Lapis Lazuli In Ancient Mythology: The Epic of Gilgamesh

Lapis Lazuli is a beautiful rock that has been prized since ancient history, and most likely even before that! Artefacts made from Lapis have been dated as far back as 7570 BCE.
ancient lapis lazuli ring

Ancient cultures were fascinated by Lapis and often reasoned that it must have some connection with the Gods, which is understandable given its deep blue color, a color that these cultures compared with the blue of the sky and seas.
lapis lazuli

A sample of Afgani Lapis Lazuli

The earliest surviving great work of literature, the Epic of Gilgamesh, refers to Lapis Lazuli multiple times as something of immense value. The Epic of Gilgamesh was written circa 1800 BC and has had a huge influence on our culture, being a big inspiration for the ancient Greek writer Homer, and even the Christian Bible.

the epic of gilgameshOne of the tablets the Epic of Gilgamesh was inscribed on

 

In one part of the epic, King Gilgamesh returns home to the city of Uruk, following a battle. When he cleans himself up, the goddess of love and war, Ishtar falls in love with him and tries to persuade him to be her husband by offering him riches, including a chariot made of lapis lazuli with golden wheels.

ishtarAncient sculpture of Ishtar, the goddess of love and war

 

The King declines, however, as he questioned: "What could I offer the queen of love in return, who lacks nothing at all?" and also noted that Ishtars previous mortal lovers all met ugly ends.

Enraged, Ishtar convinces her reluctant parents to let her release the Bull of Heaven to kill Gilgamesh. When the bull comes down from the sky, a crack opens in the earth and one hundred men are swallowed. The bull continues wreaking havoc until Gilgamesh's companion, Enkidu attacks it. With the help of Enkidu, Gilgamesh manages to slay the beast.

gilgamesh

Carving depicting Gilgamesh slaying the bull. By U0045269 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Source

 

While Ishtar mourns the bull, Gilgamesh gathers his craftsmen together to admire how beautiful the bull was, with its horns made of lapis lazuli. Gilgamesh then cuts off the horns and displays them proudly on the wall at his palace.

Slaying a dangerous beast and receiving a precious treasure by doing so is a common theme in mythology, perhaps used to show people the rewards of taking on tough challenges. We are all familiar with slaying the dragon to get the gold, but in this story, it seems as though lapis lazuli was prized even more than precious metals by these ancient people!

If you would like your own unique piece of lapis lazuli jewelry, without having to slay a mythical beast, shop our made to order afgani lapis jewelry here.