The Epic of Gilgamesh is an epic poem from ancient Mesopotamia. Dating from the Third Dynasty of Ur (circa 2100 BC), it is often regarded as the first great work of literature. The literary history of Gilgamesh begins with five Sumerian poems about ‘Bilgamesh’ (Sumerian for ‘Gilgamesh’), king of Uruk. These independent stories were later used as source material for a combined epic. The first surviving version of this combined epic, known as the “Old Babylonian” version, dates to the 18th century BC and is titled after its incipit, Shūtur eli sharrī (“Surpassing All Other Kings”). Only a few tablets of it have survived. The later “Standard” version dates from the 13th to the 10th centuries BC and bears the incipit Sha naqba īmuru (“He who Saw the Deep”, in modern terms: “He who Sees the Unknown”). Approximately two thirds of this longer, twelve-tablet version have been recovered. Some of the best copies were discovered in the library ruins of the 7th-century BC Assyrian king Ashurbanipal.
The first half of the story discusses Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, and Enkidu, a wild man created by the gods to stop him oppressing the people of Uruk. After an initial fight, Gilgamesh and Enkidu become close friends. Together, they journey to the Cedar Mountain and defeat Humbaba, its monstrous guardian. Later they kill the Bull of Heaven, which the goddess Ishtar sends to punish Gilgamesh for spurning her advances. As a punishment for these actions, the gods sentence Enkidu to death.
In the second half of the epic, Gilgamesh’s distress at Enkidu’s death causes him to undertake a long and perilous journey to discover the secret of eternal life. He eventually learns that “Life, which you look for, you will never find. For when the gods created man, they let death be his share, and life withheld in their own hands”.However, because of his great building projects, his account of Siduri’s advice, and what the immortal man Utnapishtim told him about the Great Flood, Gilgamesh’s fame survived his death. His story has been translated into many languages
Gilgamesh was the man to whom all things were known; this was the king who knew the countries of the world. He was wise, he saw mysteries and knew secret things, he brought us a tale of the days before the flood. He went on a long journey, was weary, worn-out with labour, returning he rested, he engraved on a stone the whole story.
When the gods created Gilgamesh they gave him a perfect body. Shamash the glorious sun endowed him with beauty, Adad the god of the storm endowed him with courage, the great gods made his beauty perfect, surpassing all others, terrifying like a great wild bull. Two thirds they made him god and one third man.
In tablet nine of the standard version of the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh travels to the garden of the gods through the Cedar Forest and the depths of Mashu, a comparable location in Sumerian version is the “Mountain of cedar-felling”. Little description remains of the “jewelled garden” of Gilgamesh because twenty four lines of the myth were damaged and could not be translated at that point in the text.The name of the mountain is Mashu. As he arrives at the mountain of Mashu, Which every day keeps watch over the rising and setting of the sun, Whose peakes reach as high as the “banks of heaven,” and whose breast reaches down to the netherworld, The Scorpion people keep watch at its gate.
Bohl has highlighted that the word Mashu in Sumerian means “twins”. Jensen and Zimmern thought it to be the geographical location between Mount Lebanon and Mount Hermon in the Anti Lebanon range. Edward Lipinski and Peter Kyle McCarter have suggested that the garden of the gods relates to a mountain sanctuary in the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon ranges. Other scholars have found a connection between the Cedars of Lebanon and the garden of the gods. The location of garden of the gods is close to the forest, which is described in the line:
Saria (Sirion / Mount Hermon) and Lebanon tremble at the felling of the cedars