What’s the original language of the Epic of Gilgamesh?

The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the world’s oldest known pieces of literature, with origins dating back to ancient Mesopotamia. This epic poem tells the story of Gilgamesh, a legendary king of the ancient Sumerian city-state of Uruk. As scholars and readers alike delve into this remarkable story, a significant question arises: what language does the original text of the Epic of Gilgamesh use?

The Ancient Language of the Epic: Cuneiform and Sumerian

The original text of the Epic of Gilgamesh is written in Cuneiform, one of the earliest forms of writing. Cuneiform is a system of writing that originated in the ancient Sumerian civilization around 3400 BCE. The word “cuneiform” is derived from Latin, meaning “wedge-shaped,” as this writing system uses a series of wedge-shaped marks made on clay tablets with a stylus.

While Cuneiform was initially used to represent the Sumerian language, the script was later adapted for other languages spoken in Mesopotamia, such as Akkadian, Babylonian, and Assyrian. The language used in the Epic of Gilgamesh is Sumerian, the oldest known written language.

Versions and Translations of the Epic

Several versions of the Epic of Gilgamesh have been discovered on clay tablets across ancient Mesopotamia. One of the most complete and well-preserved versions comes from the library of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal in Nineveh, dating to around the 7th century BCE. This version is written in Akkadian, an East Semitic language that succeeded the Sumerian language.

As scholars and archaeologists continue to find and recover fragments of the epic, translations have been made into numerous languages to facilitate its study and appreciation by a global audience. Modern translations involve extensive research and collaboration among specialists in the field of ancient languages and Mesopotamian studies.

The Lasting Influence of the Epic of Gilgamesh

The use of Sumerian and the Cuneiform script in the original text of the Epic of Gilgamesh adds to the historical and cultural significance of this ancient work. As not only one of the world’s earliest pieces of literature but also a reflection of the values and concerns of ancient Mesopotamian society, the Epic of Gilgamesh continues to captivate readers and researchers alike in their quest to understand our collective human past. Moreover, the rediscovery and study of the Epic of Gilgamesh remind us of the connections between languages, writing systems, and the evolution of human civilization.