Certainly there was no empirical precedent for the mineral “garden of the gods” in the Epic of Gilgamesh, described in these terms: “All round Gilgamesh stood bushes bearing gems… there was fruit of carnelian with the vine hanging from it, beautiful to look at; lapis lazuli leaves hung thick with fruit, sweet to see. For thorns and thistles there were haematite and rare stones, agate, and pearls from out of the sea” (The Epic of Gilgamesh, 100). In this oldest of literary works to have come down to us, there is not one but two fantastic gardens. Dilmun, or “the garden of the sun,” lies beyond the great mountains and bodies of water that surround the world of mortals. Here Utnapishtim enjoys the fruits of his exceptional existence. To him alone among humans have the gods granted everlasting life, and with it repose, peace, and harmony with nature. Gilgamesh succeeds in reaching that garden after a trying and desperate journey, only to be forced to return to the tragedies and cares of Uruk, his earthly city, for immortality is denied him.
By Ishaan Tharoor October 6
One of the consequences of the violent upheavals in Syria and Iraq has beenthe systematic and wanton pillaging of some of the region's most ancient sites. The Islamic State militant group has vandalized, bulldozed, exploded and plundered numerous shrines, temples and palaces that predate the advent of Islam in the Middle East. The extremists, along with other smugglers and opportunists, have also enabled an illicit trade of priceless, historic treasures from a part of the world long known as the cradle of civilizations.