6 Oldest Poems of History (2023)

Ancient emotions

6 Oldest Poems of History (1)

6 Oldest Poems of History (2)Millions of years have gone by with each generation telling its tales to the next one. The world being a blank slate, each tale brought with it, a new concept raising varied beliefs for individuals. All that we are today is an accumulation of these years. We’re lucky enough to have the resources to store the history that we create but in the case of the ancient world, reciting and singing poetic compositions was the way stories were told. People were, in fact, employed for this, partly to remember oral history, geology, and law.

The earliest recognized poems came from the Sumerian community in the form of hymns and chants. The poetry of the past has taught us a lot about religion, culture, and prayers but also daily activities, love stories, and historical accounts.

Here are a few beautiful poems and excerpts from the long-gone past:

This poem belongs to the Sumerian era. Since the Sumerian Civilization was the first civilization to develop a written language, this poem is considered to be the oldest love poem to have ever been written. It was a part of a yearly ritual known as “sacred marriage”. In this love song, a female speaker Innana (goddess of love and fertility) expresses her love and desire in form of erotic praises for the Sumer King Shu-Sin (Dumuzi).

6 Oldest Poems of History (3)

Bridegroom, dear to my heart,
Goodly is your beauty, honeysweet,
Lion, dear to my heart,
Goodly is your beauty, honeysweet.

You have captivated me, let me stand tremblingly before you.
Bridegroom, I would be taken by you to the bedchamber,
You have captivated me, let me stand tremblingly before you.
Lion, I would be taken by you to the bedchamber.

Bridegroom, let me caress you,
My precious caress is more savory than honey,
In the bedchamber, honey-filled,
Let me enjoy your goodly beauty,
Lion, let me caress you,
My precious caress is more savory than honey.

Bridegroom, you have taken your pleasure of me,
Tell my mother, she will give you delicacies,
My father, he will give you gifts.

Your spirit, I know where to cheer your spirit,
Bridegroom, sleep in our house until dawn,
Your heart, I know where to gladden your heart,
Lion, sleep in our house until dawn.

(Video) Recovering The World's Oldest Poem

6 Oldest Poems of History (4)

You, because you love me,
Give me pray of your caresses,
My lord god, my lord protector,
My Shu-Sin, who gladdens Enlil’s heart,
Give my pray of your caresses.
Your place goodly as honey, pray lay your hand on it,
Bring your hand over like a gishban-garment,
Cup your hand over it like a gishban-sikin-garment

It is a balbale-song of Inanna.

(Translated by Samuel Noah Kramer)

Belonging to the Augustan period, Virgil was one of the greatest Roman poets to have ever lived. “So, you traitor” is an excerpt from his epic, The Aeneid (IV) which tells the tale of Aeneas, a Trojan who traveled to Italy and became the ancestor of Romans. Here, Virgil describes the parting of Aeneas from his lover Dido, since he must carry on his mission. This leads to Dido committing suicide after having her heart broken.

6 Oldest Poems of History (5)

“So, you traitor, you really believed you’d keep
this a secret, this great outrage? Steal away
in silence from my shores? Can nothing hold you back?
Not our love? Not the pledge once sealed with our right hands?
Not even the thought of Dido doomed to a cruel death?
Why labor to rig your fleet when the winter’s raw,
to risk the deep when the Northwind’s closing in?
You cruel, heartless — Even if you were not
pursuing alien fields and unknown homes,
even if ancient Troy were standing, still,
who’d sail for Troy across such heaving seas?
You’re running away — from me? Oh, I pray you
by these tears, by the faith in your right hand —
what else have I left myself in all my pain? —
by our wedding vows, the marriage we began,
if I deserve some decency from you now,
if anything mine has ever won your heart,
pity a great house about to fall I pray you,
if prayers have any place — reject this scheme of yours!
Thanks to you, the African tribes, Numidian warlords
hate me, even my own Tyrians rise against me.
Thanks to you, my sense of honor is gone,
my one and only pathway to the stars,
the renown I once held dear. In whose hands,
my guest, do you leave me here to meet my death?
‘Guest’ — that’s all that remains of ‘husband’ now.
But why do I linger on? Until my brother Pygmalion
batters down my walls? Or Iarbas drags me off, his slave?
If only you’d left a baby in my arms — our child —
before you deserted me! Some little Aeneas
playing about our halls, whose features at least
would bring you back to me in spite of all,
I would not feel so totally devastated,
so destroyed.”

(Translated by Robert Fagles)

6 Oldest Poems of History (6)

This excerpt from the Indian epic Ramayana narrates the life of Prince Rama who was in exile for fourteen years. It depicts Sita’s Swayamvar, a ceremony held in royal families where the girl chooses a husband for herself among a set of suitable candidates. Sita’s father claims that whosoever can lift the divine bow and string it shall be married to Sita. While a whole lot of men from various parts of the land tried and failed miserably, Prince Rama did not.

(Video) The World's Oldest Love Poem: The Love Song of Shu-Sin

6 Oldest Poems of History (7)

Janak monarch of Videha spake his memage near and far,
He shall win my peerless Sita who shall bend my bow of war,
Suitors came from farthest regions, warlike princes known to fame,
Vainly strove to wield the weapon, left Videha in their shame.
Viswa-mitra royal rishi, Rama true and Lakshman bold,
Came to fair Mithila’s city from Ayodhya famed of old,
Spake in pride the royal rishi: “Monarch of Videha’s throne,
Grant, the wondrous bow of Rudra be to princely Rama shown.”
Janak spake his royal mandate to his lords and warriors bold:
“Bring ye forth the bow of Rudra decked in garlands and in gold,”
And his peers and proud retainers waiting on the monarch’s call,
Brought the great and goodly weapon from the city’s inner hall.

Ferdowsi was a Persian poet who wrote one of the longest epics known to date, the Shahnameh meaning Book of Kings. Here, in “Alas for youth,” he explains the significance of youth in one’s life. He mentions that people often forget about their capability to do things during a young stage of life leaving it for when they get older and ultimately fail. He expresses his regret for wasted youth trying to convey that it should always be filled with joy and not sorrow.

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Much have I labored, much read o’er
Of Arabic and Persian lore,
Collecting tales unknown and known;
Now two and sixty years are flown.
Regret, and deeper woe of sin,
’Tis all that youth has ended in,
And I with mournful thoughts rehearse
Bu Táhir Khusrawáni’s verse:
“I mind me of my youth and sigh,
Alas for youth, for youth gone by!”

(Translated by R. A. Nicholson)

Dante is one of the most famous Italian poets. He was the first poet ever to establish the use of vernacular language in written literature, which otherwise, could only be understood by the highly educated. In this sonnet, Dante highlights the opposite feelings of love and sorrow and tries to join them like two halves of a whole.

6 Oldest Poems of History (9)

Upon a day, came Sorrow in to me,
Saying, ‘I’ve come to stay with thee a while’;
And I perceived that she had ushered Bile
And Pain into my house for company.
Wherefore I said, ‘Go forth — away with thee!’
But like a Greek she answered, full of guile,
And went on arguing in an easy style.
Then, looking, I saw Love come silently,
Habited in black raiment, smooth and new,
Having a black hat set upon his hair;
And certainly the tears he shed were true.
So that I asked, ‘What ails thee, trifler?’
Answering, he said: ‘A grief to be gone through;
For our own lady’s dying, brother dear.’

(Translated by Dante Gabriel Rossetti)

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6 Oldest Poems of History (10)

Hailing from ancient Mesopotamia, the Epic of Gilgamesh was one of the world’s first works in the field of literature. It recites the story of a Sumerian King on a quest to find the secret to immortality. Gilgamesh was a cruel king and people were terrified of him. He used to sacrifice warriors whenever he felt like fighting, raped women, and threatened everybody.

When the people of Uruk complained to the gods that a king should not be unjust to its people, the gods listened. They then told Aruru, the god of creation, that since she made Gilgamesh, she must also make someone strong enough to stand up to him. This led to the coming of Enkidu.

6 Oldest Poems of History (11)

6 Oldest Poems of History (12)

He who saw the Deep, the country’s foundation
who knew, was wise in all manners!
Gilgamesh, who saw the deep, the country’s foundation,
who knew, was wise in all matters!

He, everywhere…
and learnt of everything the sum of wisdom.
He saw what was secret, discovered what was hidden,
he brought back a tale of before the Deluge.

He came a far road, was weary, found peace,
and set all his labors on a tablet of stone.
He built the rampart of Uruk-the-Sheepfold,
of holy Eanna, the sacred storehouse.

See its wall like a strand of wool,
view its parapet that none could copy!
Take the stairway of a bygone era,
draw near to Eanna, seat of Ishtar the goddess,
that no later king could ever copy!

Climb Uruk’s wall and walk back and forth!
Survey its foundations, examine the brickwork!
Were its bricks not fired in an oven?
Did the Seven Sages not lay its foundation?

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Gilgamesh the tall, magnificent and terrible,
who opened passes in the mountains,
who dug wells on the slopes of the uplands,
and crossed the ocean, the wide sea to the sunrise;

who scoured the world ever searching for life,
and reached through sheer force Uta-napishti the Distant;
who restored the cult-centers destroyed by the Deluge,
and set in place for the people the rites of the cosmos.

Who is there can rival his kingly standing,
and say like Gilgamesh, ‘It is I am the king’?
Gilgamesh was his name from the day he was born,
two-thirds of him god and one third human.

It was the Lady of the Gods drew the form of his figure,
While his build was perfected by divine Nudimmud.

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6 Oldest Poems of History? ›

  • The Epic of Gilgamesh by Archeology.
  • “The Love Song of Shu-Sin” poem pressed in fired clay. Image By Andriy Makukha (Amakuha)
  • Marriage of Inanna and Dumuzi by TangLung.

What are some of the oldest poems? ›

The oldest epic poetry besides the Epic of Gilgamesh are the Greek epics Iliad and Odyssey and the Indian Sanskrit epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. Some scholars believe that either the Mahabharata or the Tibetan Epic of King Gesar is the longest example of epic poetry in history.

What is the oldest known poem? ›

The Epic of Gilgamesh started out as a series of Sumerian poems and tales dating back to 2100 B.C., but the most complete version was written around the 12th century B.C. by the Babylonians.

Who is the oldest known poet? ›

Enheduanna was born more than 4,200 years ago and became the high priestess of a temple in what we now call southern Iraq. She wrote poems, edited hymnals, and may have taught other women at the temple how to write.

What is the oldest piece of history? ›

The hieroglyphs date to between 3400 – 3200 BCE and are the oldest recorded history discovered so far in the world. The hieroglyphs were found in Tomb U-j, which is believed to hold the remains of Scorpion I, one of the first rulers of Ancient Egypt.

What is the oldest English poem? ›

The 7th century work Cædmon's Hymn is often considered as the oldest surviving poem in English, as it appears in an 8th-century copy of Bede's text, the Ecclesiastical History of the English People.

Where was the oldest poem found? ›

Some have labelled it the world's oldest love poem. It is on display at the Istanbul Museum of the Ancient Orient (Mesopotamia Hall).
Istanbul #2461 (also Ni 2461, L. 2461) is an ancient Sumerian cuneiform tablet.
Istanbul #2461
Present locationIstanbul Museum of the Ancient Orient
6 more rows

What is the oldest surviving poem? ›

Beowulf is the oldest surviving Germanic epic and the longest Old English poem; it was likely composed between 700 and 750.

Is the Bible the oldest book in history? ›

If printing defined what a book was, then the oldest book would be the Gutenberg Bible, printed in about 1450.

What is the oldest written text? ›

Writing System: Cuneiform

The Kesh Temple Hymn (or Liturgy to Nintud) along with the tablet known as the Instructions of Shuruppak, are considered the oldest existing pieces of literature in the world. The tablets were found at the Temple of Nippur in modern-day Iraq and come from the ancient Sumerian civilization.

What was the 1st book ever written? ›

The first ever books

The first book ever written that we know of is The Epic of Gilgamesh: a mythical retelling of an important political figure from history. In the 14th century, the Jikji was printed in Korea in movable (metal) type: a collection of Buddhist Zen teachings.

Is the Bible an epic poem? ›

The Bible II is an epic poem. Its subject is possibly the grandest in all of literature: God tries to turn the devil good. Composed of exactly 10,000 lines of iambic pentameter, it is both a sequel to the Bible, and the third installment of John Milton's paradise trilogy.

What is the most famous epic? ›

1. Perhaps the most widely known epic poems are Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey, both of which detail the events of the Trojan War and King Odysseus's journey home from Troy. These were written in Epic Greek (sometimes called Homeric Greek), although the dates of their composition are unknown.

What are the five epics? ›

The Five Great Epics of Tamil Literature are five large narrative Tamil epics according to later Tamil literary tradition. They are Cilappatikāram, Manimekalai, Cīvaka Cintāmaṇi, Valayapathi and Kuṇṭalakēci. The first mention of the Aimperumkappiyam occurs in Mayilainathar's commentary of Nannūl.

What are the 6 ancient civilizations? ›

If you look back at the time when humans first decided to give up their nomadic, hunter-gatherer lifestyle in favor of settling down at one place, six distinct cradles of civilization can be clearly identified: Egypt, Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq and Iran), the Indus Valley (present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan), ...

What is the oldest name? ›

While there is some debate on who is the oldest named person on record, for the most part, many researchers agree that Kushim is the oldest known name in the world, dating back to around 3400 to 3000 BCE.

What is the oldest artifact known to man? ›

Lomekwi Stone Tools

What is this? The stone tools unearthed at Lomekwi 3, an archaeological site in Kenya, are the oldest artifacts in the world. These stone tools are about 3.3 million years old, long before Homo sapiens (humans) showed up.

What is the first epic poem? ›

The oldest epic recognized is the Epic of Gilgamesh ( c. 2500–1300 BCE), which was recorded in ancient Sumer during the Neo-Sumerian Empire. The poem details the exploits of Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk.

How old is Beowulf? ›

Beowulf is a heroic poem, considered the highest achievement of Old English literature and the earliest European vernacular epic. It deals with events of the early 6th century CE and is believed to have been composed between 700 and 750.

Is Beowulf the only Anglo-Saxon poem? ›

Beowulf holds a special position in the Anglo-Saxon literature, because it is the only complete extant epic of its kind in the ancient Germanic language. It is a heroic poem celebrating the exploits of a great warrior.

What was Keats first poem? ›

His first poem, the sonnet O Solitude, appeared in the Examiner in May 1816, while his collection Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes and other poems was published in July 1820 before his last visit to Rome.

Who is the first poet of English literature? ›

Today is the feast day of Caedmon, the first known English poet. As well as being the first named poet in the English literary tradition, he is also a significant figure in the history of people who hate singing in public, people who develop new talents later in life, and of cowherds.

Which book is the oldest epic poem written in the English language? ›

"Beowulf" is the oldest surviving epic poem in the English language and the earliest piece of vernacular European literature. Perhaps the most common question readers have is what language "Beowulf" was written in originally.

Which is older Bible or Quran? ›

Knowing that versions written in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament does predate the Quran, Christians reason the Quran as being derived directly or indirectly from the earlier materials. Muslims understand the Quran to be knowledge from an omnipotent God.

Who is the oldest known God? ›

Inanna is among the oldest deities whose names are recorded in ancient Sumer.

Which religion is the oldest? ›

It is the world's third-largest religion, with over 1.2 billion followers, or 15–16% of the global population, known as Hindus. The word Hindu is an exonym, and while Hinduism has been called the oldest religion in the world, many practitioners refer to their religion as Sanātana Dharma (Sanskrit: सनातन धर्म, lit.

Is there a book older than the Bible? ›

The Epic of Gilgamesh

Thought it is more of an epic story than a religious text, the Epic of Gilgamesh is often cited as a piece of holy literature. In fact, it is widely considered the earliest great literary work. This great tale tells the story of Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk.

Who wrote the first Bible? ›

About The Book

For thousands of years, the prophet Moses was regarded as the sole author of the first five books of the Bible, known as the Pentateuch.

What was written 1000 years ago? ›

The Tale of Genji: The world's first novel? Written 1,000 years ago, the epic story of 11th-Century Japan, The Tale of Genji, was written by Murasaki Shikibu, a woman. Written 1,000 years ago, the Japanese epic The Tale of Genji is often called the world's first novel.

Was the Bible first written book? ›

The first written story that has come down to us is The Epic of Gilgamesh. It is a mythologized account of an historical figure, Gilgamesh, a ruler of the Sumerian city-state of Uruk, believed to have ruled sometime between 2700-2500 BC.

Is Genesis a poem? ›

Genesis 1:1-2:3 is a poetic text. It is metered, and probably the writer(s) intended for it to be sung as a hymnic chant. Rhyme is not all that important in Hebrew poetry, but Hebrew poems commonly use repetition, chiasmus, parallelism, and other rhetorical schemes and tropes.

Is Gilgamesh in the Bible? ›

A human man (Utnapishtim in the Epic of Gilgamesh and Noah in the book of Genesis) is forewarned of this destruction and survives a violent, widespread flood by escaping on a boat with a handful of animals and other humans.

Is the Old Testament based on Gilgamesh? ›

Various themes, plot elements, and characters in the Hebrew Bible correlate with the Epic of Gilgamesh – notably, the accounts of the Garden of Eden, the advice from Ecclesiastes, and the Genesis flood narrative.

What is the shortest epic poem? ›

Do you want to be a hero, too? Well, here comes the smallest epic ever told. Little Achilles is a short script that uses the epic tales of legendary heroes such as Homer's Iliad to relate a modern story about playground dynamics and bullying.

When was the last epic written? ›

16th century

Theuerdank and Weisskunig (Weisskunig only got published in 1775) by Maximilian I and Marx Treitzsaurwein, often considered the last medieval epics.

What are the 2 most famous epic poems that Homer wrote? ›

Homer is the presumed author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, two hugely influential epic poems of ancient Greece. If Homer did in fact compose the works, he is one of the greatest literary artists in the world, and, through these poems, he affected Western standards and ideas.

What are the twin epics? ›

The twin epics - Silappathigaram and Manimegalai - also belonged to the post- Sangam period. All these literature help us to know the society, economy and culture of the ancient Tamils.

What is Sanskrit epic? ›

Sanskrit epics

The Puranas, a massive collection of verse-form histories of India's many Hindu gods and goddesses, followed in this tradition. Itihāsa and Puranas are mentioned in the Atharva Veda and referred to as the fourth Veda.

What are the Indian epics? ›

Indian Epics is centered on the study of two epic narratives, the Ramayana and Mahabharata. These two master-texts have exerted unequalled influence throughout the greater Indic civilisational realm for two millennia, and continue to form and inform the Indian national consciousness today.


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