information on the Sumarian Epic Gilgamesh (ca. 2000 B.C.E.)
epic developed over a period of nearly a thousand years. It was
discovered in the city of Ninevah amidst the ruins of the great royal
library of Assurbanipal, the last great king of the Assyrian empire.
The text is still not completely understood today.
We can identify three
stages in the epic's development. The first begins in roughly 2700
B.C.E. when the historical Gilgamesh ruled in Uruk, a city in ancient
Mesopotamia. The earliest written versions of the story date from
roughly 2000 B.C.E, but oral versions of the stories both preceded them
and continued on, parallel with the written tradition. The language
of these materials was Sumerian, the earliest written language in
The history of the epic
itself begins sometime before 1600 B.C.E., assembled from free
translations of the oral versions of some of these tales and put into a
connected narrative. By the time of Assurbanipal (668-627 B.C.E.)
the text was essentially stabilized.
A recurrent theme in
Mesopotamian literature and myth is the conflict between animal and human
The gods are not organized
in a clear hierarchy as is true with the gods of the Greeks and Romans.
They are more like a large and noisy family with no generally acknowledged
patriarch or matriarch to pull them together, an alliance of
There is among the gods an
arrogance of power that separates, much as the thin line that divides
enmity from deep friendship. There are also suggestive parallels
between the account of the creation of Gilgamesh and Enkidu and Genesis
1-3. The process of civilizing Enkidu, of bringing him out of the
wild and into civilization, opens up a discussion of the relation of
civilization to nature. Enkidu both gains and loses by his
transformation. And it is worth noting that, even at this very early
stage of human history, the settled live in conflict with the wild.
The campaign against
Humbaba opens up a discussion of the importance of fame as conferring
immortality, and also the mixed results that come about when the goal of
an adventure is a selfish one. Humbaba poses no threat to Uruk and
his death brings no benefits, at least as the story is told here.
Gilgamesh's encounter with
Ishtar shows how risky the relations of humans to gods can be, at least
for humans. He has the right to reject her advances, and good reason
for doing so, but he oversteps himself in rejecting her so insultingly.
He pays a heavy price for his bad manners.
The remainder of the poem
focuses on the tragedy of mortality. The tragedy is made more
poignant because it takes place in an era before the development of a
belief in an afterlife.
Dreams are recurrent in
Gilgamesh, and important. They serve as a vehicle of communication
between gods and mortals, anticipating events symbolically, but
accurately. What narrative function do they serve? That is,
why is it useful to know what is going to happen before it does?
Gilgamesh has the earliest
version of the Flood Story, a narrative which appears later in both
Genesis 6-9 and the Koran, Sura 71. Each version has very different
emphases and draws a different moral.
As the earliest epic,
Gilgamesh also invites comparisons with later epics like the Odyssey and
the Aeneid. Each, for instance, provides a different goal as an
organizing principal -- the return home, the founding of a state, the
search for immortality. the involvement of the gods in human affairs
also differs among them.
Comparison of the Babylonian creation with that of Genesis:
Enuma elish (ca.1100 B.C.E.)
Genesis (ca. 700 - 800
Day 1: Divine spirit and cosmic matter are
The earth is a desolate waste, with darkness a primeval chaos exists; the gods war against Tiamat, god of the deep
Day 1: Divine spirit creates cosmic matter and
exists independently coeternally of it;
Day 2: Light emanating from gods
Day 3: Creation of
Creation of firmament
Day 4: Creation of dry
Creation of dry land
Day 5: Creation of
Creation of luminaries
Day 6: Creation of
animals & man
Creation of animals & man
Day 7: gods rest and
God rests and sanctifies the seventh day
Gilgamesh has been dubbed
the hero par excellence of the ancient world. George Smith
introduced the first fragments of the Gilgamesh Epic, discovered in
the ruins of Nineveh about the middle of the last century, to the British
Society of Biblical Archaeology on December 3, 1872.
The epic seems to be rooted
in history, though its incidents are certainly legendary. The
Sumerian King List, which names most of the Sumerian kings together with
the lengths of their rule form the beginning "after kingship has descended
from heaven" to the end of the third millennium, includes Gilgamesh as the
fifth king of Uruk (biblical Erech).
The Sumerians did not unify
the material into a single narrative. Most of the elements in the
later epic originated with the Sumerians, but their combination into the
unfired story necessitated their transformation. Enkidu, for
example, was transformed form Gilgamesh's loyal servant in the Sumerian
account to his beloved equal and friend in the Babylonian.
The story seems to have
revised and augmented from time to time until it probably received its
final form toward the end of the second millennium. The epic thus
appears to have been a Babylonian creation inspired by the search for an
answer to questions about the goal of human existence.
The story has been
described as a revolt against death, ending on a "jeering, unhappy, and
unsatisfying" note. Defensible as that description certainly is, it
scarcely does justice to the broad sweep and dramatic power of the poem
and should be abandoned.
Other universally appealing
images and themes in the story have become common to our literary
heritage: love, friendship, and loyalty; the way, the mountain, and the
sea; all seeking to comprehend the incomprehensible mystery of human life.
Next to them the revolt against death loses some of its force.
Beginning and ending with a
view of ramparted Uruk the story seems to emphasize a man's work as his
glory and only hope for immortality. That hope may not have
satisfied Gilgamesh, but with it he is forced to be content. Within
that framework of human achievement the poem contains exquisite
observations on human life and conduct that gently mock the heroic quest
for escape from death, which is accepted as man's lot, his inevitable fate
which should not be permitted to sour his joy in life.
Additional Gilgamesh Notes, provided by
Gilgamesh was an historical
king of Uruk in Babylonia, on the River Euphrates in modern Iraq; he lived
about 2700 B.C. Although historians tend to emphasize Hammurabi and his
code of law, the civilizations of the Tigris-Euphrates area, among the
first civilizations, focus rather on Gilgamesh and the legends accruing
around him to explain, as it were, themselves. Many stories and myths were
written about Gilgamesh, some of which were written down about 2000 B.C.
in the Sumerian language on clay tablets which still survive; the Sumerian
language, as far as we know, bears no relation to any other human language
we know about. These Sumerian Gilgamesh stories were integrated into a
longer poem, versions of which survive not only in Akkadian (the Semitic
language, related to Hebrew, spoken by the Babylonians) but also on
tablets written in Hurrian and Hittite (an Indo-European language, a
family of languages which includes Greek and English, spoken in Asia
All the above languages were
written in the script known as cuneiform, which means "wedge-shaped." The
fullest surviving version, from which the summary here is taken, is
derived from twelve stone tablets, in the Akkadian language, found in the
ruins of the library of Ashurbanipal, king of Assyria 669-633 B.C., at
Nineveh. The library was destroyed by the Persians in 612 B.C., and all
the tablets are damaged. The tablets actually name an author, which is
extremely rare in the ancient world, for this particular version of the
story: Shin-eqi-unninni. You are being introduced here to the oldest known
human author we can name by name!
This summary is derived from
several sources: translations, commentaries, and academic scholarship on
the Shin-eqi-unninni tablets. Verses are derived from several English and
French translations in consultation with the English and German language
commentaries and with the Babylonian text. For the entire text, you should
turn to The Epic of Gilgamesh , trans. by Maureen Gallery Kovacs
(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990), or Gilgamesh,
translated by John Maier and John Gardner (New York: Vintage, 1981).
Themes: The first
things you want to sort out are the ideas which seem to animate the work.
One of the problems with literature, art, mythology, etc., is that you can
never be quite sure that you've correctly identified the central ideas or
philosophy of the work, but you should take a stab at it anyway. Keep in
mind that there is no such thing as one and only one idea in a work of
literature, and that in most art and literature, like life, there is no
one correct answer concerning any single issue. To identify an idea,
question, or theme that the work seems to treat, look for specific places
where that idea seems to be a concern; mark these passages and combine and
contrast them when you begin to try to resolve what the work seems to be
about. The questions I provide in these reading notes are meant to
organize the families of questions you can bring to these texts.
Structure: Try to
define for yourself the overall structure of the story. This narrative has
two distinct parts; what are these parts and how are they separated? How
do events in the second part of the narrative repeat or develop ideas in
the first part of the narrative? Do these events contrast with or develop
themes and values articulated in the first part of the narrative?
The Nature of the Heroic:
When you read the myth, notice how Gilgamesh is presented as superhuman, so
powerful that the gods cre?ate a counterpart to moderate his desires and
actions. Do you get the sense that Gilgamesh and Enkidu should have spared
the demon of the cedar forest? Despite all of Gilgamesh's power, he is
unable to prevent Enkidu's death, and the narrative changes direction. How
can one describe Gilgamesh as a hero in the last half of the work? What has
he achieved at the end of the poem? Why is this important?
The Gods: The gods in
Gilgamesh are a bit problematic. How do the gods behave? What is their
relation to humans? How much freedom do humans have, or are they merely
subject to the will of these gods?
The Flood: The story of
the Flood is a familiar one, as we shall see in Genesis and Popol Vuh
(Plato also gives an account of the Flood and the city of Atlantis in the
dialogue, Critias; the Nez Perce of the Palouse also have a flood
story in which the only humans that survived did so by climbing the
mountain, Yamustus, that is, Steptoe Butte). The earliest surviving
reference to the Flood goes back to 1900 B.C. Why is it brought in here? Why
do the gods bring on the Flood? Is any reason given? (Later compare the
reasons for the floods in Genesis and Popol Vuh.) What does it
tell us about the nature of history and the relation of the gods to
The one who saw all [Sha nagba imuru]I will declare to
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
He journeyed beyond the distant, he journeyed beyond
And then carved his story on stone. [naru: stone
This great hero who had all
knowledge [nemequ], Gilgamesh, built the great city of Uruk; the tablet
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, the story you are about to hear.
The account begins:
Gilgamesh, 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.
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 his wildness.
Shamhat meets Enkidu
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
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
They fight furiously until Gilgamesh wins the upper hand; Enkidu
concedes Gilgamesh's superiority and the two embrace and become devoted
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 folly.
[Most of tablet three doesn't
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 success.
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 heaved,
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.
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.
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
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 his city:
Father, let me have the Bull of Heaven
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!
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
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 Hell:
The house where the dead dwell in total darkness,
Where they drink dirt and eat stone,
Where they wear feathers like birds,
Where no light ever invades their everlasting
Where the door and the lock of Hell is coated with
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
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
I also saw a priest of purification and a priest of
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?"
Enkidu commends himself to
Gilgamesh, and after suffering terribly for twelve days, he finally dies.
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
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 mor?tal 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
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 are frightened:
The gods shook like beaten dogs, hiding in the far
corners of heaven,
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.
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.
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
I [Utnapishtim] released a dove from the boat,
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 return.
I then sent out all the living things in every
sacrificed a sheep on that very spot.
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:
At one time Utnapishtim was mortal.
At this time let him be a god and immortal;
Let him live in the far away at the source of all the
At the end of his story,
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:
O woe! What do I do now, where do I go now?
Death has devoured my body,
Death dwells in my body,
Wherever I go, wherever I look, there stands Death!
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.
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 slith?ers 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 and weeps:
For whom have I labored?
For whom have I journeyed?
For whom have I suffered?
I have gained absolutely nothing for myself,
I have only profited the snake, the ground lion!
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,
walls, its masonwork, 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.