marked by the "sexual union of the chief priest and priestess of the temple in an act of sympathetic magic, attempting to ensure fertility for the region" (Cook). This aspect and the festival are significant since Gilgamesh includes two particularly vital points of suggested incorporation of the New Year’s Festival. As previously alluded to this festival was for the purpose of entertainment of the masses every New Year’s during the time of Gilgamesh. That this purpose was established and became realized and marked the event’s transition from a secular rite to a place of dramatized recounts and oral culture and flourishing of stories such as the tale of
In order to understand the impact of this change in culture from witnessing the New Year’s festival as a ritual to becoming a medium for storytelling, it is important to think about how Gilgamesh changed the cultural values of the festival. These values and the transition of cultural values are illustrated through this quote:
"It changed from the relatively pure rite in which the rulers that came before Gilgamesh mated and fertilized the high priestess of Ishtar’s temple. Gilgamesh himself is probably responsible for diluting some of the religious significance of the eightday rite. This change may have been due to his own sterility ("He has sired none to follow me"), his replacement of Ishatar (Ishtar: (to Anu) Father, Gilgamesh has blasphemed me!") with his own patron god, Shamash ("When they had killed the bull of heaven, they tore out his heart, and offered it up to Shamash"), or some other unknown reason. In place of the rite, or at least...
Cited: Medieval Literuatrue Criticism
3 (Detroit: Gale, 1989): 4248.
(Fall 1983): n. pag. Print.
Keenan, James A. "Gilgamesh: An Appreciation."
Illinois: BlochezyCarduci, 1997. Xlii1. Print.
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