Sometimes it takes only strategic cooperation between the opposite parties to reveal the literary brilliance of our ancestors. Well, this time around an accidental partnership was made between the Suleimaniya Museum (located in Slemani, in the Kurdistan Region in Iraq) and the actual smuggler, and as a result was the acquisition of about 90 clay tablets. One artifact for $ 800 among these precious designs tickled the imagination of Farouk Al-Ravi, a professor at the University of London. And after analyzing this particular tablet, with the help of Andrew George, an expert on languages and translations, Al-Ravi discovered that the object contained an unknown part of familiar history. And this story entails the “Epic of Gilgamesh,” which is believed to be the first epic poem in history and, perhaps, humanity, the first achievement of a great literary work.
Now, although in the Museum of Sulaymaniyah originally it was assumed that this purchased clay tablet dates from the ancient Babylonian period (from the 20th to the 16th century BC). However, the reassessment of Al-Ravi and George gave the date of his object in 626-539. BC, which corresponds to the neo-Babylonian period. To this end, it was likely that the story of the “Epicle of Gilgamesh” was deliberately divided into various tablets (witty variants) to facilitate the distribution among the scribes and the culture of Babylonia. As for this particular tablet, the inscription on it follows a familiar cuneiform script, but contains a previously unknown part of the epic.
This unknown part includes about 20 lines that describe the scene where the hero Gilgamesh (who is also the king of Uruk) and Enkidu (a wild man created from clay and saliva of a goddess and raised by animals) join together to go to Cedar Forest (the abode of the gods), And then fight with the huge Gumbaba. These lines mostly refer to the added description of the Cedar Forest and, interestingly, they are far from the heavenly abode of the gods, which we are accustomed to visualize in ancient mythologies. In this case, the forest is not portrayed as a calm and peaceful environment. Rather, prose continues to represent how the place of dwelling of the gods was sometimes disturbed by noisy birds and restless monkeys.
This could be a rare hint at the court lives of kings, and how they were not as glamorous as their general idea. More intriguing is that the newly found passage also addresses the problems of deforestation even in ancient times. As George said (in LiveScience)
Gilgamesh and Enkidu cut down the cedar to take him home to Babylonia, and in the new text there is a line that seems to express the recognition of Enkydus that cutting the forest to the wasteland is a bad business and he will upset the gods.
At the moment, this tablet, containing a very small (albeit interesting) part of Epic of Gilgamesh, is currently displayed in the Museum of Sulaymaniyah. A related study, conducted jointly by Farouk Al-Rawi and Andrew George, was published in the Journal of Cuneiform Research.
Original number: Farouk Al-Rawi.