Ancient Apocalypse – Zombies

by Hekate

Zombies are all the rage nowadays. You can hardly move without bumping into something zombie related.
But when did humanity first realise that they might one day have to fight off the reanimated corpses of the dead?

Some may believe it started with George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead back in 1968. However White Zombie, released in 1932 and starring Bela Lugosi, is generally considered to be the first full-length zombie film.

What if we look back before film?
Before print?
Looking back past the Romans, the Ancient Greeks and the Ancient Egyptians we arrive at Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilisation.

Ishtar spoke to her father, Anu, saying:
"Father, give me the Bull of Heaven,
so he can kill Gilgamesh in his dwelling.
If you do not give me the Bull of Heaven,
I will knock down the Gates of the Netherworld,
I will smash the door posts, and leave the doors flat down,
and will let the dead go up to eat the living!
And the dead will outnumber the living!"

These chilling words come from The Epic of Gilgamesh.

It is generally considered to be the oldest work of fiction. It was inscribed on 12 stone tablets in Sumerian, the oldest written language on Earth.
There’s no way of knowing when the story was first composed, it’s been rewritten numerous times. It’s thought that the earliest versions of the poem (or poems) were written in the third millennium BC.
To put this in perspective, the Sumerians were historically about as far away from Jesus, as Jesus is from us. This is a story that was ancient to the ancients.

This extract comes from Tablet 6.
In this section Gilgamesh, King of Uruk and hero of the tale, rejects the advances of the goddess Ishtar (also known as Inanna or Belili). Ishtar is goddess of love and war, and Gilgamesh doesn’t want to become her lover because those who do are often mistreated. Ishtar does not take kindly to this rejection and she asks her father to destroy Gilgamesh using the Bull of Heaven. He initially refuses, but then Ishtar threatens to unleash a zombie apocalypse, so he relents.
When Ishtar takes the Bull of Heaven (also known as Gugalana) to Uruk it causes a massive amount of destruction -enough to qualify as a localised apocalypse itself. The land is only saved once Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu manage to destroy the Bull. In response to Ishtar’s protests, Enkidu contemptuously hurls the hindquarters of the Bull at her. It should be noted that things only go downhill for Enkidu from this point on.

It turns out that idea of the zompocalypse is somewhere between 5 and 6 thousand years old.
It seems that fear of the dead is part of being human, no matter what time period you live in.

I would like to finish with one final thought:

The zompoc hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Hekate out.

2 Responses to Ancient Apocalypse – Zombies

  • Dana Fredsti says:

    It’s funny ’cause I was totally unaware of this until this year when all of a sudden it’s cropping up in various books/quotes, etc… I love it!

  • Sumerian mythology seems to have become popular recently (last 5 years or so anyway). Not sure why.
    I studied Mesopotamia at uni, but didn’t actually notice the zompoc thing until more recently when I was rereading Gilgamesh.

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