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Hero of the ancient Akkadian-languageEpic of Gilgamesh. The great literary work of ancient Mesopotamia, the epic is known from 12 incomplete tablets discovered at Nineveh in the library of Ashurbanipal. Gaps in the narrative have been filled in with fragments found elsewhere. The character Gilgamesh is probably based on the Gilgamesh who ruled Uruk in the 3rd millennium BC. The epic presents Gilgamesh as a great warrior and builder, who rejects the marriage proposal of the goddess Ishtar. With the aid of his friend and companion Enkidu, he kills the divine bull that Ishtar sends to destroy him. Enkidu's death prompts Gilgamesh to seek Utnapishtim, survivor of the legendary flood, to learn how to escape death. He obtains a youth-renewing plant only to have it stolen. The epic ends with the return of the spirit of Enkidu, who gives a dismal report on the underworld.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on Gilgamesh, visit Britannica.com.