Gilgamesh is not just a fictional character but he actually lived–a long time ago. Although after his death he became a major hero and was even worshiped as a god, he was also a historical king of the Sumerian city state of Urek and ruled sometime before 2000 BCE.
The city of Urek is now called Iraq and archaeologists believe they have found his tomb. They can’t say it is definitely the grave of King Gilgamesh, but it looks very similar to what is described in one of the epics regarding his burial. A fragment of an epic text relates that the river was diverted so that Gilgamesh could be buried under the river bed. Archaeologists found just outside the city an area in the middle of the former Euphrates river resembling a building tomb.
Five Sumerian poems about the exploits of Gilgamesh have survived including what is known as The Epic of Gilgamesh. The poems are a fascinating look at life in that time period–before 2000 BCE. Referring to the city of Urek, the poem tells the hero Enkidu to look around and see the great wall, to note how the people dress in fancy attire, and to note how each day is a festival with music and dancing girls. Another place Gilgamesh is encouraged to enjoy life instead of mourning the death of his friend: “Each day and night do thou dance and rejoice; fresh be thy raiment…Cherish the little one holding thy hand; be thy spouse in thy bosom happy.”
In the epic of Gilgamesh we read a story of a flood which was sent by God (gods) because of man’s sins. In this story a righteous man was told in a dream to build a boat. He took with him animals and his family, released a dove and raven, landed on Mount Nisir (near Mount Ararat), and sacrificed after the flood.
Read Sacred Strands for more on the Epic of Gilgamesh. You can purchase it here.