S13 – The Epic of Gilgamesh & Beyond


  1. Sabina Franke (Universität Hamburg)
  2. Kathleen A. McCaffrey (Independent)
  3. Bernardo Ballesteros Petrella (University of Oxford)
  4. Marcus D. Ziemann (The Ohio State University)
  5. Luigi Turri (Università di Verona)

Paper Titles with Abstracts

Die Bedeutung des sogenannten “Edelsteingartens” im Gilgameš-Epos Tf. IX, 172-196
Sabina Franke (Universität Hamburg)

Auf seiner Reise zu Utanapištim gelangt Gilgameš in eine glänzende und ungewöhnliche Landschaft, die häufig als “Edelsteingarten” oder "garden of the gods" verstanden wurde. Ihre Bedeutung und Funktion wird bis heute diskutiert. Im Vortrag wird eine neue Interpretation vorgeschlagen, die sowohl den Kontext als auch rezente archäologische Untersuchungen einbezieht.

Was the Bird in the Hand or in the Bush? Double Messaging in Gilg. VI 48-50, Emar 25
Kathleen A. McCaffrey (Independent)

Worthington has recently suggested a new reading of a line in the Gilgamesh Epic Flood Story that can be read on two levels. This paper proposes that sections of the sixth tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic are also written on two levels using wordplay conventions that were developed and refined over many centuries. Complex wordplay that communicates secretive aspects of Mesopotamian religion helps to explain why Assyrian scribes were reluctant to abandon the cuneiform writing system.
Using the example of the three-line bird bridegroom tale, together with a fourth line from the earlier copy from Emar that did not make it into the canonical composition, several literary devices will be identified that were used by Mesopotamian poets to create hidden words. The technical review will define categories of puns created with homonyms, similarly articulated sounds, and altered word boundaries. The subtext revealed by this set of procedures clarifies why Gilgamesh refuses Ishtar’s proposal.

Ištar and Aphrodite: reassessing a Gilgameš Epic parallel in Homer
Bernardo Ballesteros Petrella (University of Oxford)

The well-known parallel between Ištar's ascent to Heaven in the Standard Babylonian Epic of Gilgameš (Tablet VI) and Aphrodite's ascent to Olympos in Homer’s Iliad (Book 5) deserves reconsideration.
The similarities between the two scenes are currently treated as a (indeed the) demonstrated case of Homeric imitation of an Akkadian source. Yet this widely accepted model has in fact downplayed the indigenous and traditional context of the Greek passage at issue, and unduly simplified the assessment of the legacy of Akkadian epic. The heuristic potential of the parallel is exhausted in the mere recognition of an imitation (where, moreover, the borrowing itself is questionable). This leaves little space for improving our contextual and historical appreciation of both sides of the comparison, and of the cross-cultural phenomenon.
The present contribution will show that a direct influence of the Mesopotamian poem on the Iliad is an unnecessary hypothesis: the parallels, it is argued, are best explained as part of a vast stream of tradition encompassing the ancient Near Eastern and Greek literary production. Indeed, the poetic patterns shared by the two scenes under examination can be analysed across further Sumerian, Akkadian, Ugaritic, Hittite and early Greek sources. Only this broader picture can support an historically and exegetically productive comparative criticism.
This broader picture will permit us to focus on how a shared type-scene was deployed in each literary tradition, thereby enhancing our understanding of the compositional techniques at work in Mesopotamian and Eastern Mediterranean narrative poetry. At the same time, it may help us to propose more nuanced hypotheses to explain the similarities historically.

The Revelatory Journey Motif in the Iliad and the Epic of Gilgamesh
Marcus D. Ziemann (The Ohio State University)

In my paper I will argue that Book XXIV of the Iliad responds to and subverts key themes found in Tablets X and XI of the Epic of Gilgamesh. While there has been a great deal of scholarship devoted to the influence of Gilgamesh on the Iliad, there has been little to none that recognizes the correspondences between the two passages.
In the two epics, Priam’s journey to Achilles’ tent and Gilgamesh’s journey over the waters of death to Uta-napishtim have been classified as metaphorical katabaseis (journey to the underworld). However, the Iliad subverts the action in Gilgamesh in that the old man (Priam) goes on the journey rather than the heroic young man (Gilgamesh). Once Gilgamesh reaches Uta-napishtim, he is unable to stay awake to prove he is worthy of immortality; on the other hand, Achilles has been awake a preternaturally long time when Priam arrives at his tent. Moreover, when Gilgamesh falls asleep, Uta-napishtim puts out (uneaten) loaves of bread to show him that he (Gilgamesh) is unworthy of immortality and so inherently different from him (Uta-napishtim). But before Priam leaves Achilles’ tent, the two men break bread as a symbol of their commonality.
This last point highlights the main contrast between the two scenes. When Gilgamesh arrives at the edges of the world, he expects to find immortality, but Uta-napishtim tells him the story of the Flood and informs him that his own immortality was a one time dispensation from the gods. While Gilgamesh presents the two characters as fundamentally dissimilar, the Iliad does the opposite. After Priam’s arrival, Achilles realizes the common humanity that he and Priam share. He and Priam are the same.
This paper will fit into a larger project in which I argue that the Homeric poet made knowing and purposeful use of Gilgamesh in composing the Iliad. I will argue in it that the Greek poet’s literary allusions to Mesopotamian literature were part of a response to the Assyrian Empire and the formation of Greek identity.
This important scene in the Iliad has influenced directly and indirectly countless works of literature in the Western tradition. A journey in which a character receives a revelation can be found in works from Cicero’s De re publica to Dante’s La divina commedia to Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata. Lying behind all of these works of literature is Gilgamesh’s journey to Uta-napishtim.

Gilgamesh on the Couch
Luigi Turri (Università di Verona)

After almost two thousand years of oblivion, his rediscovery at the end of the 19th century led to Gilgamesh's resurrection, and – as it had been in the Ancient Near Eastern world – he quickly once more became part of the collective imagination. That was because the themes of the epic are universal and its imagery is somehow shared by the entire world, so it is not strange that subjects like the complex relationship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu or the fear of death appealed to the founders of psychoanalysis, Freud and Jung. The latter in particular found deep inspiration in the figure of Gilgamesh: he used him to explain his idea of the collective unconscious and theory of archetypes and even portrayed him in one of his central works, the so-called Red Book. The lecture aims to outline the relationship between Gilgamesh and psychoanalysis.

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