Gilgamesh is the first great epic poem. In ancient Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilisation, the tale is told of the King of Uruk and his search for the secret of eternal life.
There is clear evidence that a king of Uruk named Gilgamesh lived around 2700-2600 B.C. Excavation of sites in the area bounded by the great rivers Tigris and Euphrates began in 1839 and thousands of tablets were discovered at various locations. It was not until 1870 that decipherment restored the poems of Gilgamesh to the world, providing links to the Old Testament stories of the Garden of Eden and the Flood.
The most complete version comes from the library of Assurbanipal, King of Assyria, who had the original Sumerian texts translated into Akkadian Semitic in the seventh century B.C. They were written in cuneiform on clay tablets and then baked. Shortly after this, invasion destroyed the Assyrian cities and, for twelve hundred years, the story was lost.
A Personal Reminiscence
theme was chosen for one of Octave’s events; The Epic of Gilgamesh.
Some of us were asked to prepare and perform a scene from the poem; Gilgamesh’s twelve league journey through the unlit mountains of Mashu following the death of his friend, Enkidu.
We began by visiting the British Museum to see and draw Sumerian and Assyria figures; to sense and feel the spirit of that time and place.
"Having immersed myself in the project for several months I found the denouement intense. My head was covered and I was lead to my position and then knelt to wait. The room was hot and stuffy with the smell of wax from the candles; my face began to sweat; it was hard to breath; my joints began to ache; I felt claustrophobic; but had a determination to keep absolutely still and endure it.
The time came to start. I stood up slowly; the material was removed from my head and the presentation began. I felt quite isolated and very focused on what I had to do. Listening closely to the familiar words spoken by the narrator, and attempting to enact the movements with as much presence as I could, the story unfolded and the walk through the mountain began. Soft drum-taps marked my steps, stopping as I turned to look back. The light, dim as the journey began, went out and there was only the light of some candles in the room. My steps and posture became heavier. At the end of the eighth league I drew breath and a cry came from deep down in my body. After nine leagues the soft sound of a single fluttering note on the flute heralded the north wind and I was aware through the eye-holes of the mask of the light growing in front of me until I emerged from the mountain.
I felt a huge sense of relief and gratitude at the completion of the presentation."