The Symbolism of Raven and Dove in Gilgamesh

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The poem about Gilgamesh was considered to be tremendous work of literature in the early Samarian poems. Gilgamesh was taken to the god with a superhuman ability that made him wonder beyond the imagination of normal human being. However, the raven and dove added a clear symbolic attention of discord and peace to the poem respectively.

Another thing is that there is no shock for the existence of the two cultures so they cannot use the flood story to dread their offspring. From the story, water often symbolized revival and rejuvenation. The flooding sweeping away all generation of a human being means that the there was a new life to start and everything was to be renewed afresh. The raven did not return after it was sent out while as the dove returned with an olive leaf in its beak. The olive leaf is the symbol of peace and accord.

However,   it is significant to consider that the Mesopotamian cultures depended on those two rivers were set amid. Those rivers most of the time got flooded that just was fine. It means that the deposit left behind after the flood took place would provide fertile soil, which would facilitate high yield in crops (Rendsburg 117). Therefore, the story of flood and water symbolizes the new revival and purification of a human being and the world as a whole into a richer and conducive environment for the survival of the new generation. The dove returns with a message of peace and purification when it returned back to the ark with an olive leaf in its beak.

From the story of Gilgamesh, we are told that the great gods that are Anu, Ninurta, Enlil, and Ea did swear that they had to cause a flood to the world, but Ea the Samarian god revealed the secret to the Utnapishtim (Rendsburg 115). Being that gods were angry with a human being, they decided to finish him using the flood.  The reason behind this move by the gods is that they argued that the humankind refused to heed to their commands. However, god Ea made Utnapishtim aware of the impending danger and directed him to build a vast boat to save himself, his family, and the precursor of all living things that were existing in the world in that time. Utnapishtim did as he was commanded by God and after the completion of the ark; the gods brought rain which resulted into the water rising for many days and destroying everything that was present in the world at that time. Though raven did chose to roam back and forth like the devil and did not return, the dove did the opposite that comes back with good news.

After 40 days had passed, Utnapishtim opened the door of the boat and sent raven down to the earth, but the raven did not return. Seven days later, they sent out a dove that soon returned. Again, after another seven days, they sent out the dove again for the second time. It returned but this time with an olive tree leaf in its beak. Again they sent it out for the third time, and this time the dove did not return. The raven is taken to be an unclean bird, and therefore it is taken to be a symbol of evil. On the other hand, the dove is a clean bird, and in the Scripture, it is a symbol of the Holy Spirit.

            The Scripture says that the raven went forth which describes the nature of Satan who is considered to be roaming on earth. Another thing, the raven is a bird that feeds on the flesh of the dead (Noegel 419). In the same way, the unbeliever who does not know God goes through life aimlessly, deriving futile pleasures from things that have no life in them.

The raven was only sent out once, but the dove was sent out three times. Although I don’t quite agree with their interpretation, Christians point out that the dove is sent out three times is a reflection of the true nature of God.

Both the birds mentioned played their own versions in context to the will of God. The raven represents Satan who chooses to roam the earth while as the dove represents pure spirits.

Works Cited

Noegel, Scott B. "A Janus Parallelism in the Gilgamesh flood story."Acta Sumerologica 13 (1991): 419-421.

Rendsburg, Gary A. "The Biblical Flood Story in the Light of the Gilgamesh Flood Account."Gilgamesh and the World of Assyria, ed. Joseph Azize and Noel Weeks (Leuven 2007) (2007): 115-127.

December 12, 2023

Art History Literature


Art Movements Mesopotamia

Subject area:

Symbolism Gilgamesh

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Expertise Gilgamesh
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