Legends of the Euphrates, Episode 2

A contemporary response to the Epic of Gilgamesh

The Iraqi and Syrian public respond to the ancient Epic of Gilgamesh as told by the Zipang Storytellers.

Within the first two weeks, this video has been seen by 258,000 people on Facebook. Overall, the videos created by Eye on Heritage have been viewed over 4.75 million times, mainly in Iraq and Syria.

In association with the Enheduanna Society and the Zipang Recordings Project.

The original Gilgamesh story can be viewed on the Zipang Recordings page

English translation of video


We hear a lot about Gilgamesh. But who is Gilgamesh? Is he a mythical character, or a real person who became the subject of legends?

One of the most famous Mesopotamian myths is the story of Gilgamesh. In the south of Iraq, scholars and archeologists have discovered hardened clay tablets that narrate the story of an immortal and mythical hero named Gilgamesh. This story is one of the oldest historical works known to humankind. It was written several times, in many cities, at various times and in different ways (though always in cuneiform script). The two most famous versions of Gilgamesh are the Sumerian version and the Assyrian one, found in Nineveh.


The multitude of copies and narratives have made it possible to “fill in” the gaps and deficiencies afflicting each individual copy and each tablet. At the same time, this multitude, as well as the differences between the methods and times of writing, caused some discrepancies between the different versions of the legend. The name Gilgamesh, for example, was written once “Gilgamesh”, once “Jilgamesh” and once “Gilgamush.” In any case, it is a strange and unique name. We do not know if it is the name or surname of this person, and we do not know its meaning for sure. Different meanings come with the name’s different spellings, such as “the heart of the flying bull” or “the Heavenly Ox”, among others.


The myth states that Gilgamesh was born in the city of Uruk. The Babylonian, Sumerian and Akkadian versions of the Epic of Gilgamesh mention several similar names for the parents of this legendary hero. On the other hand, the Assyrian versions describe him as half-human and half-divine, with the human half motivating his obsession with immortality.


Let’s listen to this legendary literary text describing the birth of Gilgamesh.


In ancient times, a governor of the city of Uruk, known as king Damu, asked a magician of the city to tell him his fortune so that he would know his successor. The magician told the king that the stars said his son would succeed him, but the sun said that his grandson will rob him of the kingdom and become an immortal hero. Damu was never able to forget what the magician told him. When he had to hand over the throne to his son, he warned him, saying: “Watch out for my grandchildren, for one of them will become an immortal hero and will put an end to our king”. When the king had a newborn son, his grandfather Damu ordered to have the baby left outside in the open to die from cold, wind and rain. When the baby was left outside, an eagle came to him, carried him with its claws and took him to its nest. The child grew up on the slopes of the mountains, becoming great in stature and powerful. He went to Uruk as a mighty one, eleven cubits (seventeen feet) tall and four cubits wide from nipple to nipple. His body was radiating energy and vitality like the sun.


He took power from his grandfather and became a governor of Uruk. He was a tyrannical leader, forcing his people to build a wall around the city. Many events have been attributed to the story and reign of Gilgamesh, some of which happened before or after his time. Some of these stories describe him as a ruler, and others as a traveller who travels to the headwaters of the Tigris River to enter the “garden” – eternal paradise. Still other stories give him supernatural qualities.


This is a poem that attributes supernatural qualities to Gilgamesh:

You, who saw everything in this world

You, who rode all mountains and valleys

You, who overcame his enemies with his friend

You, who attained wisdom and reached everywhere

You, who revealed secrets and saw hidden ones

You, who told us about the days before the flood

You, who rode valleys and rivers and traveled far away until his story was written in stone


On the other hand, some stories mention Gilgamesh’s weakness, as he was afraid of illness, of losing his strength, of aging and of death. He went to the springs of the Tigris just to find a cure that would give him immortality, a cure of those who lived through the Great Flood and survived it. For that, he crossed the country of darkness (land of the Scorpion People), eventually reaching heaven, or the garden of immortality. Having reached it, he was not satisfied with the conditions of immortality and gradually understood and surrendered to the idea that there is no immortality in life. We need things other than power; we need wisdom and reason.

A review of comments and responses from our audience on Facebook

Most commentators on the video praised the importance of the subject and of the Gilgamesh myth. Omran Hwaidi says it is a great legend that represents and glorifies Iraqi civilization and heritage. He notes the close link between ancient and modern Iraq, pointing out that even the country’s name comes from the city and culture of Uruk. Other people, like Sattar Jeaz, think that the channel presents great information about the ancient civilizations of Iraq, with the aim of helping people understand their heritage.

Khahtan Al- Rabiee notes the contemporary relevance of such understanding, saying: “We really need to learn about our heritage, because from it we can learn the tools and means necessary for progress. Through heritage, we find ourselves in parallel with the world – we see that we have a strong capacity to establish and create culture and civilization”. For Ali Sakka, stories such as Gilgamesh bring hope and resilience, helping people continue their struggle for freedom, especially with all the despair, chaos and tragedy in our lives. Salah Kamallaldeen sees that the video presents vital information about some of the oldest civilizations in the region (Sumer, Babel, Ashur) – civilizations whose importance many political parties try to diminish and hide.

For others, the importance of myths such as Gilgamesh lies less in their relevance to contemporary life and politics and more in their inherent historical value. For Ahmad Rostom, Gilgamesh is a tale which has been narrated through the ages – an ‘endless story’ for those who love culture and history. Another commentator agrees, noting that “On the Euphrates in Mesopotamia, a pioneer civilization was born, with the first forms of writing announcing the birth of the human history in the region”. Abo Riad Al-Daraji brings the two together – he is happy that this video reminds people of the glorious history of Iraq because the present is full of chaos and destruction.

On the other hand, some of the audience had their reservations regarding the programme. Abo Faez Shaheed thinks that people do not need myths, explaining that for him, Iraq is a country unified by the worship of one God. He wonders why the makers of such videos want to take Arabs back to the dark ages, just to satisfy the West, which wants them to “take off their clothes” and give up their customs and traditions. For Shaheed, Islam is stronger than all the myths because it is the religion of God, and whoever tries to hide or deny it will be punished by God.

In contrast, for Abo Maan Al-Anzi, an interest in the past does not contradict Islam. He sees in history a reminder of the civilized past of our countries, which Islam came to refine, strengthening the positive aspects and improving the negative ones. Maher Tal Shougaib similarly calls the programme “wonderful”, arguing that we should talk about our old civilizations and the Islamic civilization together, in order to raise an intellectually strong generation.

Some people, such as Khaled Al-Taee, praise the production of the video, noting the interesting way of presenting the material and how it is vivid, with a unique, eloquent language. He notes that even the lyrics and the voice of the singer-reciter at the beginning are appealing to the recipient. Similarly, Mohammad Hwitt calls the programme interesting and beneficial, praising Dr. Ahmad Daood and Dr. Fadel Al-Rabiee for putting in a good effort in presenting such rich and elaborate material. On the other hand, others point out directions for improvement. Moustafa Ash thinks that the direction is very weak, and the programme would also benefit from better equipment and camera work. It is a big issue for him that the presenter is looking into a different direction from the camera. He also expressed his disappointment in the programme presenting stories of “oppressors and dictators” as important parts of regional history.

Some very specific criticism also arose. Kawa Hasan thinks that all history is full of lies and focuses on issues of modern identity, wondering whether the name of Gilgamesh is Kurdish or Arab, and asking “where were the Arabs when Gilgamesh was born”? He is upset that the programme does not call Gilgamesh Kurdish. He further notes that in Kurdish, “Kamish” means “the heart”, and also the strong ox that lives in rivers. His overall conclusion is that the programme is hiding from the audience the fact that Gilgamesh is Kurdish. Ahmed Selman focuses on terminology, arguing that “it is a legend not a myth, because characters in a legend are real, and it includes facts that happened in known places. A myth is closer to a tale. It can even be a work of the imagination”.

Finally, Abdul Yamma Mohammad Jaki praises the educational value of the video, arguing that Iraqis are thirsty for such programmes, which he considers to be an important achievement amidst what he sees as the “domination of ignorance” forced on Iraqi people. He hopes that the region will go back to the saying that goes “Egypt writes, Beirut publishes, and Baghdad reads”, which is an indication of the consciousness and erudition of the Iraqi people.

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