Most ancient myth

Most ancient myth
Gilgamesh and Enkidu standing side by side, showcasing their camaraderie and heroism against the backdrop of ancient Mesopotamia.

Most ancient myth

Pinpointing the “most ancient myth” is challenging because many myths have roots that extend deep into prehistory. However, one of the oldest known myths is the Epic of Gilgamesh from ancient Mesopotamia.

The Epic of Gilgamesh

Origins and Age

The Epic of Gilgamesh dates back to the third millennium BCE, making it one of the earliest known pieces of literature. It originates from the ancient Sumerians, with later versions and additions by the Akkadians and Babylonians.

The Story

The narrative follows Gilgamesh, the semi-divine King of Uruk, and his quest for immortality. Key themes include friendship, the nature of human mortality, and the pursuit of eternal life.

  1. Gilgamesh and Enkidu: The story begins with Gilgamesh’s oppressive rule, which prompts the gods to create Enkidu, a wild man meant to be his equal and balance his tyranny. Enkidu is eventually civilized through encounters with humans, notably through a woman named Shamhat.
  2. Adventures and Friendship: Gilgamesh and Enkidu become close friends and embark on adventures, such as defeating the monster Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven, sent by the goddess Ishtar as punishment for Gilgamesh’s spurn of her advances.
  3. Enkidu’s Death: Enkidu’s death marks a turning point, profoundly affecting Gilgamesh and leading him to seek the secret of immortality.
  4. Quest for Immortality: Gilgamesh’s journey takes him to Utnapishtim, a survivor of a great flood who was granted eternal life by the gods. Utnapishtim recounts the story of the flood (a precursor to later flood myths, including the Biblical story of Noah). Despite learning valuable lessons, Gilgamesh ultimately fails to attain immortality but gains wisdom about the value of human life and legacy.

Significance

The Epic of Gilgamesh is not just an ancient myth but also a reflection on human existence, mortality, and the pursuit of meaning. Its influence is seen in various later works, including Biblical narratives and classical mythology.

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Other Ancient Myths

While the Epic of Gilgamesh holds the title of one of the oldest known myths, other ancient myths also date back to early civilizations:

  • Ancient Egyptian Myths: Stories of gods like Osiris, Isis, and Ra, and the creation myth involving Atum.
  • Hindu Vedas: The Rigveda, one of the oldest texts, contains hymns and stories dating back to around 1500 BCE.
  • Greek Myths: Early Greek myths, such as those involving the primordial deities like Chaos, Gaia, and Uranus, are also ancient, though their exact age is harder to pin down.

Each of these ancient myths provides a glimpse into the early human attempts to understand the world, the divine, and the nature of existence.

Online ressources

There are many excellent online resources for exploring ancient myths, ranging from academic databases to websites dedicated to mythology and folklore. Here are some recommendations:

Academic and Educational Resources

  1. Perseus Digital Library:
    • Perseus Digital Library
    • An extensive digital library of classical texts, including many Greek and Roman myths. It offers original texts and translations, as well as tools for research and study.
  2. Theoi Greek Mythology:
    • Theoi Greek Mythology
    • A comprehensive site on Greek mythology, featuring detailed articles on gods, heroes, and myths, along with excerpts from ancient texts.
  3. Internet Sacred Text Archive:
    • Sacred Texts
    • A vast collection of religious, mythological, and sacred texts from various cultures, including ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Hindu texts.
  4. Ancient History Encyclopedia:
    • World History Encyclopedia
    • Offers well-researched articles on ancient civilizations and their myths, including Sumerian, Egyptian, and Greek myths.

Specialized Mythology Websites

  1. Encyclopedia Mythica:
    • Encyclopedia Mythica
    • A comprehensive online encyclopedia of mythology, folklore, and religion, featuring entries on myths from around the world.
  2. Mythopedia:
    • Mythopedia
    • An engaging resource for exploring myths from different cultures, with beautifully presented articles and illustrations.

Digital Archives and Libraries

  1. Project Gutenberg:
    • Project Gutenberg
    • Offers free access to a vast collection of classic texts, including translations of ancient myths like the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Iliad, and the Odyssey.
  2. HathiTrust Digital Library:
    • HathiTrust
    • Provides access to millions of digitized texts from libraries around the world, including many works on ancient mythology.

Online Courses and Lectures

  1. Coursera:
    • Coursera
    • Offers courses on mythology and ancient civilizations from top universities. Look for courses like “Greek and Roman Mythology” from the University of Pennsylvania.
  2. edX:
    • edX
    • Similar to Coursera, edX provides online courses on mythology, such as “The Ancient Greek Hero” from Harvard University.

Museums and Cultural Institutions

  1. British Museum:
    • British Museum
    • The British Museum’s website offers digital collections and resources on ancient artifacts and myths, including interactive exhibits and articles.
  2. Metropolitan Museum of Art:
    • The Met
    • Explore the Met’s online collections and educational resources, which include detailed information on ancient artifacts and the myths they depict.

These resources will provide you with a wealth of information and insights into the rich world of ancient mythology.

Epic of Gilgamesh on Amazon

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