Gilgamesh is the name of the legendary king of Uruk (an ancient Sumerian city-state); he is also the eponymous hero of the Epic of Gilgamesh, an epic poem from ancient Mesopotamia which is the oldest surviving piece of literature in the world. He may have been based on a historical king named Gilgamesh around the 27th or 26th century BC (2700-2601/ 2600-2501 BC). Two parts divine, one part man, Gilgamesh is depicted as a strong man with no equal, yet also an arrogant and vain king in the beginning. To remedy this, the gods make and send him Enkidu, a wild man created by the goddess Aruru (also known as Ninhursag, Belet-Ili, Ninmah, and Damgalnuna) from clay and water, and someone who is more than equal to Gilgamesh’s strength. They meet, they fight, and they become best friends, so much so that when Enkidu dies it devastates Gilgamesh. His death also instills a deep fear of death in him that he goes on a journey to find a way to achieve immortality which eventually leads him to Utnapishtim who, along with his wife, are the only survivors of a Great Flood sent by the gods because he had been forewarned by the god Ea (also known as Enki) and had built a giant ship that housed his family and relatives, craftsman, and animals; Utnapishtim and his wife were both given immortality by the gods. Gilgamesh was given two chances to gain immortality but failed both of them and ended up going back home to Uruk where he found his immortality in his famous deeds.
As for the meaning of his name, it comes from Sumerian though the exact translation of it is uncertain. It could roughly translate to “the ancestor (or forebear) is a young man” though it’s also been interpreted as “the old man is (still) a young man” though I’ve also seen it listed as “the ancestor (or forebear) is a hero”.
- Bilgames (Sumerian)
- Bilgamesh (Sumerian)
- Gilgamos (Ancient Greek)
- Gilgamés (Spanish)