The Epic of Gilgamesh &Mesopotamian Mythology Professor Will Adams Valencia College Fall 2011
Gods and Goddesses•Sin (the moon), had ahigher place in thepantheon than hischildren:•Shamash (the sun), whobecomes important as adeity of all-seeing justice,and•Ishtar (the morningstar), whose multifacetednature includes goddess ofsexual love, of justice andwarfare, of communalprosperity . . .
Gods and Goddesses•Tammuz (Dumuzi) was Ishtar’shusband – a god like Attis (withCybele) who died and was rebornevery year.•Ereshkigal was the goddess ofthe Underworld (Kurnugi).•Ea was the god of fresh water,thus a fertility god; he is often aprotective figure (asin the floodmyth in Gilgamesh).•Belili, Dumuzi’s sister – parallelto Geshtinanna in the Sumerianstory, who takes her brother’splace in the underworld.
GilgameshGilgamesh is on the Sumerian king-list asone of Uruk’s earliest kings – in the realm ofmyth.He features in several Sumerian myths (suchas the one with Inanna’s hulupu tree), and inone long poem, the “Epic” of Gilgamesh.This poem is the most popular pieceofliterature in Mesopotamia, found in manydifferent languages and versions across 2500years. We discovered it in about 1920.There are two major versions: we are readingthe Nineveh version, compiled by a priest inabout 800-700 BCE.
GilgameshI shall tell the land of the one wholearned all things, of the one whoexperienced everything, I shallteach the whole. He searchedlands everywhere. He found outwhat was secret and uncoveredwhat was hidden, he brought backa tale of times before the flood.He had journeyed far and wide,weary and at last resigned.He built the wall of Uruk. . . Onesquare mile is the city, one squaremile is its orchards, one squaremile is its claypits, as well as theopen ground of Ishtar’s temple.
GilgameshGilgamesh is the son of Lugulbandaand the goddess Ninsun – and he is2/3 god, 1/3 human. But like allhumans he is destined to die.As the poem begins he is king ofUruk, busy building his city evergreater. When the epic opens,Gilgamesh, though “perfect insplendor, perect in strength” iscausing problems at home. Hisexcess energy (in building,exploration, and sex – everything infact) is causing tension among hispeople, who pray to the gods forrelief.
Gilgamesh and EnkiduThe gods create Enkidu, a hairy wild man, and place him in theforest near Uruk. He lives like an animal, startling the locals. Theysend to Gilgamesh, who suggests thay they tame him by sendinghim a woman to sleep with.The woman (called Shamhat, a cultname of Ishtar) sleeps with him –converting him to humanity. Enkidudecides to go to Uruk.Gilgamesh dreams about him, and hismother Ninsun interprets the dreams.When the two men meet – at acelebration of Ishtar – they fight to astandstill, then become fast friends.They decide to go on a quest to freethe Cedar Forest of Humbaba.
Gilgamesh and Enkidu So the heroes represent culture in theis battle against nature . . . Everyone advises against it. Ninsun prays to Shamash: Why did you single out my son Gilgamesh and impose a restless spirit on him? He faces an unknown struggle, he will ride along an unknown road . . .Ellil destined Humbaba to She adopts Enkidu as her son, andkeep the pine forest safe, to entreats him to watch afterbe the terror of people . . . Gilgamesh. The heroes depart . . .
Gilgamesh•What does Gilgamesh have incommon with such heroes asOdysseus, Achilles, Heracles,and others?•Is his story (so far) essentiallydifferent from theirs in someways?•You’re reading the poem infragmentray form so this maybe hard to tell but . . . arethere essential differences inhow this story is told,compared to, say, Homer?
The Cedar ForestWhen Enkidu touches the gates of theCedar forest, he feels a supernaturalcold and debility, and at first can barelycontinue. Then Gilgamesh has terribledreams of destruction, which Enkiduinterprets in a favorable light.The heroes battle Humbaba, who asksfor mercy. But Enkidu urges Gilgamesh The heroes defeatto kill the monster, despite the gods’ Humbaba, and returnpossible displeasure. Humbaba cries to Uruk in triumph.out: In Uruk, the goddess Neither one of them shall outlive Ishtar approaches his friend! Gilgamesh and Enkidu Gilgamesh to become shall never become old men! her lover.
Gilgamesh & Ishtar Come to me, Gilgamesh, and be mylover! Bestow on me the gift of your fruit! You can be my husband, I canbe your wife. I shall have a chariot of lapis lazuli and gold harnessed for you . . . kings, nobles and princes shall bow down beneath you. . .But Gilgamesh scornfully rejects her: You are a door that can’t keep out winds and gusts, a palace that rejects its own warriors, a waterskin which soaks its carrier . . . which of yourlovers lasted forever? Which of your paramours went to heaven?
The Bull of HeavenEnraged, Ishtar sends the Bull of Heaven to ravage Uruk.Gilgamesh and Enkidu kill it, and when Ishtar reviles them, Enkidualso insults her, even throwing the “thigh” of the bull in her face.Inanna calls together the women to mourn the bull – a type scenerelated to fertility ritual. (The Bull of Heaven is the husband ofEreshkigal.)
Enkidu’s death Enkidu gets sick and over 12 days, he dies. He Enkidu has a terrible nightmare: curses the hunter and the prostitute who found The gods were in council last night. him and made himAnd Anu said to Ellil, “As they have human, but Shamashslain the Bull of Heaven, so too have persuades him not to they slain Humbaba: One of them curse the prostitute.must die.” Enlil replied, “Let Enkidu die, but let Gilgamesh not die.” Gilgamesh mourned bitterly for Enkidu hisThen heavenly Shamash said, “Was it friend, and roved the not according to your plans?” But open country. “Shall I Enlil turned in anger to Shamash: die too? Am I not like “You accompanied them daily, like Enkidu? Grief has on of their comrades.” entered my innermost being . . .
Gilgamesh travels to the ends He meets Siduri, the (female)of the earth, through the dark innkeeper (another cult namemountain, the pathways of of Ishtar), to whom he poursShamash: out his troubles. She directs him to Utnapishtim, and adds:When he had gone one As for you, Gilgamesh, letdouble-hour, thick is the your belly be full, Makedarkness, there is no light; he merry day and night. Ofcan see neither behind him nor each day make a feast ofahead of him… When he had rejoicing. Day and nightgone seven double hours, thick dance and play!is the darkness, there is nolight… At the nearing ofeleven double-hours, lightbreaks out. At the nearing oftwelve double-hours, the lightis steady.
UtnapishtimWith the help of the boatmanUrshanabi, Gilgamesh travels acrossthe water to Dilmun, the land at the Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh:edge of time . . . •how Ea told him to build aHe cuts 60 saplings for poles, and as hige arc because a flood waseach enters the waters, it is eaten coming;away. He finally uses his tattered •how built the amazing thing,clothing for a sail and arrives how he and his family aloneexhausted to Utnapishtim: of all mortals were saved from the Flood, I crossed uncrossable mountains. I travelled all the •how Ishtar mourned theseas. No real sleep has calmed dead; my face. I have worn myself • and how he and his wifeout in sleeplessness; my flesh is came to Dilmun, living as filled with grief. immortals.
Gilgamesh says to him, toUtnapishtim offers Gilgamesh a Utnapishtim the remote,way to become immortal: "as soon as I was ready to fall asleep, right away youTest yourself! Dont sleep for touched me and roused six days and seven nights." me."But as soon as Gilgamesh sits But Utnapishtim shows himdown, he falls asleep. He sleeps the loaves, and Gilgameshfor seven days and nights, and realizes that he has failed hiseach day, Utnapishtim’s wife puts quest.a loaf of bread beside him. The Utnapishtim gives Gilgameshold loaf is rotting when the last a “consolation prize”: aone is fresh: a metaphor for the rejuvenating plant. But onseven decades of human life. the way home, a snake takes it from him.
Homecoming Go up onto the wall of Uruk, and walk around! Inspect it . . . OneUrshanabi accompanies square mile is the city, one squareGilgamesh home, and mile is its orchards, one square milewhen they reach the city, is its claypits, as well as the openGilgamesh proudly ground of Ishtar’s temple.points it out to him: The storys quiet close belies the significance of Gilgameshs return. He is back where he started but a changed man, his description of Uruk here suggesting in the context a new acceptance of the meaning of the city in his life, an embracing rather than a defiance of the limits it represents… the king has evolved from a hubristic, dominating male into a wiser man, accepting the limitations that his mortal side imposes…[and] his essential kinship with all creatures who must die . Thomas van Nortwick