Literary Stories

The Epic Of Gilgamesh (Tablet I)

Epic of Gilgamesh-image

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Mesopotamian cylinder seal featuring Gilgamesh and Enkidu with animals.

The Epic of Gilgamesh

Adapted and modernized from the translation of William Muss-Arnolt 2nd millennium BCE; trans. 1901

TABLET I

I will tell of the history of Gilgamesh, he who knows all that has happened and has seen all the lands of the world, he who has seen all kinds of wisdom and knows the mysteries and has seen what is hidden. He bringeth news dating farther back than the deluge. [Tweet “He has travelled far-distant roads and became weary, and now he has engraved on standing stones the whole of the story.”]

When the gods fashioned Gilgamesh, to him they gave a perfect form. The glorious sun Shamash bestowed upon him glory; Adad the terrible god of storms bestowed upon him courage. The great gods perfected his magnificence beyond all others, terrible like the great wild bull. Two thirds god they made him; one third man they made him.

Of Uruk, its great rampart he built, and the wall of the sacred Eanna temple, the holy sanctuary. Behold the outer walls which gleam with the brilliance of copper; see the inner wall which none might rival. Touch the threshold stone—it is from ancient days. Goest thou into the Eanna temple, yea, the dwelling place of Ishtar, the like of which no subsequent king or living man might equal. Ascend and walk about on the wall of Uruk, inspect the corner-stone, and examine its brick-work, whether its wall is not made of burned brick, and its foundation laid by the Seven Sages. One third for city, one third for garden, one third for field, and a precinct for the temple of Ishtar. These parts and the precinct comprise Uruk. Unveil the tablet box of copper. Unlatch the clasp of its brazen lock. Unbind the fastenings of the hidden opening. Bring forth and read out the lapis lazuli tablet that tells of the great hardships endured by Gilgamesh.

Greater than other kings, lofty in stature, a hero born in Uruk, a wild and rampaging bull was he. [Tweet “He leads forth at the front, the leader; he brings up the rear, a trusted companion”]. He is a great net who protects his men, a thrashing flood-wave capable of devastating even walls of stone. As son of Lugalbanda, Gilgamesh is perfection in his strength, son too of the august cow, Ninsun, the goddess. Gilgamesh is tall, glorious, and terrific. It was he who cut open the passes through the mountains, who dug the wells on the slopes of the mountainsides, and who crossed the ocean itself, the great sea, to meet the sunrise, exploring every part of the whole world for the secret of life. It was he who by his strength alone reached Utnapishtim, the distant, who restored the holy places that the Flood had destroyed, and who for the teeming masses instilled the rites of heaven.

[Tweet “Who can rival Gilgamesh? Who might like him say “It is I who am king?””] From the moment of his birth his name has forever been Gilgamesh. Two thirds god they made him; one third man they made him. The Great Goddess herself planned the shape of his body; glory, beauty and perfection were bestowed on him by Nudimmud. His foot was a triple cubit in size, his leg half a rod. Six cubits did he cover in each stride. His cheeks were flush with ample beard, and his hair was thick like barley. His beauty was beyond compare, he was the most handsome man on earth.

Around the enclosed space that is Uruk he walks, mighty like the wild bull, head raised high. None with weapon might challenge him as rival. His men stand at attention, longing for his orders; but the old men of Uruk grouse that Gilgamesh has left no son to his father, for his arrogance has grown boundless. He has taken all their children, for is Gilgamesh not the shepherd of his people? Gilgamesh does not leave a daughter to her mother, nor the maiden to the warrior, nor the wife to her husband. Yet Gilgamesh is the magnificent and glorious shepherd of his people.

The gods heard the people’s cry, and the gods of heaven beseeched the Lord of Uruk, Anu the god: “His men stand at attention, longing for his orders. Gilgamesh has left no son to his father, for his arrogance has grown boundless. He has taken all their children, for is Gilgamesh not the shepherd of his people? Gilgamesh does not leave a daughter to her mother, nor the maiden to the warrior, nor the wife to her husband.”

Anu heard the lament of the gods, and they also cried aloud to  Aruru, the goddess, saying, “Aruru, who hast created him, create now a rival to him, for the time when his heart shall be stormy. Maketh them a match for one another in strength that in contending with one another Uruk might have peace.” Upon hearing these words, Aruru conceived a man of Anu in her mind. Aruru washed her hands, she broke off a piece of clay; she cast it on the ground. Thus she created Enkidu the hero. The whole of his body was covered with hair. He was clothed with long hair like a woman. The quality of his hair was luxuriant, like that of the Corn-goddess Nisaba. He knew not the land and the inhabitants thereof; he was clothed with garments as the god of the field. With gazelles he ate herbs, with the beasts he slaked his thirst, with the creatures of the water his heart rejoiced.

At the drinking-place Enkidu met a great trapper a first day and then a second and a third day, and on all three the two men came face to face. On seeing Enkidu the trapper grew pale with fear. He took all his animals and retreated to his home. Stiff with fright and numb with terror, his heart beat wildly. Fear filled him to the core, and his face had changed like a man who had journeyed far. The trapper speaketh unto his father. “A man unlike no other cometh down from the mountains. His strength is beyond compare; he is like unto an immortal. He rangeth over all the mountains. Regularly with the beasts he feedeth; regularly his feet are set toward the drinking-place. But I was afraid; I could not approach him. He hath filled up the pit which I digged. He hath destroyed the nets which I spread. He hath caused the cattle and the beasts of the field to escape from my hands, and he doth not let me make war upon them.”

His father opened his mouth and spoke thus to the trapper: “My son, in Uruk there liveth a certain Gilgamesh. No man is stronger than he; he is like unto a star from highest heaven. Goest thou unto Uruk and telleth Gilgamesh of the might of this wild man. Asketh him to give unto thee a harlot, Shamhat, and taketh her with thee. And when the beasts come down to the drinking-place, then let her tear off her clothing and disclose her nakedness. Enkidu shall see her, and he shall draw nigh unto her, and the cattle, which grew up on his field, shall forsake him.”

Heeding the advice of his father, the trapper traveled unto Uruk. He entered into the city of Uruk. He found Gilgamesh and spake unto him: “A man unlike no other cometh down from the mountains. His strength is beyond compare; he is like unto an immortal. He rangeth over all the mountains. Regularly with the beasts he feedeth; regularly his feet are set toward the drinking-place. But I was afraid; I could not approach him. He hath filled up the pit which I digged. He hath destroyed the nets which I spread. He hath caused the cattle and the beasts of the field to escape from my hands, and he doth not let me make war upon them.” Gilgamesh replied unto the trapper: “Goest thou, trapper, and retrieve the harlot, Shamhat, and taketh her with thee.[Tweet “And when the beasts come down to the drinking-place, then let her tear off her clothing and disclose her nakedness.”] Enkidu shall see her, and he shall draw nigh unto her, and the cattle, which grew up on his field, shall forsake him.”

The trapper departed, and took with him the harlot Shamhat. They took the straight road, and on the third day they reached the appointed place. Then the trapper and the harlot placed themselves in hiding. For one day, for two days, they lurked by the drinking-place. With the beasts Enkidu slaked his thirst; with the creatures of the waters his heart rejoiced. Then Enkidu, offspring of the mountains who with the gazelles eats herbs, with the beasts he slaked his thirst, with the creatures of the water his heart rejoiced. As Enkidu came near, the trapper caught sight of him, and he exclaimed:—“That is he, Shamhat! Loosen thy girdle, uncover thy nakedness that he may receive thy favours. Be not faint-hearted, lay hold upon his soul. He shall see thee, and shall draw nigh unto thee. Open thy garment, and he shall lie in thine arms. Give him pleasure after the manner of women. His cattle, which grew up in his field, shall forsake him while he holdeth thee in the embraces of love.”

Shamhat loosened her garment. She uncovered her nakedness. She was not faint-hearted, and she laid hold upon his soul. She opened her garment, and he lay in her arms. She gave him pleasure after the manner of women, and he held her in the embraces of love.

For six days and six nights Enkidu succumbed to her charms and had intercourse with Shamhat. After he had satisfied himself with her abundance, he turned his countenance toward his cattle. His gazelles lay, and looked at Enkidu, and the beasts of the field turned away from him. This startled Enkidu and his body grew faint; his knees became stiff, as his cattle departed, and he became less agile than ever before. And as he hearkened, he made a resolve. He turned again, in love enthralled, to the feet of the harlot, and gazed up into the face of the ensnarer. And while the ensnarer spoke, his ears listened attentively; and the siren spoke to Enkidu and said: Lofty thou art, Enkidu, thou shalt be like a god; why, then, doest thou lie down with the beasts of the field? Come, I will take thee to strong-walled Uruk; to the glorious house, the dwelling of Anu and Ishtar, the palace of Gilgamesh, (the hero) who is perfect in strength,surpassing, like a mountain bull, men in power.”

While she spoke thus to him, he hearkened unto her wise speech, and his heart yearned for a friend. And Enkidu spoke unto her, the ensnarer: “Come then, Shamhat, take me, and lead me to the glorious dwelling, the sacred seat of Anu and Ishtar, to the palace of Gilgamesh, (the hero) who is perfect in strength, surpassing, like as a mountain bull, men in power. I will challenge him, and I shall exclaim in Uruk that I am the mighty one! Let me enter, and I shall upend the order of things, and I shall show that the mightiest is he who was born in the wilderness.”

Saith Shamhat unto Enkidu: “Let us therefore go unto Gilgamesh, that he might gazeth upon thy visage. I shall lead thee unto Gilgamesh, for I knoweth where he shall be. Gaze at Uruk, Enkidu, and see the people display themselves in their finery and rejoice each day in some holiday revel, as the lyre and the drum cease not their endless sound. Here harlots stand eternal vigil in their beauty, ripe in their bodies, merry in their countenance, and forever ready to take to sheets forever spread on the couches of the night. Enkidu, thou knowest not how to live like unto a man. To thee I shall show Gilgamesh, effusive in his emotion. Behold his face: it glows with heroic courage. Strength he possesses, magnificent is his whole body. His power is stronger than thine. He rests not nor tires, neither by day nor by night. O Enkidu, change thy wrong thoughts.

Shamash loves Gilgamesh; Anu, Bel, and Ea are whispering (wisdom) into his ear. Ere thou earnest down from the mountain Gilgamesh beheld thee in a dream in Uruk.”

Gilgamesh came, to understand the dream, and said to his mother: [Tweet ““My mother, I dreamed a dream in my nightly vision; the stars of heaven, like Anu’s host, fell upon me.”] I bore it and it grew heavy upon me, I became weak and its weight I could not endure. The land of Uruk gathered about it. The heroes kissed its feet. It was raised up before me. They stood me up. I bore it and carried it to thee.”

The mother of Gilgamesh, who knows all things, spoke to Gilgamesh: “Someone, O Gilgamesh, who like thee in the field was born and whom the mountain has reared, thou wilt see him and like a woman thou wilt rejoice. Heroes will kiss his feet. Thou wilt spare him and wilt endeavor to lead him to me.”

He slept and saw another dream, which he reported to his mother: “My mother, I have seen another dream. My likeness I have seen in the streets of Uruk of the plazas. An axe was brandished, and they gathered about him; and the axe made him angry. I saw him and I rejoiced, I loved him as a woman, I embraced him. I took him and regarded him as my brother.”

The mother of Gilgamesh, who knows all things, spoke to Gilgamesh: “O Gilgamesh, the man whom thou sawest, whom thou didst embrace like a woman (means) that he is to be associated with thee.” Gilgamesh understood the dream.

As Enkidu was sitting before the woman, her loins he embraced, her vagina he opened. Enkidu forgot the place where he was born. Six days and seven nights Enkidu continued to cohabit with the harlot.




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About the author

Sydney Chesterfield

Poet, Playwright, Philosopher, Humanitarian, mad lover of children and unflinching fighter for equality on all grounds viz. Women's rights, child rights, sine die.

Twitter: @syd_field