tale of Gilgamesh is one of the great creations of world literature.
In his struggle
against the fate of all mortals the hero seeks out at long last
the survivor of the Great Flood, in order to learn from him
the secret of immortality. The quest proves unsuccessful, but
the end finds Gilgamesh at peace with himself and his surroundings.
of the epic may be gauged by the fact that as early as the second
millennium BC it was known in at least four languages. Its influence
on art and thought spread to many lands and cultures.
of its close Biblical associations, the episode chosen for illustration
has been taken from the epic's account of the Flood. After a
long and fateful journey, Gilgamesh is at last in the presence
of Utnapishtim, Mesopotamia's counterpart of Noah. Utnapishtim
has just reached that point in his tale which finds the Ark
come to rest on Mount Nisir, while the slowly receding floodwaters
present a picture of bleakest desolation.
To be sure,
the distance between Mount Nisir - an 8,489 foot peak near modern
Sulaimaniya, 175 miles north-east of Baghdad - and the place
of Utnapishtim's permanent retreat "in the faraway"
was imagined to be far too great for compression into a single
picture. But so vivid is the tale which is being unfolded to
Gilgamesh that the reader should have no more difficulty than
did Gilgamesh himself in seeing distant outlines of the Ark
with his mind's eye.
is described as a perfect cube consisting of seven stories,
each divided into nine compartments. Since the description in
the epic is quite specific, our modern notions as to what is
seaworthy had to be discarded. Nothing is said, however, about
the appearance of Utnapishtim, and the artist re-created him
according to his own inspiration.