Sumero-Akkadian Myths

Gilgamesh (Poem of the Lord of Kullab)

Gilgamesh and the creation of his double

He who knew all and who understood the heart of things. He who saw all and taught all. Who knew the countries in the world... Great was his glory. Great is your glory, divine Gilgamesh!

He built the walls of Uruk. He went on a long journey and knew all that happened before the Deluge. On his return he engraved all his exploits on a stele. For the great gods created him; two thirds of his body was of god and one third of man.

After he fought all the countries he returned to Uruk, his fatherland. But the men in Uruk murmured in anger, for Gilgamesh took the best of the youth for his exploits and ruled with an iron fist. So the people brought their complaints to the gods, and the gods to Anu. Anu elevated the complaints to Aruru, saying,

"You, Aruru, who created humanity, now create a copy of Gilgamesh: in due time this man will face Gilgamesh, and while they will be fighting each other, Uruk shall live in peace."

When she heard this entreaty, the goddess Aruru conceived an image of the god Anu in her mind, dipped her fingers in water, pinched off clay, modeled his shape and formed the valiant Enkidu, the august hero, the champion of the god Ninurta. His entire body is covered with hair, his locks are combed as those of women and are as thick as the barley of the fields. Dressed like the god Samuqan, he knows nothing of men or of lands. With gazelles he eats grass, with herds he goes to springs to quench his thirst. Indeed, he likes to drink with herds.

In time a trapper met Enkidu, and when the trapper saw him, his face froze in terror. The trapper went to his father and told him what he witnessed, the exploits of the savage man. Then, the old man sent his son to Uruk to ask the help of Gilgamesh.

When Gilgamesh heard the story from the lips of the trapper, he asked him to take a beautiful servant from the temple, a woman of pleasure, bring her and put her within the reach of the intruder.

"When he sees the harlot he will be enchanted by her and he will forget his animals, and his animals will not recognise him anymore."

After the king spoke, the trapper followed his directions and on the third day arrived at the place of the encounter. Another day passed and still another day before the animals came to the spring to drink. Behind them appeared the intruder who chanced upon the seated servant. When she rose and pressed herself against him, Enkidu was trapped by her beauty. For seven days he laid with her. Then he decided to go back to his flock, but the gazelles and the beasts of the desert fled from him. Enkidu could not run, but his intelligence opened, man's thoughts pressed within his heart.

He came back and sat beside the woman, and she told him,

"Why do you live with beasts like a savage? Come, I will guide you to Uruk, to the sanctuary of Anu and the goddess Ishtar, then to Gilgamesh the invincible".
Enkidu liked it: his heart was in search of a friend. And thus he let the youth to guide him towards fertile pastures where he saw stables and shepherds. But he used to suck milk from savage beasts, and here he was offered him bread and wine. Enkidu broke the bread, looked at it, examined it, and did not know what to do with it. The sacred slave told Enkidu:
"Eat bread, oh, Enkidu! It is the fountain of life; drink the wine, it is the custom of the land."
Then Enkidu ate the bread till he was full, drank the wine, seven goblets... A barber sheared the hair from his body, and Enkidu dabbed himself with oil, as men do, and put on man's clothing, looking like a bridegroom. Then he took arms to hunt lions so that the shepherds could rest at night. Then one day a man came to Enkidu, opened his mouth and said:

"...Gilgamesh, king of strong-walled Uruk, drags people to cultivate! Imposed by fate, man impregnates woman, and then, death! By the will of the gods such is decreed: from the mother's womb, our destiny is death."
Infuriated, Enkidu promised to change the order of things.

But as Gilgamesh had seen the savage in his dreams and comprehended that in combat there would be understanding between them, when his opponent blocked his way, he rushed to him with the force of a raging bull. The people thronged around watching the furious struggle and rejoiced at Enkidu's resemblance to the king. They fought in front of the house of the Assembly. They shattered the doors and demolished the walls, and when the king threw Enkidu on the ground, Enkidu's fury died and he praised Gilgamesh. Then Enkidu and Gilgamesh embraced and their friendship was sealed.

The forest of cedars

Gilgamesh had a dream and Enkidu said:

"The meaning of your dream is this . The father of the gods gave you the sceptre, such is your destiny, but immortality is not your destiny. He gave it to you that you may rule and liberate... but do not abuse this power. Deal justly with your servants, deal justly before Shamash."

Gilgamesh the king then turned his thoughts to the Country of Life; Gilgamesh the king remembered the Forest of Cedars. And he told Enkidu:

"I have not engraved my name on steles as my destiny decreed; therefore I will go to the country where the cedar is felled. I will set up my name in the place where the names of famous men are written."

Enkidu sighed bitterly because as a child of the mountain he knew the paths leading to the forest. He thought:

"From the center of the forest to any of its entrance, there are ten thousand leagues in any direction. In the heart of the forest lives Humbaba (whose name means `Hugeness'). He breathes winds of fire and roars like the torrent of the storm."

But Gilgamesh had decided to go to the forest to end the evil in the world, the evil of Humbaba. As Gilgamesh was decided, Enkidu prepared to guide him, but not without warning him of the dangers.

"A great warrior who never sleeps,"
he said,
"guards the entrances. Only the gods are immortal, and the man who cannot achieve immortality cannot fight against Humbaba."

Gilgamesh entrusted himself to Shamash, the sun-god. He asked for the god's help in his enterprise. And Gilgamesh remembered the bodies of men floating on the river when he looked over the walls of Uruk. Corpses of enemies and friends, of the known and the unknown. Then he intuited his own end, and he carried two goats, one white without spot and the other brown, to the temple, and he said to Shamash:

"Here in the city man dies, oppressed at heart man dies, man perishes with despair in his heart... Alas, it is a long journey that I must take to the mansion of Humbaba. If this enterprise is not to be accomplished, why do you move my heart, oh Shamash, with the restless desire to perform it?"
... And Shamash accepted the sacrifice of his tears. Shamash, the compassionate, showed him mercy. He appointed strong allies for Gilgamesh, sons of one mother, and stationed them in the mountain caves.

Then the two friends gave orders to the craftsmen to cast their weapons, and the masters brought to them their javelins and swords, bows and axes. The weapons of each weighed ten times thirty shekels and the armour another ninety. Then the heroes departed; fifty leagues they walked in one day. In three days they had walked as much as a journey of a month and three weeks. They crossed seven mountains before they came to the gate of the forest. Then before them was the door of the forest, seventy arms high and forty and two arms wide. Before them stood the door, dazzling in beauty, and because of its beauty they did not destroy it. It was Enkidu who rushed forth, and alone he pushed it with his hands until it opened wide. Then they went down into the forest and they came to the foot of the green mountain.

They stood still and gazed at the mountain of cedars, mansion of the gods. Bushes covered the slope. They were struck dumb; for forty hours they gazed at the forest and saw the magnificent path which Humbaba used to walk to reach his abode...

There Gilgamesh dug a well before the setting sun. He poured out flour on the ground and asked for favorable dreams from the mountain. Gilgamesh sat with his chin on his knees and dreamt, and Enkidu interpreted his auspicious dreams. The next day Gilgamesh asked for favorable dreams for Enkidu, and the mountain fashioned a dream for Enkidu; it came, an ominous dream. Sleep seized Gilgamesh; and Enkidu exerted an effort to make him rise. Covered with their armours they sped as though they were carrying light garments. When they had reached the immense cedar, Gilgamesh seized the axe in his hand and felled the cedar! When Humbaba heard the noise far off he was enraged; he cried out,

"Who is this that has violated my forest and cut down my cedar?"

Gilgamesh answered:

"You will not return to the city, no, you will not undo the path that has taken me to the Country of Life, without fighting with this man, if he belongs to the human race, without fighting with this god, if he is a god... The barque of death will not sail for me, no cloth in the world will be cut to make a shroud for me, my people will not know desolation, my home will not witness a funeral pyre blaze, fire will not burn my house."

Humbaba left his mansion and fastened the eye of death on Gilgamesh. But the sun-god, Shamash, summoned terrifying hurricanes against Humbaba: cyclone, whirlwind. Eighty tempestuous winds rose up against Humbaba; he was gripped, unable to go forward or back; and Gilgamesh and Enkidu felled the cedars and stormed his lairs. Humbaba turned meek and cowered in fear before the heroes. He promised them the best of honours, and Gilgamesh was about to accept them and leave his weapons when Enkidu interrupted,

"Do not listen to him! No, my friend, evil speaks from his mouth. He must die in our hands!"

Gilgamesh listened to the word of his companion. He took the axe from his hand, he drew the sword from his belt, and he struck Humbaba with a thrust of the sword to the neck, and Enkidu struck the second blow. At the third blow Humbaba fell and died. Silent and dead. Then they severed the head from the neck, and there followed confusion for this was the Guardian of the Forest of Cedars whom they had felled to the ground. Enkidu felled the trees of the forest and cleared the roots as far as the banks of Euphrates. Then he placed the head of the vanquished in a shroud he set it before the gods. When he saw the dead body of Humbaba, Enlil, lord of storm, he raged, took again from the desecrators the power and glory that had been Humbaba's, and gave them to the lion, to the barbarian, to the desert.

Gilgamesh washed his body and threw off his bloodstained clothes and changed them for new. When Gilgamesh put on his real crown, the goddess Ishtar lifted her eyes, seeing the beauty of Gilgamesh. But Gilgamesh rejected her because she had lost all her husbands and through love she reduced them to the most abject servitude. Thus Gilgamesh said:

"You are a ruin that does not give man a shelter from the storm, you are a backdoor which keeps out neither squall of wind nor storm, you are a palace plundered by heroes, you are an ambush that hides its deceit, you are an inflamed pustule that burns whoever has it, you are a waterskin that floods the carrier with its water, you are a piece of soft stone which erodes ramparts, you are an amulet that cannot protect the wearer in enemy country, you are a sandal that trips the wearer!"

The celestial Bull, the death of Enkidu and the descent to hells

Furious, the princess Ishtar went up to her father Anu and threatened to break in the doors of Hell to discharge an army of dead outnumbering the army of the living. Then she screamed,
"If you do not send the Celestial Bull to Gilgamesh, I will do it."
Anu consented in exchange for the fertility of the fields for seven years. And immediately he created the Celestial Bull which fell over the earth. On the first assault, the beast killed three hundred men. On the second other hundreds fell. On the third it charged against Enkidu but he seized it by the horns.

The Celestial Bull foamed in his face, it brushed him furiously with the thick of its tail. Then Enkidu leaped on the beast and seized the thick of its tail. And he shouted:

"Gilgamesh, my friend, we boasted that we will leave names behind us. Now thrust in your sword between the nape and the horns."
And Gilgamesh thrust his sword between the nape and the horns and slew the Celestial Bull... They cut out the heart of the Celestial Bull and gave it to the god Shamash... But the goddess Ishtar rose up and mounted the rampart of strong-walled Uruk; she sprang on to the tower and uttered a curse,
"Woe to Gilgamesh, for he has scorned me in killing the Celestial Bull!"
When Enkidu heard these words from Ishtar he tore out the parts of the Celestial Bull and tossed them in her face.

That night, Enkidu had a dream. In the dream the gods took counsel together: Anu, Enlil, Shamash and Ea. They discussed the death of Humbaba and the Celestial Bull and decreed that one of the two friends must die: Enkidu. Then he woke up and related what he saw. Then he went back to sleep, and this is what he related:

"The flute and the harp fell in the Great Mansion; Gilgamesh slid his hand into it, he could not reach them; he slid his foot, he could not reached them. Then Gilgamesh sat before the palace of the gods of the subterranean world, poured tears, and his face turned yellow.

`Oh, my flute, oh, my harp! My flute whose power was irresistible! My flute, who will take it from the hells?' His servant Enkidu told him:

`My lord, why do you cry? Why does your heart grieve? Now go and look for your flute in the hells'...

Enkidu can return from the hells! ...

(Then) the father Ea told the valiant Nergal:

`Open now the pit that leads to the hells! That the spirit of Enkidu returns from the hells and may speak with his brother'...

Like a breath, the spirit of Enkidu left the hells, and Gilgamesh and Enkidu spoke.

Tell me my friend, tell me my friend, speak to me of the law of the subterranean world, you know it... He who fell in battle, have you seen him?

I have seen him, his father and his mother raise their heads up high while his wife embraces him. He whose cadaver had been abandoned on the plains, have you seen him? I have seen him, his spirit does not rest in the hells. He whose spirit is not given any offering, have you seen him? I have seen him, he eats left-overs from pans and residues from plates thrown into the streets."

Enkidu fell ill and died. Then, Gilgamesh said:
"To suffer. Life has no other meaning than to die! Am I to die like Enkidu? I must look for Utnapishtim, called `The Faraway'; I want him to explain to me how he became immortal. First I shall mourn, then I shall wear lion skin, and after invoking Sin I shall be on the road."
After covering all the roads, Gilgamesh came to the mountains and reached the very doors of Sun. There he stopped before the men-scorpions, the terrifying guardians of the doors of Sun. He asked for Utnapishtim:
"I want to ask him about death and life."
The men-scorpions tried to dissuade him from his enterprise.
"No one who enters the mountain sees the light,"
they said. But Gilgamesh asked them to open the door of the mountain, and finally they acceded. Walking for hours and hours in deep darkness he saw a light far off and reaching it he was before Sun. There was the garden of the gods. He saw a tree and walked towards it: on its lapis lazuli branches hang, as thick fruit, the ruby.

Dressed in the skins of lions and eating meat of animals, Gilgamesh wandered about the garden, not knowing the direction to take. Moved to pity, Shamash told him:

"When the gods engendered man, they reserved immortality for themselves. You will never find the life for which you are searching."
But Gilgamesh took to the shore and saw the ferryman of The Faraway. After crossing the seas, they came ashore, and seeing them, Utnapishtim ask the companion of his ferryman for explanations. Gilgamesh gave his name and explained the purpose of the voyage.

The universal deluge

And Utnapishtim said:
"I shall reveal a great secret to you. There was an ancient city called Shurrupak, on the banks of Euphrates. It was a rich and sovereign city. Everything there multiplied; goods and human beings grew in abundance. Enlil heard the uproar, and molested by it, he complained to the gods that sleep was no longer possible and pleaded them to end the excess by unleashing the flood. In my dream, Ea revealed Enlil's design.

'Tear down your house and save your life, build a boat with a roof, of equal length and width. If the people ask you about your work, tell them that you have decided to go and live in the gulf.'

My little ones carried pitch and the big ones brought all our needs. On the fifth day the keel and the framework were finished. The planking was made fast on its ribs. The ground-space was four times ten areas, each side of the deck measured twelve times two elbows, making a square, each deck from the ground-space to the roof was twelve times ten elbows high. I built six decks below, with the ground-space, seven, and I divided them into nine sections with bulk-heads between... Then was the launching full of difficulty, there was shifting of ballast above and below till two thirds was submerged. On the seventh day the boat was completed and loaded with all that was necessary. I loaded into it my family, parents and craftsmen and then the beasts of the field both wild and tame. When the hour came, that afternoon, Enlil sent the Rider of the Storm. I boarded the boat and sealed it with pitch and asphalt, and as everything was ready I handed the tiller to the steersman Puzur-Amurri. Nergal pulled out the dams of the nether waters, and thundering the gods flattened fields and mountains. The judges of Hell, the Anunnaki, raised their torches and turned day into night. Day after day the tempest raged and gathered fury as it went. On the seventh day the flood was stilled and the sea grew calm. I opened the hatch and light fell on my face. I looked for land in vain, all was sea. I wept for the men and the living beings who turned to clay again. Then I discovered a mountain fourteen leagues away. And there, on the mountain of Nisir, the boat grounded. The mountain of Nisir held it fast... When the seventh day dawned I loosed a dove and the dove flew away, but she came back, finding no resting-place she returned. Then I loosed a swallow, and the swallow flew away, but she came back, finding no resting-place she returned. Then I loosed a raven, and the raven flew away, she saw that the waters had retreated, and she ate, she flew around, she cawed, and she did not come back. Then the gods met in a council and reproached Enlil for the harsh punishment he inflicted on the creatures, and thus Enlil came to the boat, and kneeling before my wife and me, he touched our foreheads saying:

'In time past Utnapishtim was mortal, henceforth he shall be a god like us and will live in the distance at the mouth of the rivers, and his wife will accompany him forever.'

About you, Gilgamesh, why would the gods grant you immortality?"

The return

Utnapishtim submitted Gilgamesh to a test. He must try not to sleep for six days and seven nights. But while the hero sat there resting on his haunches, a mist of sleep, like soft wool teased from the fleece, drifted over him.

"Look at him, look at him who searches for immortality!"
said The Faraway to his wife. Waking up, Gilgamesh moaned bitterly about his failure:

"Where will I go? Death is in all my roads."
Upset, Utnapishtim ordered the ferryman to return the man, but not without mercy, as he decreed that his clothes would never show sign of age, so that again in his fatherland he would look splendid before mortal eyes. Bidding farewell, The Faraway whispered:

"In the depths of the waters, there is a plant, whose thorny prickles are like the thorns of a rose, so it wounds like one, it can prick your hands: but if you succeed in taking it and could hold fast to it, you will become immortal!"
Gilgamesh jumped into the waters with heavy stones tied to his feet. He got hold of the plant and set out to return, telling himself:
"I will give it for my people to eat and I will do the same and have my youth restored."
Then he walked hours and hours in the darkness of the mountain until he was before the door of the world. After these toils he saw a spring and there he bathed, but a serpent, rising from the depths, snatched the plant and swam down, far from the reach of Gilgamesh.

Thus the mortal returned with empty hands, with an empty heart. Thus he returned to strong-walled Uruk.

The destiny of Gilgamesh, decreed by Enlil, has been fulfilled... Here's bread for Netu the Guardian of the Door. Bread for Ningizzida the god-serpent, lord of the Tree of Life. Also for Dumuzi the young shepherd that the earth fertilizes.

He who knew all and who understood the heart of things. He who saw all and taught all. Who knew the countries in the world... Great was his glory!

He who built the walls of Uruk, who went on a long journey and who knew all that happened before the Deluge, on his return he engraved his exploits on a firm stele.

Go Back