The one who saw all [Sha nagba imuru ]I
will declare to the world,
two-thirds god and one-third human, is the greatest king on earth and
the strongest super-human that ever existed; however, he is young and
oppresses his people harshly. The people call out to the sky-god Anu,
the chief god of the city, to help them. In response, Anu creates a wild
man, Enkidu, out in the harsh and wild forests surrounding Gilgamesh's
lands. This brute, Enkidu, has the strength of dozens of wild animals;
he is to serve as the subhuman rival to the superhuman Gilgamesh.
The one who knew all I will tell about
He saw the great Mystery, he knew the Hidden:
He recovered the knowledge of all the times before the Flood.
He journeyed beyond the distant, he journeyed beyond exhaustion,
And then carved his story on stone.
A trapper's son, while
checking on traps in the forest, discovers Enkidu running naked with the
wild animals; he rushes to his father with the news. The father advises
him to go into the city and take one of the temple harlots, Shamhat,
with him to the forest; when she sees Enkidu, she is to offer herself sexually to the wild man.
If he submits to her, the trapper says, he will lose his strength and
Shamhat meets Enkidu at the
watering-hole where all the wild animals gather; she offers herself to
him and he submits, instantly losing his strength and wildness, but he
gains understanding and knowledge. He laments for his lost state, but
the harlot offers to take him into the city where all the joys of
civilization shine in their resplendence; she offers to show him
Gilgamesh, the only man worthy of Enkidu's friendship.
Gilgamesh meanwhile has two
dreams; in the first a meteorite falls to earth which is so great that
Gilgamesh can neither lift it nor turn it. The people gather and
celebrate around the meteorite, and Gilgamesh embraces it as he would a
wife, but his mother, the goddess Rimat-Ninsun, forces him to compete
with the meteorite. In the second, Gilgamesh dreams that an axe appears
at his door, so great that he can neither lift it nor turn it. The
people gather and celebrate around the axe, and Gilgamesh embraces it as
he would a wife, but his mother, again, forces him to compete with the
axe. Gilgamesh asks his mother what these dreams might mean; she tells
him a man of great force and strength will come into Uruk. Gilgamesh
will embrace this man as he would a wife, and this man will help
Gilgamesh perform great deeds.
Enkidu is gradually introduced
to civilization by living for a time with a group of shepherds, who
teach him how to tend flocks, how to eat, how to speak properly, and how
to wear clothes. Enkidu then enters the city of Uruk during a great
celebration. Gilgamesh, as the king, claims the right to have sexual
intercourse first with every new bride on the day of her wedding; as
Enkidu enters the city, Gilgamesh is about to claim that right.
Infuriated at this abuse, Enkidu stands in front of the door of the
marital chamber and blocks Gilgamesh's way. They fight furiously until
Gilgamesh wins the upper hand; Enkidu concedes Gilgamesh's superiority
and the two embrace and become devoted friends.
Both Enkidu and Gilgamesh
gradually weaken and grow lazy living in the city, so Gilgamesh proposes
a great adventure: they are to journey to the great Cedar Forest in
southern Iran and cut down all the cedar trees. To do this, they will
need to kill the Guardian of the Cedar Forest, the great demon, Humbaba
the Terrible. Enkidu knows about Humbaba from his days running wild in
the forest; he tries in vain to convince Gilgamesh not to undertake this
[Most of tablet three doesn't exist]
The elders of the city
protest Gilgamesh's endeavor, but agree reluctantly. They place the life
of the king in the hands of Enkidu, whom they insist shall take the
forward position in the battle with Humbaba. Gilgamesh's mother laments
her son's fate in a prayer to the sun-god, Shamash, asking that god why
he put a restless heart in the breast of her son. Shamash promises her
that he will watch out for Gilgamesh's life. Ramat-Ninsun, too, commands
Enkidu to guard the life of the king and to take the forward position in
the battle with Humbaba. In panic, Enkidu again tries to convince
Gilgamesh not to undertake this journey, but Gilgamesh is confident of
Tablet four tells the story of
the journey to the cedar forest. On each day of the six day journey,
Gilgamesh prays to Shamash; in response to these prayers, Shamash sends
Gilgamesh oracular dreams during the night. These dreams are all
ominous: The first is not preserved. In the second, Gilgamesh dreams
that he wrestles a great bull that splits the ground with his breath.
Enkidu interprets the dream for Gilgamesh; the dream means that Shamash,
the bull, will protect Gilgamesh. In the third, Gilgamesh dreams:
The skies roared with thunder and the earth
Enkidu's interpretation is
missing here, but like the other dreams, it is assumed he puts a
positive spin on the dream. The fourth dream is missing, but Enkidu
again tells Gilgamesh that the dream portends success in the upcoming
battle. The fifth dream is also missing.
Then came darkness and a stillness like death.
Lightening smashed the ground and fires blazed out;
Death flooded from the skies.
When the heat died and the fires went out,
The plains had turned to ash.
At the entrance to the Cedar
Forest, Gilgamesh begins to quake with fear; he prays to Shamash,
reminding him that he had promised Ninsun that he would be safe. Shamash
calls down from heaven, ordering him to enter the forest because Humbaba
is not wearing all his armor. The demon Humbaba wears seven coats of
armor, but now he is only wearing one so he is particularly vulnerable.
Enkidu loses his courage and turns back; Gilgamesh falls on him and they
have a great fight. Hearing the crash of their fighting, Humbaba comes
stalking out of the Cedar Forest to challenge the intruders. A large
part of the tablet is missing here. On the one part of the tablet still
remaining, Gilgamesh convinces Enkidu that they should stand together against the demon.
Gilgamesh and Enkidu enter the
gloriously beautiful Cedar Forest and begin to cut down the trees.
Hearing the sound, Humbaba comes roaring up to them and warns them off.
Enkidu shouts at Humbaba that the two of them are much stronger than the
demon, but Humbaba, who knows Gilgamesh is a king, taunts the king for
taking orders from a nobody like Enkidu. Turning his face into a hideous
mask, Humbaba begins to threaten the pair, and Gilgamesh runs and hides.
Enkidu shouts at Gilgamesh, inspiring him with courage, and Gilgamesh
appears from hiding and the two begin their epic battle with Humbaba.
Shamash intrudes on the battle, helping the pair, and Humbaba is
defeated. On his knees, with Gilgamesh's sword at his throat, Humbaba
begs for his life and offers Gilgamesh all the tress in the forest and
his eternal servitude. While Gilgamesh is thinking this over, Enkidu
intervenes, telling Gilgamesh to kill Humbaba before any of the gods
arrive and stop him from doing so. Should he kill Humbaba, he will
achieve widespread fame for all the times to come. Gilgamesh, with a
great sweep of his sword, removes Humbaba's head. But before he dies,
Humbaba screams out a curse on Enkidu: "Of you two, may Enkidu not
live the longer, may Enkidu not find any peace in this world!"
Gilgamesh and Enkidu cut down
the cedar forest and in particular the tallest of the cedar trees to
make a great cedar gate for the city of Uruk. They build a raft out of
the cedar and float down the Euphrates river to their city.
After these events, Gilgamesh,
his fame widespread and his frame resplendent in his wealthy clothes,
attracts the sexual attention of the goddess Ishtar, who comes to
Gilgamesh and offers to become his lover. Gilgamesh refuses with
insults, listing all the mortal lovers that Ishtar has had and
recounting the dire fates they all met with at her hands. Deeply
insulted, Ishtar returns to heaven and begs her father, the sky-god Anu,
to let her have the Bull of Heaven to wreak vengeance on Gilgamesh and
Father, let me have the Bull of Heaven
Anu reluctantly gives in, and
the Bull of Heaven is sent down into Uruk. Each time the bull breathes,
its breath is so powerful that enormous abysses are opened up in the
earth and hundreds of people fall through to their deaths. Working
together again, Gilgamesh and Enkidu slay the mighty bull. Ishtar is
enraged, but Enkidu begins to insult her, saying that she is next, that
he and Gilgamesh will kill her next, and he rips one of the thighs off
the bull and hurls it into her face.
To kill Gilgamesh and his city.
For if you do not grant me the Bull of Heaven,
I will pull down the Gates of Hell itself,
Crush the doorposts and flatten the door,
And I will let the dead leave
And let the dead roam the earth
And they shall eat the living.
The dead will overwhelm all the living!
Enkidu falls ill after having a
set of ominous dreams; he finds out from the priests that he has been
singled out for vengeance by the gods. The Chief Gods have met and have
decided that someone should be punished for the killing of Humbaba and
the killing of the Bull of Heaven, so of the two heroes, they decide
Enkidu should pay the penalty. Enraged at the injustice of the decision,
Enkidu curses the great Cedar Gate built from the wood of the Cedar
Forest, and he curses the temple harlot, Shamhat, and the trapper, for
introducing him to civilization. Shamhash reminds him that, even though
his life has been short, he has enjoyed the fruits of civilization and
known great happiness. Enkidu then blesses the harlot and the trapper.
In a dream, a great demon comes to take Enkidu and drags him to Hell, a
House of Dust where all the dead end up; as he is dying, he describes
The house where the dead dwell in total
Enkidu commends himself to
Gilgamesh, and after suffering terribly for twelve days, he finally
Where they drink dirt and eat stone,
Where they wear feathers like birds,
Where no light ever invades their everlasting darkness,
Where the door and the lock of Hell is coated with thick dust.
When I entered the House of Dust,
On every side the crowns of kings were heaped,
On every side the voices of the kings who wore those crowns,
Who now only served food to the gods Anu and Enlil,
Candy, meat, and water poured from skins.
I saw sitting in this House of Dust a priest and a servant,
I also saw a priest of purification and a priest of ecstasy,
I saw all the priests of the great gods.
There sat Etana and Sumukan,
There sat Ereshkigal, the queen of Hell,
Beletseri, the scribe of Hell, sitting before her.
Beletseri held a tablet and read it to Ereshkigal.
She slowly raised her head when she noticed me
She pointed at me:
"Who has sent this man?"
Gilgamesh is torn apart by the
death of his friend, and utters a long lament, ordering all of creation
to never fall silent in mourning his dead friend. Most of this tablet is
missing, but the second half seems to be a description of the monument
he builds for Enkidu.
Gilgamesh allows his life to
fall apart; he does not bathe, does not shave, does not take care of
himself, not so much out of grief for his friend, but because he now
realizes that he too must die and the thought sends him into a panic. He
decides that he can't live unless granted eternal life; he decides to
undertake the most perilous journey of all: the journey to Utnapishtim
and his wife, the only mortals on whom the gods had granted eternal
life. Utnapishtim is the Far-Away, living at the mouth of all rivers, at
the ends of the world. Utnapishtim was the great king of the world
before the Flood and, with his wife, was the only mortal preserved by
the gods during the Flood. After an ominous dream, Gilgamesh sets out.
He arrives at Mount Mashu, which guards the rising and the setting of
the sun, and encounters two large scorpions who guard the way past Mount
Mashu. They try to convince him that his journey is futile and fraught
with danger, but still they allow him to pass. Past Mount Mashu is the
land of Night, where no light ever appears. Gilgamesh journeys eleven
leagues before the light begins to glimmer, after twelve leagues he has
emerged into day. He enters into a brilliant garden of gems, where every
tree bears precious stones.
Gilgamesh comes to a tavern by
the ocean shore; the tavern is kept by Siduri. Frightened by Gilgamesh's
ragged appearance, Siduri locks the tavern door and refuses to let
Gilgamesh in. Gilgamesh proves his identity and asks Siduri how to find
Utnapishtim. Like the giant scorpions, she tells him that his journey is
futile and fraught with dangers. However, she directs him to Urshanabi,
the ferryman, who works for Utnapishtim. Gilgamesh approaches Urshanabi
with great arrogance and violence and in the process destroys the
"stone things" that are somehow critical for the journey to
Utnapishtim. When Gilgamesh demands to be taken to Utnapishtim, the
ferryman tells him that it is now impossible, since the "stone
things" have been destroyed. Nevertheless, he advises Gilgamesh to
cut several trees down to serve as punting poles; the waters they are to
cross are the Waters of Death, should any mortal touch the waters, that
man will instantly die. With the punting poles, Gilgamesh can push the
boat and never touch the dangerous waters.
After a long and dangerous
journey, Gilgamesh arrives at a shore and encounters another man. He
tells this man that he is looking for Utnapishtim and the secret of
eternal life; the old man advises Gilgamesh that death is a necessary
fact because of the will of the gods; all human effort is only
temporary, not permanent.
At this point, Gilgamesh
realizes that he is talking to Utnapishtim, the Far-Away; he hadn't
expected an immortal human to be ordinary and aged. He asks Utnapishtim
how he received immortality, and Utnapishtim tells him the great secret
hidden from humans: In the time before the Flood,
there was a city, Shuruppak, on the banks of the Euphrates. There, the
counsel of the gods held a secret meeting; they all resolved to destroy
the world in a great flood. All the gods were under oath not to reveal
this secret to any living thing, but Ea (one of the gods that created
humanity) came to Utnapishtim's house and told the secret to the walls
of Utnapishtim's house, thus not technically violating his oath to the
rest of the gods. He advised the walls of Utnapishtim's house to build a
great boat, its length as great as its breadth, to cover the boat, and
to bring all living things into the boat. Utnapishtim gets straight to
work and finishes the great boat by the new year. Utnapishtim then loads
the boat with gold, silver, and all the living things of the earth, and
launches the boat. Ea orders him into the boat and commands him to close
the door behind him. The black clouds arrive, with the thunder god Adad
rumbling within them; the earth splits like an earthenware pot, and all
the light turns to darkness. The Flood is so great that even the gods
The gods shook like beaten dogs, hiding in the
far corners of heaven,
The Flood lasts for seven days
and seven nights, and finally light returns to the earth. Utnapishtim
opens a window and the entire earth has been turned into a flat ocean;
all humans have been turned to stone. Utnapishtim then falls to his
knees and weeps.
Ishtar screamed and wailed:
"The days of old have turned to stone:
We have decided evil things in our Assembly!
Why did we decide those evil things in our Assembly?
Why did we decide to destroy our people?
We have only just now created our beloved humans;
We now destroy them in the sea!"
All the gods wept and wailed along with her,
All the gods sat trembling, and wept.
Utnapishtim's boat comes to
rest on the top of Mount Nimush; the boat lodges firmly on the mountain
peak just below the surface of the ocean and remains there for seven
days. On the seventh day:
I [Utnapishtim] released a dove from the boat,
The gods smell the odor of the
sacrifice and begin to gather around Utnapishtim. Enlil, who had
originally proposed to destroy all humans, then arrives, furious that
one of the humans had survived, since they had agreed to wipe out all
humans. He accuses Ea of treachery, but Ea convinces Enlil to be
merciful. Enlil then seizes Utnapishtim and his wife and blesses them:
It flew off, but circled around and returned,
For it could find no perch.
I then released a swallow from the boat,
It flew off, but circled around and returned,
For it could find no perch.
I then released a raven from the boat,
It flew off, and the waters had receded:
It eats, it scratches the ground, but it does not circle around and
I then sent out all the living things in every direction and
sacrificed a sheep on that very spot.
At one time Utnapishtim was mortal.
At the end of his story,
Utnapishtim offers Gilgamesh a chance at immortality. If Gilgamesh can
stay awake for six days and seven nights, he, too, will become immortal.
Gilgamesh accepts these conditions and sits down on the shore; the
instant he sits down he falls asleep. Utnapishtim tells his wife that
all men are liars, that Gilgamesh will deny having fallen asleep, so he
asks his wife to bake a loaf of bread every day and lay the loaf at
Gilgamesh's feet. Gilgamesh sleeps without ever waking up for six days
and seven nights, at which point Utnapishtim wakes him up. Startled,
Gilgamesh says, "I only just dozed off for half a second
here." Utnapishtim points out the loaves of bread, showing their
states of decay from the most recent, fresh bread, to the oldest, moldy,
stale bread that had been laid at his feet on the very first day.
Gilgamesh is distraught:
At this time let him be a god and immortal;
Let him live in the far away at the source of all the rivers.
O woe! What do I do now, where do I go now?
Utnapishtim's wife convinces the
old man to have mercy on him; he offers Gilgamesh in place of
immortality a secret plant that will make Gilgamesh young again. The
plant is at the bottom of the ocean surrounding the Far-Away; Gilgamesh
ties stones to his feet, sinks to the bottom, and plucks the magic
plant. But he doesn't use it because he doesn't trust it; rather he
decides to take it back to Uruk and test it out on an old man first, to
make sure it works.
Death has devoured my body,
Death dwells in my body,
Wherever I go, wherever I look, there stands Death!
Urshanabi takes him across
the Waters of Death. Several leagues inland, Gilgamesh and Urshanabi
stop to eat and sleep; while they're sleeping, a snake slithers up and
eats the magic plant (which is why snakes shed their skin) and crawls
away. Gilgamesh awakens to find the plant gone; he falls to his knees
For whom have I labored? For whom have I
The tale ends with Gilgamesh, at
the end of his journey standing before the gates of Uruk, inviting
Urshanabi to look around and view the greatness of this city, its high
walls, its mason work, and here at the base of its gates, as the
foundation of the city walls, a stone of lapis lazuli on which is carved
Gilgamesh's account of his exploits.
For whom have I suffered?
I have gained absolutely nothing for myself,
I have only profited the snake, the ground lion!