New Part of Gilgamesh Epic Found

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October 4, 2015

A recently translated clay tablet contains a previously unknown section of the famed Epic of Gilgamesh, widely thought to be the world’s first epic poem.

The tablet was part of a larger purchase of several dozen tablets by Iraq’s Sulaymaniyah Museum in 2011. The tablets were rather dirty but largely intact. Scholars spent a few years cleaning the tablets and then translating the cuneiform writing.

The momentous tablet contained writing from the part of the Gilgamesh story in which the title character and his “wild man” adventure companion Enkidu as they travel through the Cedar Forest. Other known sources for this part of the story contain few details about this forest. The newly translated tablet, however, contains verses with descriptions of noisy birds, cicadas, and monkeys. In other words, what scholars thought of until now as a tranquil forest was, in fact, the opposite.

Also confirmed by the 20 previously unknown verses on the newly translated tablet are some details of the story that were only hinted at elsewhere in the poem. For example, the story of the travel of Gilgamesh and Enkidu through the Cedar Forest becomes more well-rounded because the heroes voice their remorse at causing the destruction of the forest after their victory over the ogre Humbaba, the reason that they were traveling through the forest in the first place.

Scholars Andrew George and Faroui Al-Rawai did the translating. The scholars have dated to the tablet to the 7th Century B.C. A description of their efforts appears in the Journal of Cuneiform Studies.

The momentous tablet is on display at the Sulaymaniyah Museum, which is in Slemani, in Iraq’s Kurdistan region.

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