The Last Quest of Gilgamesh

The Last Quest of Gilgamesh
The Last Quest of Gilgamesh

After the death of Enkidu in The Revenge of Ishtar, Gilgamesh is in despair and distraught.  Afraid of death, Gilgamesh decides to find the secret to immortality in The Last Quest of Gilgamesh by Ludmila Zeman.

Guided by the spirit of Shamhat, Gilgamesh sets off to the Mashu Mountains where he rescues a lion cub.  Helped by scorpions and traversing a desert, Gilgamesh meets a woman named Siduri who warns him to give up his quest and stay with him for he will only meet with death.  Determined, Gilgamesh continues through the Waters of Death to the island where Utnapishtim lives, a man made immortal by the gods when he saved all the animals in a flood (think Noah).

Utnaptishtim tells Gilgamesh if he can stay awake for 6 days and 7 nights he will have immortality as well.  Gilgamesh fails and feeling sorry for him, Utnaptishtim tells him to retrieve the Plant of Life which will make him young again.  Gilgamesh retrieves the plant from the bottom of the sea but it is eaten by a serpent.

Enkidu in the form of an eagle returns to Gilgamesh and flies him over his great city of Uruk.  “Here, Gilgamesh, is the immortality you have sought.  The city you built, the courage you showed, the good you have done.  You will live in the hearts of people forever.”

Great story of the true meaning of immortality.  It’s not life itself, but the life you bring to others that is important.  Great conclusion.  Fabulous pictures.  Not to miss!

Gilgamesh the King

Gilgamesh the King
Gilgamesh the King

Gilgamesh the King retold by Ludmila Zeman is the first in a trilogy retelling the Epic of Gilgamesh.  Unlike Geraldine McCaughlean’s version, these are picture books with vivid pictures and easy text.

We meet Gilgamesh, a young, bitter king of Mesopotamia, part god and part man, who is lonely with an extreme desire for wealth and power.  He begins building a wall around the city and forces his people to work on it.  At first, they are happy to do so.  But as time drags on, they grumble and complain about loss of time with family, work in the fields, and food.

The sun god made another man, Enkidu, to challenge Gilgamesh. Raised in the forest with animals, he knew no humans and protected his animal friends with his life.  Word spread of Enkidu and Gilgamesh sends Shamhat, a beautiful woman, to entice Enkidu to Uruk, the capital city of Mesopotamia.

Shamhat and Enkidu fall in love and return to Uruk to face Gilgamesh.  An epic battle ensues, resulting in Enkidu pulling Gilgamesh up from a wall.  A friendship forms and no longer lonely, Gilgamesh stops work on the wall and peace encompasses Uruk.

Many versions of this oldest written tale exist.  The story was written on clay tablets that were pieced together when found.  London, Paris, and Philadelphia house remnants of this tale.

These are some of my favorite books I have read numerous times out loud to my kids.  I love the story.  The pictures are fabulous.  It brings to life a whole time period most people/kids never learn about.  Great historical value and a great story of friendship.  Highly recommended.

Gilgamesh the Hero

Gilgamesh the Hero
Gilgamesh the Hero

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.

Lessons From Gilgamesh Part 2

I love kids books and I read a lot of them since I have three little ones.  I also like quotes and I love the story of Gilgamesh.  I have a previous post from this summer that is from another translation of Gilgamesh with lessons learned as well and a summary of the story. 

You can read that here:

All quotes are from “Gilgamesh the Hero” by Geraldine McCaughrean.

“Why live if not to make a mark on this world?  To blaze a trail through it!  To do deeds worthy of remembrance!  Do or die!”

“The trouble with you, madam, is that you start by kissing and end by cursing.”

“It was unbearable, and yet it had to be borne.”

“Do or die.”

“Grab the day and run with it.”

You need “someone who can weather you even when you’re sour as a lemon.”

“It’s the quality of life that matters, not how long it drags on…”

“I’ve had time to learn the important things are few.  A wife, contentment, memories, peace.”

“Bread is like the life of man:  sweet smelling and softly tender at first, harder with age–a hard outer crust to defend a man against life’s knocks, then little by little more and more brittle until at last, decay.”

“The gods never meant you to live forever, so why spoil the life they did give you?  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.”

“He walked through darkness and so glimpsed the light.”

Lessons from Gilgamesh

I’ve been hesitant to give up homeschool and now I think I know the underlying reason–I have and am learning as much or more than my kids in the process.  I get to study what I want to study for once, investigate things and people I want to know about, and spend as much time as I wish.  This is probably one of the greatest benefits of homeschool and one of the strongest reasons to homeschool i.e. letting the child investigate what speaks to their heart and not what speaks to the State’s heart.

I grabbed a kids’ book on Gilgamesh more for me than my kids.  So I’m reading it and the afterward by a Professor Cyrus Gordon from my alma mater, Brandeis University (I wonder if he’s still around since this book is from the 1960’s).  It relates the historical significance/importance of this ancient Mesopotamian tale as it predates the Ancient Greeks and the Bible.  Particularly, it mentions the sacking of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BC (previously thought to have been the first known dates of Mesopotamian cuneiform)–the very subject I am reading about in the Bible in Jeremiah, Lamentations, and now Ezekiel.  This is all stuff I never learned in school and so visiting it a second time has been…wondrous.

So, the tale of Gilgamesh is the tale of a man who became experienced and wise in his travels; and learned what all of us must learn in order to be wise (despite having failed in his mission to obtain eternal life):  to make the most of our earthly lives without chasing rainbows that are beyond our grasp.

I agree and disagree with this.  I agree with making the most of your life, but I see nothing wrong with chasing rainbows.  Dreams are what give us life and my writing career is definitely obtainable.  In terms of little kids, that’s all my kids do–is chase rainbows, unicorns, Pegasus, dragons, princesses, princes, castles, and fairy tales.

It breathes life into them and that’s all that matters in this world.

I can still learn right along with my kids while they are in school.  I don’t have to stop learning (and neither do they) as long as I choose not to.  They receive the benefits of being with their peers at a regular school and I can still learn whatever I want whenever I want.