In the mythology of the ancient Near East, Utnapishtim was the heroic survivor of a great flood. His story, told in the Babylonian epic Gilgamesh, is similar to the biblical account of Noah and the Ark. In the Babylonian story, some of the gods decided to send a flood to destroy humanity. However, Ea, the god of wisdom and water, warned Utnapishtim of the coming flood and told him to build a ship for himself and his family. The ship was to be loaded with various possessions as well as with plants and animals of every kind.
After Utnapishtim completed the ship, it began to rain. The rain continued for seven days and flooded the earth. When the rain stopped, the ship became grounded on a mountain surrounded by water. Several days passed. On the seventh day, Utnapishtim sent a dove to search for dry land. The bird came back exhausted, having found no place to rest. The next day he sent a swallow, but it returned as well. On the ninth day, Utnapishtim sent a raven. When the raven failed to come back, Utnapishtim knew that it had found dry land.
Utnapishtim released the animals and then offered a sacrifice to the gods. The god Enlil was furious that anyone had escaped the flood, but Ea defended Utnapishtim and calmed the angry god. Impressed by the virtue and wisdom of Utnapishtim, Enlil rewarded him and his wife with immortality. They became the ancestors of a new human race.
epic long poem about legendary or historical heroes, written in a grand style
immortality ability to live forever
In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the hero Gilgamesh visits Utnapishtim to learn the secret of living forever. Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh his story and explains that only the gods can grant immortality.
See also Enlil; Floods; Gilgamesh; Noah; Semitic Mythology.