Among the most beautiful things I have ever seen were the cuneiform tablets we were shown in Syria a few years back. This morning I finished a book I had meant to read since I began to write The Good Afterlife Guide over 15 years ago, subsequently abandoned because Elaine said I would be the subject of a universal fatwah: Gilgamesh.
The ‘new’ English version by Stephen Mitchell (Profile Books, 2004) begins: “In Iraq, when the dust blows, stopping men and tanks, it brings with it memories of an ancient world, much older than Islam or Christianity. Western civilization originated from that place between the Tigris and the Euphrates, where Hammarubi created his legal code and where Gilgamesh was written — the oldest story in the world, a thousand years older than the Iliad or the Bible.”
The story was decoded from the cuneiform fragments on 11 clay tablets discovered in 1850 in the ruins of Nineveh, although they were not fully deciphered until the end of the nineteenth century. And it was extraordinary to read of Utnapishtim, a Noah-like rider of the Flood, conceived ages before our own Noah surfaced. I was particularly struck by the way that story doesn’t simply circle back to its beginning, but evolves in a spiral, reaching a new level as it ends.