The oldest known written work is the Epic of Gilgamesh and it was written about 4,500 years ago on twelve clay tablets in cunieform. It is an epic fantasy tome and it begins the written word and the genre of epic fantasy. It has always been thought of as just a story but light has recently come to show that maybe Gilgamesh did exist!
In the story Gilgamesh was the King of a city called Uruk and a team of German archaeologists have recently uncovered a city they believe to be Uruk and a site that they think might be Gilgamesh's tomb! Wow. This would be a find in a couple of different ways. First of all it would mean that Gilgamesh was a real person which is amazing but it would also shed some light on the questions about the man himself. He was said to be two-thirds human and one-third god. There is also a lot of buzzing and rumor passed down that he was a giant!
A little bit about Gilgamesh:
The Epic of Gilgamesh was inscribed on stone tablets a thousand years before the Iliad was written.
The Book Gilgamesh: A New English Version
Gilgamesh was a king who embarked on a quest to slay the beast Grendel and find immortality. It is generally considered by scholars that Gilgamesh did in fact exist and that he was a king of Uruk in about the 26th Century BC.
If you want to understand and learn about epic fantasy right from its beginning this is the place to start. There is good reason for this story having survived so long.
This epic has been recently released in an easy to read and well translated version and for a story like this that was probably told verbally for many generations you may want to consider getting the audio version -To hear this story rather than read it brings a sense of tribal connection.
(If you like the epic fantasy from this period you may want to try The First Heroes a collection of stories written today but that take place in the Bronze Age.)
Ancienttexts.org has a transcription of the ancient cunieform tablets of the epic of gilgamesh here is the first tablet: Gilgamesh