The Epic of Gilgamesh (2700BCE)


The Epic of Gilgamesh is perhaps the oldest written story on earth. It is an epic poem retelling the exploits of a king who reigned over the Sumerian city-state of Uruk around 2700 BCE. Sumer was an ancient civilisation in South Mesopotamia which is now Southern Iraq. From the poem we know the Sumerians were no strangers to drunkenness.

The poem tells us of Gilgamesh’s semi-divine ancestry and then introduces the wild man Enkidu, who is required to slay a demon living in a distant cedar forest. The wild man is persuaded to join civilisation by a prostitute named Shanhat, who educates him in the ways of men:

Enkidu knew nothing about eating bread for food,

And of drinking beer he had not been taught.

The harlot spoke to Enkidu, saying:

“Eat the food, Enkidu, it is the way one lives.

Drink the beer, as is the custom of the land.”

Enkidu ates the food until he was sated,

He drank the beer-seven jugs! and became expansive and sang with joy!

We can see alcohol was not just food in Sumeria but was a clearly a source of merriment. The Epic of Gilgamesh’s characters drink water when going about their daily or heroic tasks but drink alcohol when they are celebrating. They even had a goddess of beer named Ninaski.

You probably know drinking was nothing new, but did you know it went back this far?


The Epic of Gilgamesh

Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol by Iain Gateley

Sparknotes – The Epic of Gilgamesh

Here’s an interesting contemporary retelling of the epic of Gilgamesh by Baba Brinkman.