Press Release

Look! Up in the Sky! It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's . . . Gilgamesh?

(ARA) — Do you know where the archetype of the superhero originally appeared? If you said Superman, you're probably an aficionado of modern-day comics, rather than an ancient history buff. Oh, and you'd be wrong.

The first written account of a superhero appears almost 4,800 years ago — pre-dating Homer, Vergil and even the Bible — in the form of Gilgamesh, the ruler of Uruk who is said to have actually existed and ruled for 126 years.

One theory is that most ancient gods, like Zeus/Jupiter, Athena/Minerva, and Venus/Aphrodite, were actual historical persons. After their deaths, they were given certain hero attributes, for example: divine parentage, miraculous survival in childhood, a trip to an exotic place, a journey to the underworld, miracles, philanthropy, association with the divine and ultimately, deified. Gilgamesh is the first such god/hero or superhero. A modern-day superhero, on the other hand, is a fictional hero blessed (or cursed, depending on how you look at it) with many mythical or superhuman powers.

Fitting with pop culture's tendency to recycle the past, most superheroes draw characteristics from legendary heroes of mythology. For instance, Superman is able to fly, is nearly invulnerable and has incredible strength. He is also handsome and intelligent. Does this sound like anyone we know? Of course: the gods and demigods of Greek and Roman mythology. They possessed great strength (Hercules), they had horses that could fly (Bellerophon's Pegasus), or could fly themselves (Hermes with his winged sandals), and most were immortal. Gilgamesh, whose father was mortal and mother was divine, was no exception. He possessed all the traits of a hero: physical strength, semi-divinity, extraordinary beauty and power.

A new translation of the poem "The Epic of Gilgamesh" has caught the attention of the academic world with its easy-to-read, modern and lyrical rendition of the ancient text. The first account of a superhero is not this epic's only claim to fame. "The Epic of Gilgamesh" pre-dates the Bible by about 2,000 years with its mention of a great flood to rid earth of humankind, and it prefigures Homer's Odysseus as the first man considering the pros and cons of immortality. "Gilgamesh" is also the first account of the themes found in the "Adam and Eve" story, the serpent responsible for the loss of immortality, and a paradise regained, pre-dating the Christian concept of heaven.

This new translation from Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers features a verse rendition by poet Danny P. Jackson, woodcuts by famous artist Thom Kapheim, and authentication by renowned Assyriologist Robert D. Biggs of The Oriental Institute of The University of Chicago.

Written in cuneiform (the writing invented by Sumerians), the epic poem was inscribed on 12 clay tablets that were discovered during the 1850s in the library of King Assurbanipal in what is now Iraq. Some of the tablets are missing pieces due to an invasion by the Persians in 612 B.C., but the name of the author, Sin-leqe-unninni, was left intact, which is extremely rare.

Another first for the epic is its employment of a literary form that deals with universal themes such as mortality/immortality, friendship, sorrow, nature/civilization, and hubris — themes that are found throughout the history of literature and fill the pages of the modern-day comic books we all know and love. Perhaps Gilgamesh would have looked good in red tights and a cape.


"The Epic of Gilgamesh" is available at all Barnes and Noble and Borders bookstores, as well as Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers at (847) 526-4344 or www.bolchazy.com.

Courtesy of ARA Content, www.ARAcontent.com, e-mail: info@ARAcontent.com