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The Epic Of Gilgamesh (Tablet XI)

Tablet XI
Tablet XI

Epic of Gilgamesh Tablet 11.i

                                             TABLET XI

Gilgamesh said to him, to Utnapishtim, the distant: “I gaze upon thee (in amazement), O Utnapishtim! Thy appearance has not changed, like unto me thou art also. And thy nature itself has not changed, like unto me thou art also, though thou hast departed this life. But my heart has still to struggle against all that no longer lies upon thee. Tell me, How didst thou come to dwell (here) and obtain eternal life among the gods?”

Utnapishtim then said unto Gilgamesh: “I will reveal unto thee, O Gilgamesh, the mysterious story, and the mystery of the gods I will tell thee. The city of Shuruppak, a city which, as thou knowest, is situated on the bank of the river Euphrates. That city was very old, as were the gods within it. Even the great gods, as many as there were, decided to bring about a deluge: their father, Anu; their counsellor, the warrior Enlil; their leader, Ninurta; their champion, the god Ennugi. But Ea, the lord of unfathomable wisdom, argued with them. Their plan he told to a reed-hut, (saying):

“‘Reed-hut, reed-hut, clay-structure, clay-structure! Reed-hut, hear; clay-structure, pay attention! Thou man of Shuruppak, son of Ubara-Tutu, build a house, construct a ship; forsake thy possessions, take heed of the living! Abandon thy goods, save living things, and bring living seed of every kind into the ship. As for the ship, which thou shalt build, let its proportions be well measured: Its breadth and its length shall bear proportion each to each, and into the sea then launch it.’

“I took heed, and said to Ea, my lord:

“‘I will do, my lord, as thou hast commanded; I will observe and will fulfil the command. But what shall I answer to (the inquiries of) the city, the people, and the elders?’

“Ea opened his mouth and spoke, and he said unto me, his servant:

“‘Man, as an answer say thus unto them: “I know that Enlil hates me. No longer can I live in your city; nor on Enlil’s territory can I live securely any longer; I will go down to the Apsu; I will live with Ea, my lord. Upon you he will pour down rich blessing. He will grant you fowl in plenty and fish in abundance, herds of cattle and an abundant harvest. In the morning he will pour down upon you bread, in the evening a rain of wheat.”’

“As soon as early dawn appeared, the populace assembled ’round Atra-hasis’s gate, the carpenter with his hatchet, the reed-worker with his flattening-stone, the […] men […]. The rich men brought pitch, and the poor men collected together all that was necessary.

“On the fifth day I set in place her exterior; it was an acre in area; its sides were ten gar high; ten gar also was the extent of its deck; I added a front-roof to it and closed it in. I built it in six stories, thus making seven floors in all; the interior of each I divided again into nine partitions. Beaks for water within I cut out. I selected a punting-pole and added all that was necessary. Three šar of pitch I smeared on its outside; three šar of asphalt I used for the inside (so as to make it water-tight). Three šar of oil the men carried, carrying it in vessels. One šar of oil I kept out and used it for sacrifices, while the other two šar the boatman stowed away. I slaughtered oxen; I killed lambs day by day. Jugs of beer, of oil, and of sweet wine, like river water (i.e., freely) I gave the workmen to make a feast like that of the New-Year’s Day. To the god Shamash my hands brought oil. The ship was completed. Launching it was heavy work, and I added tackling above and below, and after all was finished, the ship sank in the water to two thirds of its height.

“With all that I possessed I filled it; with all the silver I had I filled it; with all the gold I had I filled it; with living creatures of every kind I filled it. Then I embarked also all my family and my relatives, cattle of the field, beasts of the field, and the uprighteous people—all them I embarked. A time had Shamash appointed, (namely): ‘When the rulers of darkness send at eventide a destructive rain, then enter into the ship and shut its door.’ This very sign came to pass, and the rulers of darkness sent a destructive rain at eventide. I saw the approach of the storm, and I was afraid to witness the storm; I entered the ship and shut the door.

“I entrusted the guidance of the ship to Puzur-Amurri, the boatman, and also the great house, and the contents thereof. As soon as early dawn appeared, there rose up from the horizon a black cloud, within which the weather god (Adad) thundered, and the heralds Shullat and Hanish went before across mountain and plain. The gods of the abyss arose. Nergal, the great, tore loose the dams of the deep. There went Ninurta and he caused the banks to overflow; the Anunnaki lifted on high (their) torches, and with the brightness thereof they illuminated the universe. The storm brought on by Adad swept even up to the heavens and all light was turned into darkness as Adad shattered the land like a pot.

“It blew with violence one whole day, submerging the mountains. Like an onslaught in battle it rushed in on the people. Nor could brother look after brother. Nor were recognised the people from heaven. The gods even were afraid of the storm; they retreated and took refuge in the heaven of Anu. There the gods crouched down like dogs; on the inclosure of heaven they sat cowering.

“Then Ishtar cried out like a woman in travail and the lady of the gods lamented with a loud voice, (saying): ‘The world of old has been turned back into clay, because I assented to this evil in the assembly of the gods. Alas! that when I assented to this evil in the council of the gods, I was for the destruction of my own people. What I have created, where is it? Like the spawn of fish it fills the sea.’ The gods wailed with her over the Anunnaki. The gods were bowed down, and sat there weeping. Their lips were pressed together (in fear and in terror).

“Six days and nights the wind blew, and storm and tempest overwhelmed the country. When the seventh day drew nigh the tempest, the storm, the battle which they had waged like a great host began to moderate. The sea quieted down; hurricane and storm ceased. I looked out upon the sea and raised loud my voice, but all mankind had turned back into clay. Likewise the surrounding sea became as flat as a roof-top.

“I opened the air-hole and light fell upon my cheek. Dumbfounded I sank backward and sat weeping, while over my cheek flowed the tears. I looked in every direction, and behold, all was sea. I looked in vain for land, but twelve leagues distant there rose (out of the water) a strip of land. To Mount Niṣir the ship drifted. On Mount Niṣir the boat stuck fast and it did not slip away. The first day, the second day, Mount Niṣir held the ship fast, and did not let it slip away. The third day, the fourth day, Mount Niṣir held the ship fast, and did not let it slip away. The fifth day, the sixth day, Mount Niṣir held the ship, fast, and did not let it slip away. When the seventh day drew nigh I sent out a dove, and let her go. The dove flew hither and thither, but as there was no resting-place for her, she returned. Then I sent out a swallow, and let her go. The swallow flew hither and thither, but as there was no resting-place for her she also returned. Then I sent out a raven, and let her go. The raven flew away and saw the abatement of the waters. She settled down to feed, went away, and returned no more.

“Then I let everything go out unto the four winds, and I offered a sacrifice. I poured out a libation upon the peak of the mountain. I placed the censers seven and seven, and poured into them calamus, cedar-wood, and sweet incense. The gods smelt the savour; yea, the gods smelt the sweet savour; the gods gathered like flies around the sacrificer. But when now the lady of the gods (Ishtar) drew nigh, she lifted up the necklace with precious jewels which Anu had made according to her wish (and said):

“‘Ye gods here! by my lapis lazuli necklace, not will I forget. These days will I remember, never will I forget (them). Let the gods come to the offering; but Enlil shall not come to the offering, since rashly he caused the flood-storm, and handed over my people unto destruction.’

“Now, when Enlil drew nigh, and saw the ship, the god was wroth, and anger against the gods, the Igigi, filled his heart, (and he said): ‘Who then has escaped here (with his life)? No man was to survive the universal destruction.’

“Then Ninurta opened his mouth and spoke, saying unto Enlil, the warrior: ‘Who but Ea could have planned this! For does not Ea know all arts?’

Then Ea opened his mouth and spoke, saying unto Enlil, the warrior:

“‘Ay, thou wise one among the gods, thou warrior, how rash of thee to bring about a flood-storm! On the sinner visit his sin, and on the wicked his wickedness; but be merciful, forbear, let not all be destroyed! Be considerate, let not mankind perish! Instead of sending a flood-storm, let lions come and diminish mankind; instead of sending a flood-storm, let tigers come and diminish mankind; instead of sending a flood-storm, let famine come and smite the land; instead of sending a flood-storm, let pestilence come and kill off the people. I did not reveal the mystery of the great gods. I only caused Atra-hasis to see it in a dream, and so he heard the mystery of the gods.’

“Thereupon Enlil arrived at a decision. Enlil went up into the ship, took me by the hand and led me out. He led out also my wife and made her kneel beside me; He turned us face to face, and standing between us, blessed us, (saying) ‘Ere this Utnapishtim was only human; But now Utnapishtim and his wife shall be lofty like unto the gods; let Utnapishtim live far away (from men) at the mouth of the rivers.’

“Then they took me and let us dwell far away at the mouth of the rivers.”

After Utnapishtim had finished this account, he turned to Gilgamesh and said: “Now as for thee, which one of the gods shall give thee strength, that the life thou desirest thou shalt obtain? Now sleep!” And for six days and seven nights Gilgamesh resembled one lying lame. Sleep came over him like a storm wind. Then Utnapishtim said to his wife: “Behold, here is the hero whose desire is everlasting life! Sleep came upon him like a storm wind.” And the wife replied to Utnapishtim, the distant:  “Touch him that he may waken and return to his land. Let him, restored in health, return on the road on which he came. Let him pass out through the great door unto his own country.” And Utnapishtim said to his wife: “All men deceive, and this one will deceive you. Therefore, cook now for him loaves and place one at his head each day, and mark on the wall the days he has slept.”

And while Gilgamesh slept, she cooked the loaves to place it at his head and marked the wall. And while he slept, the first loaf became hard; the second became leathery; the third became soggy; the fourth became white; the fifth became gray with mold; the sixth, it was fresh; the seventh—of a sudden the man awoke upon being touched.

Then spoke Gilgamesh, and said unto Utnapishtim, the distant: “I had sunk down, and sleep had befallen me. Of a sudden thou didst touch me, and I awoke! And Utnapishtim said unto Gilgamesh: “Gilgamesh, look over yonder and count the loaves, heed the marks on the wall. The first loaf is hard; the second is leathery; the thirdly is soggy; the fourth is white; the fifth is gray with mold; the sixth, it is fresh; the seventh, while still warm I touched you and you awoke.”

And Gilgamesh said unto Utnapishtim, the distant: “What shall I do, Utnapishtim? Whither shall I go? The demon has seized my flesh. Upon my couch death now sits. And where my foot treads, there is death.”

And Utnapishtim said to Urshanabi, the ferryman: “Urshanabi, thou have become loathsome to this harbor; let the boat carry thee away; you are forever excluded from this place. The man, before whom thou goest, has his body covered with foulness, and the wild skins he wears have hidden the beauty of his body. Take him, Urshanabi, and bring him to the place of purification, where he can wash his hair in water that it may become clean as snow; let him cast off his skins and the sea will carry them away; his body shall then appear beautiful. Let the fillet also be replaced on his head, and the garment that covers his nakedness. Until he returns to his city, until he arrives at his road, the garment shall not wear with age; it shall remain entirely new.”

And Urshanabi took him and brought him to the place of purification, where he washed his hair in water so that it became clean as snow; he cast off his skins and the sea carried them away; his body appeared beautiful. He replaced also the fillet on his head and the garment that covered his nakedness until he should return to his city, until he should arrive at his road; the garment would not wear with age; it remained entirely new.

Then Gilgamesh and Urshanabi embarked again, and during their journey the ship tossed to and fro. The wife of Utnapishtim spoke unto her husband, the distant, (saying): “Gilgamesh did come here weary and exhausted. What now wilt thou give him, that he may return to his country?”

And Gilgamesh lifted up the pole, and drew the boat nearer to the shore.

Then Utnapishtim spoke unto Gilgamesh (and said): “Gilgamesh, thou didst come here weary; thou didst labour and row. What now shall I give thee, that thou mayest return to thy country? I will reveal unto thee, Gilgamesh, a mystery of the gods I will announce unto thee. There is a plant resembling buckthorn; its thorn stings like that of a bramble. When thy hands can reach that plant, then thy hands will hold that which gives life everlasting.”

When Gilgamesh had heard this he opened the sluices that the sweet water might carry him into the deep; he bound heavy stones to his feet, which dragged him down to the sea floor, and thus he found the plant. Then he grasped the prickly plant. He removed from his feet the heavy stones, and the sea carried him and threw him down to on the shore.

And Gilgamesh said unto Urshanabi, the ferryman: “Urshanabi, this plant is a plant of great marvel; and by it a man may attain renewed vigour. I will take it to Uruk the strong-walled, I will give it to the old men to eat. Its name shall be ‘Even an old man will be rejuvenated!’ I will eat of this and return (again) to the vigour of my youth.”

At twenty double-leagues they then took a meal: and at thirty double-leagues they took a rest. And Gilgamesh saw a well wherein was cool water; he stepped into it and bathed in the water. A serpent smelled the sweetness of the plant and darted out; he took the plant away, and as he turned back to the well, he sloughed his skin. And after this Gilgamesh sat down and wept. Tears flowed down his cheeks, and he said unto Urshanabi, the ferryman:

“Why, Urshanabi, did my hands tremble? Why did the blood of my heart stand still? Not on myself did I bestow any benefit. On the ‘ground-lion’ this benefit has been bestowed. Already twenty double-leagues the waters have taken the plant away. I opened the sluices and lowered my equipment into it. I saw the sign; it has become an omen to me. I am to return, leaving the ship on the shore.”

Then they continued on and took a meal after twenty double-leagues, and after thirty double-leagues they took a rest. When they arrived at Uruk the strong-walled, Gilgamesh then spoke to Urshanabi, the ferryman, (and said):

“Urshanabi, 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.”




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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