Gilgamesh is one of those few basic and essential stories that deserve and need to be told again and again. The material is so dense and rich that it never gets exhausted. And despite its innumerous incarnations a musical quite like this one has never been done before (there have been some other musicals, including one called Gilgamesh Must Die, done by the Berlin Opera with a chorus of teenage singers). We've tried to capture the poetic nature of the Epic (one of its main tropes is repetition, often word for word, of sizeable chunks of the text) as well as its fragmentation, while creating our own contemporary world for it. Together with Gilgamesh, we pose the big question of humanity: what does it mean to be alive? How to live one's life in order to feel a purpose or to find some sort of 'immortality'? And, finally, how to confront our own death?
Yes! Many. There is a plethora of novels, poetry, plays, operas, cantatas, cartoons, video games inspired by Gilgamesh, either presenting the original story, approaching it from various points of view (historical, psycho-analytic, gender-studies, religious etc.) or rewriting it in many different contemporary settings.
Most of it. Naturally the Epic is too long to perform in its totality. One of its great attractions, however, is that even today we still only have a fragmented version of the original available - new fragments are constantly being discovered and translated, but there remain many big gaps which invite the creative imagination to fill them. We have mostly kept the original storyline and tried to make it sound and feel contemporary. The many issues the Epic touches: the human condition, friendship, responsibility, growing up etc. are universal and timeless, and resonate strongly with us today.
In broad strokes, Gilgamesh is a great king but also a tyrant. His oppressed people's prayers are answered by the gods, who create Enkidu, and equally strong hero. After being 'civilized' by the temple priestess/prostitute Shamhat, he challenges Gilgamesh's abuse of power. They fight but end up becoming best of friends. Gilgamesh convinces Enkidu to go with him and fight the great monster Humbaba, guardian of the precious cedar forest. After they succeed, the goddess of love, Ishtar, approaches Gilgamesh, but he rejects her. As revenge, she sends the heavenly bull to wreak havoc on the land, but the two heroes manage to kill the bull and mock her. Both Humbaba and the Bull were monsters protected by the gods, so as punishment they decide that Enkidu has to die. Gilgamesh is confronted with the death of his friend, and becomes obsessed with the idea of finding a way to live forever. He travels to the end of the world, performing many heroic and superhuman deeds. Crossing the Waters of the Dead he finally makes it to the home of the only man ever granted immortality, Uta-napishti (see above!). Uta-napishti tells him about the flood, and tells him about a flower that will rejuvenate him. Gilgamesh finds the flower at the bottom of the ocean, but a snake comes and steals the flower from him. Finally, he has to accept that he cannot become immortal. He returns home and praises the walls of Uruk, which he built.
Sort of. The Epic contains an old Chaldaean (a small Semtitic tribe in the region) account of the great flood narrated by a character called Uta-napishti (in other versions also Utnapishtim, or Ziusudra). Uta-napishti is presented as the only human who survived the flood because one of the gods warned him and told him to build a boat. So, the story told in th Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the many widespread accounts of the Deluge from the region.
The Mesopotamian civilizations wrote on clay tablets in an script called the cuneiform, which means 'wedge shaped', since the signs are made of wedge-like marks. The text of the Epic was found on hundreds of these tablets. The first fragment linked to the Epic was found by the Englishman George Smith who realized he had found an old version of the Biblical Flood. This discovery was thought so important that Prime Minister Gladstone himself attended Smith's lecture to the Society of Biblical Archaeology in 1872, setting a precedent that probably hasn't been repeated since!
The first written poems about Gilgamesh date to around 2300 BC, and were written in the Sumerian language. In these stories, Gilgamesh is called 'Bilgamesh', but he is already performing the same deeds that later became part of the Epic.
As centuries passed, the Sumerian language slowly declined and was replaced by Akkadian (also spoken by the Babylonians, the next powerful civilization in the region after Sumer). The individual poems about the deeds of the legendary king were put together into longer sections, and the Epic of Gilgamesh was born. Around 1200 BC, a poet called Sin-lique-uninni put together what is now known as The Standard Version of the Epic (and the one you probably read or learned about at school). It comprises eleven 'chapters' (written on clay tablets), and an additional twelfth chapter that was most likely added later on for educational purposes.
Gilgamesh was a king of the city-state of Uruk in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) who lived somewhere around the year 2500 BC. Not much is known about him as a historic person, however he figures as the main hero in The Epic of Gilgamesh, perhaps the first great work of literature known to man.
Power. Kingdoms. Lust. And the Will of one (anti-) hero who wants to do everything he can to conquer the one enemy he cannot beat: Death. Based on the epic from Mesopotamia, one of the oldest pieces of literature known to us today, "Gilgamesh - A Musical Epic" is a story of how Man went from Animal to God, told in the form of an epic rock opera with a live band. We bring together the rocky deserts of the mythical Middle East and the electrifying energy of Rock to challenge the gods themselves.