[Artifacts] The oldest story ever told…

Gilgamesh (and Humbaba)
Gilgamesh (and Humbaba) plaque and tablet on display at the Oriental Institute of Chicago.
It is said to be the oldest story ever told. At least, the oldest surviving story ever told. The Epic of Gilgamesh. Stories of Gilgamesh and his exploits date as far back as the end of the 3rd millennium BC in a series of Sumerian tales. Over time, those random tales were collected and woven together into a single and cohesive narrative to which the Babylonians and Assyrians recited as one of their own. I can honestly admit that it is one of my favorite stories to date. It is probably tied with Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.

I will never forget walking into the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago museum and stumbling onto this wonderful artifact. It depicts our hero, Gilgamesh possibly standing on the head of the guardian [and monster] of the Cedar forest [in Lebanon], Humbaba. I could stare at this plaque for hours, if not days.

The story itself is most remembered for one particular feature and [the 11th] tablet, originally deciphered by George Smith in the 19th century. It was part of an archive or library of tablets discovered from the royal palace of the Neo-Assyrian monarch, Ashurbanipal, located in Nineveh (northern Iraq). The tablet recalled a near identical retelling of the Biblical Flood Story. Although, which version came first? This would later be referred to as the Babylonian (or Chaldean) Flood Story.

Anyway, the epic continues to serve as a prime example of how ancient stories were told through repetitive poetic verse and possibly sung in front of an audience to the sound of a stringed instrument such a lyre.

An appreciation for this ancient tale can be seen at the Downers Grove Public Library in Downers Grove, Illinois with a large display showcasing not only our protagonist of the epic but also the his many labors and key events.

The Epic of Gilgamesh display
The Epic of Gilgamesh display at the Downer Grove Public Library.