Erich Lessing

“I saw some lions and grew afraid,” says Gilgamesh, as he wanders the world in search of immortality after the death of his friend, Enkidu. In the end, however, Gilgamesh “smote the lions … and scattered them” (Tablet IX). This 15-foot-high statue, which some say depicts Gilgamesh holding a lion, once guarded the throne room of the Assyrian king Sargon II (721–705 B.C.E.). The ancient Epic of Gilgamesh would have had special meaning for Assyrian kings, a number of whom avidly collected cuneiform tablets on which the story was inscribed. According to a Sumerian king list, Gilgamesh ruled the city of Uruk around 2700 B.C.E. He was therefore not only a great epic hero but also a prototypical king.