The Epic of Gilgamesh is the oldest recorded story in the world. Composed by the Sumerians (later the territory would be Babylon) between 3200-2700 BC, this story is about a real king who ruled in Mesopotamia. Carved on 12 stone tablets, this tale has all the elements of a great story.
Gilgamesh the Hero is retold by Geraldine McCaughrean for kids. We meet Gilgamesh, a king unloved by his people for always going to war and putting his people to work on huge building projects for his main city, Uruk. He is strong and powerful.
One day Gilgamesh meets one just as strong and powerful, a man named Enkidu. Deadlocked in a battle, the two become best friends. Gilgamesh, eager for adventure and fame, decides to hunt down a monster named Huwawa. Reluctantly, Enkidu follows and Huwawa is defeated.
Ishtar, the goddess of love, notices Gilgamesh in this battle and asks him to marry her. Gilgamesh refuses, knowing Ishtar has a history of disposing of her lovers. Ishtar, upset at the spurn, releases the Bull of Heaven upon Uruk. Both Enkidu and Gilgamesh kill the Bull, but it does considerable damage to the city beforehand.
For killing the Bull of Heaven, Enkidu is struck down by the gods and eventually dies. Gilgamesh is distraught and afraid of dying himself. He mourns for his friend and sets out on a quest to find Utnapishtim, a man who has immortality since the flood of the world.
Utnapishtim discourages Gilgamesh on this quest but says if he can stay awake without sleeping for 7 days and nights he will grant him immortality. Gilgamesh cannot. Instead, Utnapishtim offers him the Plant of Life, a plant that will make him young again. Gilgamesh retrieves the plant from the bottom of the sea, only to have the plant eaten by a serpent. Gilgamesh returns home, a changed man, no longer concerns with enlarging his borders or building monuments. And the people love him for it.
Gilgamesh settles down, has children, and discovers a new immortality–he will live on through his sons.
So many nuggets in this book.
On immortality, Utnapishtim says “Is the rainbow any less beautiful because it’s short-lived? Or because you can’t grasp hold of it? Perhaps it is beautiful expressly because of that (it’s short lived).”
Gilgamesh: “Why live if not to make a mark on the world?”
On children: “Children. That’s the shape of happiness. A little hand inside yours. Someone who thinks you’re as much a hero for killing a cockroach as a dragon. What good would it do to live a million years unhappy?”
Urshanabi: “Do things you can look back on with pride. Run with the baton, then pass it on!”
Utnapishtim: “I’ve had time to learn the important things are few. A wife, contentment, memories, peace.”
A story every one should know. It has a flood story as well (like most ancient cultures in the world). Great for kids and adults. Great lessons on what’s important in life. Great lessons on friendship as we see Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Can’t recommend enough.