Teaching Gilgamesh: The Historical Context of Obliteration

Dr. M. Lynn Rose
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The Epic of Gilgamesh is the world’s first true literature: that is, it is a story about the nature of humanity rather than the lists of property that preceded it. The tale was born in the third millennium BC. The version that has survived in writing focuses on the king of Uruk. At the narration’s conclusion, Gilgamesh and his companion Urshabi return to Uruk, and Gilgamesh explains: “This is the wall of Uruk, which no city on earth can equal. See how its ramparts gleam like copper in the sun” (Book 11). The archaeological site of Uruk is now in shambles, gutted by war and consequent looting, and the World Monuments Watch took the unprecedented step of including the entire country of Iraq on its “100 Most Endangered Sites.” Some of the 10,000 archaeological sites have suffered such extensive damage that excavation is no longer possible. The Epic of Gilgamesh parallels the destruction of the city that gave it birth. Everything but the gods die, yet the human spirit attains immortality through the power of the spoken and written word. The course that I summarize here, which is in part a lament for the destruction of Iraq, examines the Epic from several angles: the historical context of third millennium BC Mesopotamia; several aspects of social history such as childhood, gender, and old age; from the perspective of several aspects of economic, political, and military history; as well as the question of textual transmission and modern legacy.

Keywords: Gilgamesh, Epic, Obliteration, Teaching, Memory
Stream: History, Historiography
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Teaching Gilgamesh

Dr. M. Lynn Rose

Associate Professor, History, Truman State University

The ancient world first enchanted me as a child, when my parents and I moved from Indiana to join my extended family in Egypt for three years. It was a privilege to live there during the leadership of President Gamal Abdel Nasser, and a privilege to live where ancient history is part of the everyday landscape. During the summers, we escaped the Cairo heat by traveling to Greece, where the remains of that ancient past are also ubiquitous. Since then, I have maintained a passion for the ancient world and acquired another, disability studies. I became interested in disability issues and disability rights when I was doing my undergraduate work in history at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. When it came time to choose a topic for my Ph.D. dissertation--which I also completed at Minnesota--disability in the ancient Greek world seemed a natural choice. I continue to combine my interests by researching material on disability and the ancient world; for example, my book, _The Staff of Oedipus: Transforming Disability in Ancient Greece_, was published in 2003 by the University of Michigan Press. I spent the 2003-4 academic year in Germany as a Mary E. Switzer Distinguished Fellow, investigating intellectual disability in ancient Greece, and traveling to countries such as Jordan, where I fulfilled a lifelong dream of bathing in the Dead Sea.

Ref: H06P0068