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Most of the time, the term "demigod" is used to describe people who are the offspring of a god and a human. As far as I know, Gilgamesh is the child of a goddess and a king. Why then is Gilgamesh considered to be one-third human and two-third god when he is the offspring of a god(dess) and a human? Is there a story behind this, one that's about his conception?

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    Where did you come across the one-third/two-third claim? – HDE 226868 Jul 28 '16 at 23:07
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    The Epic of Gilgamesh is the standard Babylonian version: Who is there can rival his kingly standing, and say like Gilgamesh, "It is I am the King"? Gilgamesh was his name from the day he was born, two-third of him god and one third human. – Gibet Aug 11 '16 at 7:54
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Gilgamesh was a recurring character in Mesopotamian myths/stories. The most renown of those stories is the Epic of Gilgamesh where those numbers appears. But he and his slave/servant/friend/buddy/lover Enkidu are in numerous other stories. And in none other those funny proportions are mentioned.

It is also good to be aware that the Epic comes to us in various versions. There is no (right now) any complete version of the myth per se. It is just a reconstruction from different tablets.

Now the Epic does not give any rational explanation about the proportion. Just remind it is barely a detail trying to make clear Gilgamesh is far beyond any normal human being. As long as it is striking you enough as being "totally abnormal" the one who wrote it did succeed.

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Presumably because he seemed that much more like a god than like a man.

Our present understanding of heredity was not yet available, and absent that, the proportion between the genetic inheritances from father and mother was pretty much anyone’s guess. In the Eumenides of Aeschylus, the god Apollo claims the father’s share is 100%! (The chorus of Furies does not buy it.) Sterne in Tristram Shandy (Vol. 1 [1759] Chap. 2) mocks the somewhat similar theory of the spermatozoon as containing a miniature but complete version of the person to be begotten, the homunculus.

Even with the benefit of modern understanding of chromosomes, meiosis, and fertilization, the notion persists that one can be one-quarter Czech (or whatever), because exactly one grandparent was supposedly pure Czech, despite the obvious arithmetical fact that the number of chromosomes in our species’ somatic cell nuclei, forty-six, is not an integral multiple of four. This obsolete notion is even written into current law, with current real consequences, as applied to membership in recognized Indian tribes within the United States.

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    Even if genetic is not known by Babylonians (!) They clearly knew how to make children... and they came from a man and woman as attested by Gilgamesh being the son of Luglbanda and the goddess Ninsunum. Lugalbanda is the son of the god Utu and an unnamed mortal female. Making him half god. Notice so his blood part is 50% god like, and if you think his mother could have been also half god then the limit of that suite tend to... 2/3... Anyone will judge this aspect for him/herself. – Gibet Sep 22 '17 at 18:50
  • @Gibet I'm almost wondering if "2/3" might be a euphemism for 3/4. – DukeZhou Jan 30 at 17:57
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    @DukeZhou If one of your parent is a god and the other is a demi god, then the limit is 2/3... Meaning: repeat the process for x generations and you have this proportion of 2/3 (exactly a limit, you never reach 2/3 but you asymptotically approach it). Problem is nothing indicates Babylonian could understand that. Nothing indicates they could not as well.. – Gibet Jan 31 at 14:13
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He had three parents. The belief in the divinity of royal lines, in several ancient cultures of the region, was maintained by the concept that the king was possessed by a god (usually the head of the pantheon) on the night that he begot the next king. In this way each king is both the son of his father (the last king) and a god.
In the case of Gilgamesh his mother was also a goddess. So he had two parents who were gods and one parent who was mortal making him 2/3rds divine.

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I always thought it had to deal with the fact that kings were seen as dieties, so if the king is half god than that may be were the one third human comes in, but i say this without knowing Mesopotamian claims to royalty and dietyship.

  • In late Sumer before they was destroyed by the rising Babylon of Hammurabi (toward 1780BC) some kings did claimed personal deities. Back in older Sumer most king did mentioned they was 'having fun' with Inanna. She was extremely popular. But this is as far as it goes... Akkadian king Sargon the Great claimed himself "overseer" of Inanna (see the popularity). Hammurabi did not claimed anything specific in my knowledge. – Gibet Aug 12 '16 at 8:53

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