The Epic of Gilgamesh #4

TABLET IX

Gilgamesh roams the steppe
And weeps bitter tears
For Enkidu, his friend
‘Shall I not die like Enkidu?
Woe gnaws at my entrails,
I fear death.
So I roam the steppe.
I must go to see Ziusudra
The Survivor of the Flood
He, the son of Ubara-Tutu.
Immediately shall I travel the wheel-rim (1) to him.
At night I come tot he Gates of the Mountains.
Gripped by fear, I saw lions.
I lifted my head to the Moon God,
Offered prayers.
My prayers went out to the …. of the gods:
‘O God of the Moon, do you preserve me!’
He laid himself down and then awoke from a dream.
There in the dream he had seen [lodestones] (2)
Rejoicing in life they were
In his hand he raised an axe,
He drew his dagger from his belt,
He descended upon them like an arrow (3).
He struck at them,
Smashed them into pieces.
(Here many lines are lost, with only a few scattered words surviving. Six lines along, a line commences with the female pronoun she; the identity of the female personage in this missing section cannot even be guessed at, but she probably appeared in another dream and could have been Siduri [see next tablet], thereby repeating the pattern of premonitory dreaming.)
The mountain is called Mashu (4)
And so he arrived at Mashu Mountain
Which keeps watch every day
Over the rising and setting of the Sun God,
Whose tips reach the zenith of heaven
And whose rim (5) raches the depths of the Un
Scorpion-Men (6) guard the commencement of its motion (7).
Awful their terror, their glance is death (8)
The splendour of their scintillation (9) disturbs the mountains
Which keep watch over the rising and the setting of the Sun God
When Gilgamesh observed (10) them,
His visage was darkened with terror, with fear.
Regaining his composure
He approaches them.
The Scorpion-Man called to his wife:
‘Look who comes
His body is made of flesh of the gods.’
The Scorpion-Man’s wife replied:
‘He is 2/2 god, 1/3 man’.
The Scorpion-Man calls out,
Cries to the offspring of the gods:
‘Why have you come this far a journey?
What brings you here before me?
You have made a traverse of the celestial Sea –
Its crossings are difficult
I wish to learn
The meaning of your coming.’
(The next line appears to be an enquiry about ‘your way’ or ‘your road’, or the road taken by Gilgamesh. When the text resumes, Gilgamesh is replying to the Scorpion-Man and mentioning Ziusudra, the Babylonian/Sumerian Noah:)
‘I have come in search of life,
To see Ziusudra, my forefather –
He who survived the Flood
And joined the Assembly of the Gods
I wish to ask him about life and death.’
The Scorpion-Man opened his mouth to speak, said to Gilgamesh:
‘There never was a mortal, Gilgamesh,
Never one who could do that.
No one has travelled the mountain’s path (12).
For twelve double-hours its bowels….
Dense is the darkness and there is no light.
To the rising of the Sun…….
To the setting of the Sun…..
To the setting of the Sun…..’
(Many lines are missing here. The Scorpion-Man is believed in the missing portion to have described the journey double-hour by double-hour [see note 13]. When the text resumes, Gilgamesh is speaking:)
‘Whether it be in sorrow,
Whether it be in pain,
In cold, in heat,
In sighing, in weeping,
I will go!
Let the gate of the mountain now be opened!’
The Scorpion-Man opened his mouth to speak,
Said to Gilgamesh:
‘Go, then, Gilgamesh, go you forth.
May you cross the mountains of Mashu,
May you traverse the mountains and ranges.
May you go in safety.
The gate of the mountain is now open to you!’
When Gilgamesh heard this,
When he heard the words of the Scorpion-Man,
He travelled from the east to west
Along the road of the Sun.
When he had gone one double-hour
Dense was the darkness and there was no light.
This permitted him no sight of its front or his rear
When he had gone two double hours
Dense was the darkness and there was no light.
This permitted him no sight of its front or his rear.
When he had gone three double-hours
Dense was the darkness and there was no light.
This permitted him no sight of its front or his rear
When he had gone four double hours
Dense was the darkness and there was no light.
This permitted him no sight of its front or his rear.
When he had gone five double-hours
Dense was the darkness and there was no light.
This permitted him no sight of its front or his rear
When he had gone six double hours
Dense was the darkness and there was no light.
This permitted him no sight of its front or his rear.
When he had gone seven double-hours
Dense was the darkness and there was no light.
This permitted him no sight of its front or his rear
When he had gone eight double hours, he cried out.
Dense was the darkness and there was no light.
This permitted him no sight of its front or his rear.
When he had gone nine double-hours, he felt the morning breeze.
It was fanning his face
Dense was the darkness and there was no light.
This permitted him no sight of its front or his rear
When he had gone ten double hours
He knows the moment of rising is near.
He is impatient for the end of the double hours.
When he had gone eleven double hours
He rose just before the Sun
When he had gone twelve double
Day had grown bright (13)
Upon seeing the bejewelled shrubs, he approaches them
The carnelian bears its fruit
And hung it is with goodly vines,
The lapis lazuli bears leaves
Lush fruit also hangs from it
It is fine to the eye.
(The remaining fifty lines of this tablet are mutilated or lost. From the fragmentary words surviving we can see that the description of the garden of jewels continued, for at least six different stones and minerals are mentioned, but they are merely stray words in an otherwise obliterated text.)

NOTES TO TABLET IX

1. The word used in the original text -allak- means rim of a wheel, and is yet another reference to cosmic orbital motion. Similarly, allaku means ‘wanderer’, which in many cultures such as the Greek and Egyptian was what the planets were called, and it also means ‘messenger’, a concept often associated to the planet Mercury, because of its rapid shuttlings back and forth in the sky. Such a busy planet rushing rapidly to and fro was quite naturally seen as a wanderer.
The astronomical references in the Epic have always been glossed over by translators in the interests of supposed clarity. For instance, allak is explained by Speiser, Gordon, Heidel and Campbell Thompson as meaning either that Gilgamesh will travel or will take the road. But if road were really intended, we ould see harannu in the original, or if way were really intended, we would see alaktu rather than allak, as in Tablet VIII, of the Akkadian text, where the literal translation is ‘the road from which there is no way back’, which I have rendered ‘road from which there is no return.’ Here road is harranu and way is allaktu, both occurring in the very same line.

2. See Tablet X, note 5.

3. If the axe in Gilgamesh’s hand and dagger, or sword, in his belt did not continually recur in formulaic fashion, they might might be taken at face value. But these hieratic motifs may be meant to signify an identification or comparison of Gilgamesh to the constellation Orion, whose sword or dagger in his belt is plain for all to see who look at the night sky. If so, then descending like an arrow would be connected with the Arrow Star, as Sirius was known to the Babylonians, and which was just beneath the foot of Orion.

The preposition kima has two meanings -like and as. It has been usual to translate this sentence as Gilgamesh descending like an arrow, considering the statement to be merely a lit of decorative imagery. However, if the astronomical events referred to are intended to be preponderant here, the preposition could have its other meaning, and Gilgamesh would descend as an arrow, meaning that he would become the star Sirius and would set below the horizon. This passage would therefore refer to the setting of Sirius and Orion, and on occastion where it recurs, this interpretation would each time be intended. Since the rising and setting of the sun are mentioned a few lines later, thse cosmic movements may well be implied.

4. All scholars have expressed puzzlement over the name Mashu [Heidel doubted the word was Babylonian]. I believe it is a borrowing of the Egyptian ma Shu, which means ‘Behold the Sun God’. This fits the context perfectly as well as being linguistically sound.

5. The existing English translations render iratsunu (a form of irtum) as breast. But von Soden rightly says that in this passage it should be taken to mean rim. A cosmic wheel is again referred to, the one along whose rim Gilgamesh earlier said he would travel. The depths of the Underworld here means the nadir of the invisible sky below the horizon, or the south celestial pole, into which the rim turns after passing through the zenith or the north celestial pole in the visible sky. This wheel is therefore a great rotating circle at right angles to the equator, with the earth at its centre, and passing through both celestial poles. Presumably the equinoctial colure, which passes through the equinoctial points, is being referred to, or otherwise the solstitial colure, which passes through the solstice points and also passes through both the celestical and ecliptic poles. What we can be certain of is that the great circle referred to must be at right angles to the equator if part of it is to remain invisible permanently below the horizon. If it were not at right angles to the equator or at least to the eclipitic, it could not touch the tip of heaven and depths of the Underworld.
There is also a pun involved, for irat can also be used to refer to the notch of an arrow; so that we may have a punning reference to the Arrow star again.

6. The word girtablilu, Scorpion-Man, is a reference to all or part of what we now call Scorpio.

7. Once again, as in Tablet VII, I translate babu not as gate, but by its other meaning of commencement of a motion, in connection with the spinning of cosmic wheel.

8. The concealed meaning here is a reference to astronomical observations [imru] rather than a glance (In the text we find imratsunu.) The root or stem-word, MRT, yields a basic meaning to see (amaru). The verb emeru from this root is the one used to describe the heliacal rising of a star, which may be regarded as the star’s babu or commencement of its motion, and its rebirth after being dead in the Underworld (that is, the sky below the horizon). The star Sirius, for example, was dead for seventy days, or seven ten-day Egyptian weeks, and passed through seven gates in the Underworld during that time (each week had a gate) before its emeru, or heliacal rising, took place, which was subject to an imru (observation) at the moment of return, when it once more experienced its commencement of motion, on the visible part of its great sky wheel.

9. This is clearly another reference to the observations of heliacal risings and settings. Speiser used ‘shimmering’ for emeru, but I give ‘scintillation’ here to clarify further the reference to a stellar observation.

10. A verb form of imru (see note 8 above) occurs here.

11. These two lines, which recur throughout the Epic have numerological significance. Clearly genetic descent cannot be referred to, since it is impossible for anyone to be descended in thirds. The Babylonians had a sexagesimal mathematics, and from their astronomers we have inherited the division of the circle in 360 degrees, the hour into 60 minutes, the minute into 60 seconds and so on. An, the chief Babylonian god, was equated with the number 60. Enki was equated with 2/3 of An, i.e. 40. So, by saying that Gilgamesh is two-thirds god, he is also being identified with the number 40. The god Enki was called both Shanabi (two-thirds) and Nimin (forty in Sumerian). Enki’s son-in-law, the ferryman Urshanabi, has a name that means virtually Priest of the Two-Thrids. Urshanabi is also asked to survey Gilgamesh’s city of Uruk (see end of Tablet XI). So when Gilgamesh is described as being two-thirds god, the statement is a coded way of equating him with the god Enki as well as with the groundplan of the city of Uruk and its temples (Enki was traditionally the god who drew up the ground plans of temples.

Other aspects of the theme of two-thirds relate to the planet Mercury, with whom Gilgamesh is associated. The image of Gilgamesh wandering over the steppe may refer to the planet Mercury wandering across the band of the zodiac. Of the 12 degrees of the zodiac band, Mercury moves across 8 degrees, or two thirds. It could be said therefore that from Mercury’s point of view, the band of the zodiac is ‘two thirds god, one third not.’ Pliny the Elder records in his Natural History, Book 2 (xiii, 66):’The planet Mercury wanders over more than 8 of the 12 degrees of latitude of the zodiac, and these 8 not uniformly, but two in the middle of the zodiac, four above it, two below it.’ (This shows with what eagle eyes the ancients watched such things. Today no one would notice. Otto Neugebauer discovered from Babylonian records that the Babylonians watched the heliacal rising of Mercury as morning star with such fanatical attention that there were 2673 such risings in a period of 848 years).

Another occurrence of two-thirds in the planetary motions which would have been noticed by the ancients has been described by Pliny (Book 2, xiii, 59): ‘The three planets [Jupiter, Saturn and Mars] make their morning or first stations in a triangle 120 degrees away, and subsequently their evening risings opposite 180 degrees away, and again approaching from the other side, make their evening or second stations 120 degrees away….’

Martianus Capella also discusses this (Book 8, 887): ‘These planets make their morning stations 120 degrees away from the sun, and then, at opposition, 180 degrees away, they make their evening risings; likewise, on the other side, they make their evening stations 120 degrees away. The latter are called second stations and the former, first stations.’

Without going into astronomy at any greater length, the important fact to be noticed here is that 120 degrees is two-thirds, 180 degrees, and the constant alteration of these planets between two-thirds and a whole of an angular measure may be yet another factor in the strange Babylonian concern with 2/3, especially as they were such fanatical observers of planetary motions.

Another possibility not unrelated to this kind of thinking is that the Pythagorean mathematical and geometrical traditions, which preserve one important two-thirds motif may have been derived from Babylonian traditions. This is no unreasonable, for the so-called Pythagorean theorem concerning right triangles is known to be of Babylonian orgin and was most certainly not invented by Pythagoras (Pythagoras is credited with a visit to Babylon, where he presumably learned these things, which he then introduced to Greek culture.) This two-thirds motif also concerns triangles, as it happens. It is found in the neo-Pythagorean treatise On the Nature of the World and the Soul, ascribed to Timaios of Locri, and actually thought to have been written by a later author. this treatise maintains that earth is composed of isosceles triangles (two sides equal), and water, air and fire are composed of scalene triangles (having no sides equal) of the following type: ‘The smallest angle of this triangle is 1/3 of a right angle. The middle one is twice that size, that is two-thrids of a right angle. The largest is a right angle…. The triangle then is half of an equilateral triangle which has been bisected perpendicularly from its vertex to its base into equal parts.

Since, according to the Pythagorean tradition, 3 of the four elements making up the physical world are said to be composed of triangles containing angles which are in the proportion one-thrid to two-thirds to three-thirds, one wonders whether the same Babylonian tradition which gave the Pythagoerean the Pythagorean theorem gave them also this concept. And if so, could the lore of the triangle have something also to do with the two-thirds motif in the Epic?

What we can be sure of is that Gilgamesh being 2/3 god and 1/3 man must be an esoteric reference to some tradition of a mathematical, geometrical or astronomical nature, and possible even of all three.

12. The depiction of the planet Mercury as a mass of convoluted intestines in the Humbaba mask here finds an echo as libbu means intestines, and is here applied to a cosmic path.

13. Gilgamesh’s passage through the darkness of the half of the sky below the horizon, and rising just before the sun in the east again isa perfect description of the heliacal rising of a star, planet or constellation, as seen by an ancient astronomer.
It is important to note that prior to the Hellenistic period, i.e. after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE, there were no hours of equal length. The hours varied in absolute duration. Egyptian and Babylonian astronomy allotted twelve-hours to night-time, however long or short this night-time was. [The hours expanded and shrank, in other words, as there must always be twelve of them. The hours were not conceived as absolute time intervals of equal duration at all, but more like stations along a railway line, which must be passed through at whatever speed.]

The word beru, translated by Heidel as double-hour and by Speiser as league is a very curious one. It seems to be formed from a subsidiary stem of the verb root beru, whose basic meaning is to starve or to be hungry. From this basic meaning the subsidiary stem in question developed its meaning to persevere, to hold out, in other words, to hold out against starvation. In actual usage, the meaning was extended and the word came to mean to endure without interruption, and to continue to last. The word was used specifically in astronomy to describe stars and plnets which continued to be visible and had not gone below the horizon. From this verb, a noun was constructed with the meaning duration, although it was generally in the form biritu. A related preposition meant between, since what was endured between constituted an interval.

This noun also had a highly specific astronomical usage, meaning the angle of elongation of a star or planet. That means the angular distance from the sun. (In the case of Mercury, this never exceeds 28 degrees, which is just under 1/3 of a right angle, and may possibly relate to the thirds which were discussed above in note 11.) The central celestial sky band of An had an angular width of between 30 and 34 degrees, since An was identified with the number 60, it would seem that the degrees of his sky band were double-degrees, to yield this number. Perhaps the idea of a double-hour is similarly a normal hour counted double. Heidel does not explain why he has chosen to translate beru as double-hour. I have retained this translation but warn that the word really means ‘variable interval’, when Gilgamesh’s journey below the horizon is described, referring to the 12 unequal hours, two of which are the period of dawn.

F. Rochberg-Hlaton, in an article on stellar distances in Babylonian astronomy stressed that the beru was: ‘a unit of measure having three possible dimensions: length, time, or the measurement of an arc. As a unit of length, beru is customarily translated as mile (it is actually something over 10km), and as a unit of time it is equal to 30 ush (ush being the fundamental Babylonian unit for the measurement of both time and of arcs, equivalent to four minutes), hence 120 minutes or a double- hour. In the measurement of an arc, the beru refers to the 12th part of a circle, against 30 ush or 30 degrees, and serves as an astronomical unit, but only in thelate mathematical astronomy.’ Beru occurs so frequently in the Epic of Gilgamesh that it has been necessary to give a fair amount of information about it. The cosmic journey throughout the Epic, and the number of berus traversed on each occasion, are of great significance for working out what is actually being described. I have opted largely to use the translation double-hour, and occasionally leagues. But precisely what is going on in all instances is by no means clear.

TABLET X
(The first line is broken off the tablet. Gilgamesh is being addressed by an unidentified character)
………………………………………………………………………..
Eating the flesh of wild things, dressed in their skins
O Gilgamesh, this is a thing which has not happened
No, not so long as my wind shall drive the waters.’
Distressed at heart, Shamash the Sun
Went to Gilgamesh and said to him:
‘Whence youare directing yourself, Gilgamesh?
You shall not find the life you seek.’
But to valiant Shamash
Gilgamesh speaks:
‘After travelling, after roaming the steppe,
Shall I merely lay my head
Down into the earth’s guts?
And then sleep –
Sleep forever?
No! Let me see the Sun!
See the Sun and be sated with light!
If there is light enough,
Then the darkness shrinks away
May the light of Shamash the Sun
Be seen even by he who is dead!’
(Many lines are lost here. Four different versions of the remainder of this tablet are known (Old Babylonian, Assyrian, Hitite and Hurrian). They are not identical, although all describe the meeting of Gilgamesh and Siduri. Siduri has a bar or tavern at the confluence of the celestial rivers which lead to the Underworld. The location in the sky is believed to be beneath the foot, or the Star Rigel, of the constellation of Orion; there is a road which souls were said to take. Siduri seems to offer drinks as a comfortto souls denied the drink of immortality. Priests and shamans ritually drank these on earth. Hence, here is a tvern for souls, to refresh them on their way. She is Siduri the Refresher. The next section of the Epic comes from the Assyrian version:)
– the last
Siduri the Refresher, who dwells by the celestial Sea’s edge,
Who sits there enthroned at the confluence of the rivers,
For her they have made a jug,
For her they have made a golden vat
In which to make the mash for the beverage
She is covered with a veil and
Gilgamesh comes up to her and…
He is clad in skins of dogs,
The flesh of the gods is in his body
But in his entrails there is woe
His face is that of one who has come from afar
The Refresher gazes into the distance
And says to herself,
Within her heart takes counsel:
‘Surely this one will do murder!
Where can he be directing himself…?’
And as she saw him,
She, the Refresher, locked the door
Barred the gate
Secured the bolt.
But Gilgamesh heard her.
Held up his pointed staff and placed it agains the door
Gilgamesh says to her
Says to the Refresher:
‘Refresher, what have you see
That leads you to….
Lock your door,
Bar your gate
Secure the bolt?
I will smash the door
Shatter the gate!’ (2)
(Here several lines are lost. When the text resumes in the Old Babylonian Version, Siduri has taken off her veil come out and shown herself to Gilgamesh, now speaking to her)
‘He who endured many hardships with me
Whom I so dearly loved – Enkidu;
Yes, he who endured my hardships with me!
He now has gone to the fate that awaits mankind!
Day and night I have wept for him
I would not give him over for burial
For what if he had risen at my beseeching?
Six days and seven nights I waited
Until a worm fell out of his nose
Since he has gone
There is no life left for me.
I have roamed the steppe like a hunter
But oh, Refresher, now that I have seen your face,
Let me not see Death,
Which I so dread!’
The Refresher said to him, said to Gilgamesh:
‘Gilgamesh, whence do you direct yourself?
You shall not find the life you seek,
For at the creation of mankind
The gods allotted Death to men.
They retained life in their own hands.
Gilgamesh, let your belly be full,
Make you merry by day and by night.
Make everyday a day of feasting and of rejoicing
Dance and play, by day, by night,
Let your clothes be sparkling and fresh
Wash your hair
Bathe your body
Attend to the babe who holds you by the hand
Take your wife and let her rejoice in you.
For this is the lot of mankind to enjoy
But immortal life is not for men.’
(Here several lines are lost)
Gilgamesh said to her, said to Siduri:
‘O Refresher, what did you say thus to me?
My heart is stricken for Enkidu, my friend.
O Refresher, you dwell here on the shore of the Sea.
You can see into its furthest reaches, all that is therein.
Show me the way to cross it.
If it may be allowed
I would cross the Sea.’
The Refresher said to him, said to Gilgamesh:
‘Gilgamesh, there has never been anyone
Who had done this thing
The way across the sea
Who has taken it?’
[Here many lines are lost in the Old Babylonian version and shortly we shall return to the much later Assyrian version for the continuation. But here we insert the material excavated by archeologists in Armenia in the Elamite language which was written in the form of a theatrical script. Inevitable libertries have had to be taken in trying to put this into readable or coherent English. It is not only possible but highly likely that parts of what follows are misleading or incorrect. The Elamite language is so poorly understood that no absolutely reliable translation of this material is yet possible, and the Elamite scholars admit to much guesswork. In order to present the material in any remotely coherent way, some explanatory matter has been interpolated directly into the text, such as the words indicating teh signficance of ten figs – something familiar to the audiences at the time, but wholly strange to us.]
Gilgamesh speaks
O Siduri, you who are cupbearer of the gods,
You who pour out for them to drink of immortality,
You who provide life eternal for the sake of the gods –
They who sit on their thrones before you
To you I make my plea.
Behold, I am a stranger
And I come to beseech your help.
Chorus:
O let the desire be revealed!
The ten figs of marriage,
The figs to be held by the bride –
The juice of the figs is squeezed
By the bride in the marriage cerimony.
Oh, he bestows the ten figs of marriage
The desire is made known.
Siduri the Cupbearer speaks:
It is for woman to bear
But for you to engender.
Gilgamesh speaks:
Taken from me, taken from me by the gods
Were the seven melammus,
The seven cloaks of power.
Taken were they at my rising at the sunrise –
They that were the life of Gilgamesh
Chorus:
The Plant of Birth
The Plant by which Woman bears –
You have that Plant
For a son let it be received
O sacrifices!
Food of the sacrifice!
Great are the sacrifices before us!
Let the man receive it!
O Woman, here is the man.
We beseech for him your help
Gilgamesh speaks:
O sacrifices!
Great are the sacrifices before us!
See the sacrifices before us!
The ten figs of marriage!
Chorus:
For the sake of the Goddesses
They are requested
O let the desire be revealed
Let it be told to you!
Gilgamesh speaks:
For the sake of the gods
Do I speak the request.
O let the desire be revealed
Let it be told to you!
Chorus:
The Plant of Birth,
The Plant by which Woman bears –
Which you have, O Woman! –
See, we are here!
Gilgamesh speaks:
I gave a gift
I brought a blessing
Chorus: O sacrifices!
Great are the sacrifices before us!
The ten figs of marriage!
Let the desire be revealed
To you are the sacrifices ordered
The gifts are now in your keeping,
Five are the cows we have given;
They have been offered
That the desire may be revealed
Gilgamesh speaks: I have received your speech
That you give your help
Chorus:O sacrifices!
Great are the sacrifices before us!
See the sacrifices before us!
The ten figs of marriage!
For the sake of the goddesses
May the Plant be given!
Gilgamesh speaks:
I utter the tradition!
Chorus: O sacrifices!
Great are the sacrifices before us!
May the desire appear!
The ten figs of marriage!
Before the gods the desire appears!
From you may it come,
May he take it from you!
May he receive Life,
May Life become his
At the moment he receives it.
To you are the sacrifices ordered.
O sacrifices! Great are the sacrifices before us!
See the sacrifices before us!
The ten figs of marriage!
Those melammus which the gods took away
Were given to you.
Gilgamesh speaks: For the sake of the Goddesses……
[Here the 1st fragment breaks off. The second fragment resumes after an indeterminate interval with two female names unknown from any other ancient sources:]
Piraddarak und Shutijas are dead….
Chorus: With you the Plant I made to….
………Shutijas.
………………….
………………….
The ten figs of marrige!
……………………………
…..was seen and also
…..was engendered and also
Zigi, brother of Benunu
…..was told a lie and also
Chorus:
….the brother……
He can receive the desire!
[After this strange interluge taken from an extremely archaic version of the Epic, we return to the far more modern Assyrian version, where Gilgamesh is protesting his heroic valour to Siduri.]
Gilgamesh says to her, says to the Refresher:
‘I slew the watchman of the forest,
He, Humbaba – he of the Cedar Forest.
In the mountain passes I slew lions.’
Siduri said to him, said to Gilgamesh:
‘If you are Gilgamesh, who slwe the watchman,
Who slew Humbaba – he of the Cedar Forest –
And slew lions in the mountain passes,
Seized and killed the bull that comes down from heaven –
Then why are your cheeks wasted?
Why is your face sunken,
Why is your heart so sad,
Why are your features worn,
Why in your entrails is ther woe,
Why is your face that of one who has come from afar?
Why is your countenance seared by heat and by cold?
And why do you roam over the steppe
Like one pursuing a mere puff of wind?’
Gilgamesh says to her, says to Siduri:
‘O Refresher, why should my cheeks not be wasted?
My face sunken, my heart sad, my features worn?
Why not in my entrails be woe?
And my face – why should it not be that of one who has come from afar?
As for my countenance –
Why should it not be seared by heat and cold?
And as for my roaming over the steppe
As if for a mere puff of wind, why not?
My friend, younger than myself,
He hunted the wild ass in the hills,
He chased the panther on the steppe,
Enkidu, my friend, younger than myself,
Who hunted the wild ass in the hills,
Who chased the panther on the steppe,
We two who conquered all, climbed all,
We who seized and killed the Bull of Heaven,
We who laid hoild of Humbaba,
My friend whom I loved so dearly,
Who endured all hardships with me,
He now has gone to the fate that awaits mankind!
Six days and seven nights I wept over for him
Until a worm fell out his nose.
Fearing death I roam over the steppe
The fate fo my friend lies heavy upon me.
On distant ways I roam the steppe.
The fate of Enkidu, my friend, lies heavey upon me,
How can I be silent? How be still?
My friend whom I loved has turned to clay!
And I, shall too, like him, lie down
Never to rise –
Never again –
Fore ever and ever?’
Gilgamesh says to her, says to the Refresher:
‘O Gilgamesh, ther ehas never
Never been a crossing.None who came since the beginning of days
None could cross
Only valiant Shamash the Sun makes the crossing of the Sea.
Who other than Shamash the Sun can cross it?
Difficult is the place of crossing,
Difficult the way to it.
In between are the Waters of Death
Which bar the approaches!
Where would you cross the Sea, Gilgamesh?
And when you arrived at the Waters of Death, what would you do?
Ziusudra’s boatman is there, Gilgamesh.
His name is Urshanabi (4).
With him are the lodestones (5).
In the forest he picks urnu-snakes (6).
Let your face behold him.
If if be possible, make the crossing with him.
If it not be possible, retrace your steps.’
When Gilgamesh heard this,
In his hand he raised his axe
He drew his dagger from his belt,
He slipped into the forest,
And went down to them.
He descended upon them like an arrow.
In the forest….
When Urshanabi saw the flash of the dagger,
And heard the axe….
He struck his head……. Gilgamesh
Seized the wings….. the breast,
The lodestones…… and the boat.
[After these fragmentary lines, many are missing entirely. By the time the text resumes, Urshanabi and Gilgamesh have met and are in discussion.]
Urshanabi said to him, said to Gilgamesh:
‘Why are your cheeks wasted?
Why is your face sunken,
Why is your heart so sad,
Why are your features worn,
Why in your entrails is ther woe,
Why is your face that of one who has come from afar?
Why is your countenance seared by heat and by cold?
And why do you roam over the steppe
Like one pursuing a mere puff of wind?’
Gilgamesh said to him, said to Urshanabi:
‘O Urshanabi, why should my cheeks not be wasted?
My face sunken, my heart sad, my features worn?
Why not in my entrails be woe?
And my face – why should it not be that of one who has come from afar?
As for my countenance –
Why should it not be seared by heat and cold?
And as for my roaming over the steppe
As if for a mere puff of wind, why not?
My friend, younger than myself,
He hunted the wild ass in the hills,
He chased the panther on the steppe,
Enkidu, my friend, younger than myself,
Who hunted the wild ass in the hills,
Who chased the panther on the steppe,
We two who conquered all, climbed all,
We who seized and killed the Bull of Heaven,
We ho laid hoild of Humbaba,
My friend whom I loved so dearly,
Who endured all hardships with me,
He now has gone to the fate that awaits mankind!
Six days and seven nights I wept over for him
Until a worm fell out his nose.
Fearing death, I roam over the steppe,
The fate of my friend lies heavey upon me.
On distant ways I roam the steppe.
The fate of Enkidu, my friend, lies heavey uopon me.
How can I be silent?
How be still?
My friend whom I loved has turned to clay!
And I, shall too, like him, lie down,
Never to rise –
Never again –
Gilgamesh also says to him, says to Urshanabi:
‘Now, Urshanabi, which is the way to Ziusudra,
He who survived the Flood?
What is the special sign?
Give me, o, give me its special sign!
If it be possible,
I will make a crossing of the Sea.
If it not be possible,
I will roam the steppe!’
Urshanabi said to him, said to Gilgamesh:
‘Gilgamesh, you have hindered the crossing –
With your hands you have done this!
You have smashed the lodestones.
O Gilgamesh the lodestones bear me along,
Help me avoid touching the Waters of Death.
In your anger you did smash them,
The lodestones which I kept to help me get across!
You have also picked the urnu-snakes.
The lodestones are smashed
And there are no urnus….
Gilgamesh take the axe in your hand,
Cut three huncred punting-poles (7) which are smooth.
……. the lashes like a spear.
……..in the ship…..’
[The above incorporated an Old Babylonian fragment relatively recently discovered, which ends here. The main Assyrian version now continues, but the number of the poles is different. Instead of 300, Gilgamesh is only asked to cut 120.] (8)
‘You have smashed the lodestones,
You have picked the urnu-snakes.
The lodestones are smashed.
The urnu is not in the forest.
Gilgamesh, in your hand raise your axe,
Go down into the forest, cut twice-sixty punting-poles,
Each of sixty-cubits.
Put the knobs of bitumen on one end of each
Attach ferrules to their other ends,
Then bring them to me!’
When Gilgamesh heard this,
In his hand he raised his axe,
He drew his dagger from his belt,
He went down into the forest,
He cut twice-sixty punting poles, each of sixty cubits.
He put the knobs of bitumen on them,
He attached the ferrules,
And he brought them to Urshanabi.
Gilgamesh and Urshanabi then boarded the boat.
They launched the boat on the waves
And they sailed away.
By the 3rd day they had gone as far
As a normal voyage of a month and 15 days.
And thus Urshanabi arrived
At the Waters of Death.
Urshanabi said to him, said to Gilgamesh:
‘Press on, Gilgamesh, take a punting-pole.
But let not your hand touch the Waters of Death!
Take a 2nd, 3rd, a 4th pole, Gilgamesh,
Take a 5th, a 6th, a 7th pole, Gilgamesh,
Take an 8th, a 9th, a 10th pole, Gilgamesh,
Take an 11th, a 12 pole, Gilgamesh!’
At twice sixty, Gilgamesh had used up the poles.
Then he ungirdled his loins…
Gilgamesh pulled off his cloth….
With his hand he hand it aloft as a sail.
Ziusudra peers into the distance.
Speaking to his heart,
He says these words, takes counsel with himself:
‘Why have the lodestones of the boat been broken?
Whe does one who is not her master ride in her?
The man who comes here is not of of my men
And….
I peer, but I cannot see…
I peer, but I cannot see…
I peer, but
{Many lines are missing at this point. Gilgamesh disembarks and meets Ziusudra. Fragmentary words here and there, however, make it clear that most of what is lost is mere repetition of the set questions and replies between them which Gilgamesh ahs already exchanged with both Siduri and Urshanabi. The text conveniently resumes as this exchange ends:]
Gilgamesh further said to him, said to Ziusudra:
‘I behold you now, o Ziusudra,
You whom they call the Faraway.
And that I might do this
I have been a wanderer
Over all the lands,
Have crossed many difficult mountains,
Crossed all the seas!
With waking I have been wearied.
My joints ache, are filled with woe.
My garments were worn out
Before I even came to Siduri the Refresher’s house
I have killed bear, hyaena, lion, panther,
Tiger, stag, ibex
All the wild of the steppe
And all the creeping things of the steppe
I ate their flesh
I wrapped myself in their skins,
… let them bar her gate,
With pitch and bitumen….
(Here two lines are lost)
Ziusudra said to him, said to Gilgamesh:
‘O Gilgamesh, why so full of woe?
Who was created in the flesh of god
In the flesh of man….?
When your father and your mother
Made you, who……?
When was there for Gilgamesh
In his feebleness….
Established any seat in the Assembly of the Gods
That you….
Or ….. be given to him….
Like butter?…
Tahhu-flour…
And kakkushu-flour,
Which like….
….swift like….
And he like nibihu-garment
Since there is no….
There is no word of advice
…. before him Gilgamesh
…. their lord…..’
(Here thirty-three lines are lost. The text resumes with Ziusudra’s wise remarks to Gilgamesh on the impossibility of permanence in this world:)
‘Mankind, which like a reed stands fragile
A fine young man, a fine young woman….
These too must die.
Should no one see death?
Should no one meet then this end?’
(Here two lines are missing)
‘Do we build a house to stand forever?
Are contracts sealed forever?
Do brothers divide their inheritance to last forever?
Does hatred remain in the heart forever?
Does the stream which has risen in spate
Bring torrents forever?
The dragonfly emerges and flies
But its face in the Sun for but a day
Is this forever?
From the days of yore there has been no permanence.
The sleeping and the dead – how alike they ae!
Do the sleeping not compose a very picture of death?
The common man, the noble man,
Once they have reached the end of life,
Are all gathered in as one,
By the Anunnaki, the Great Gods,
And she, Mammetum,
She of Fate –
She decrees the destinies.
Together they determine death
Determine life
As for life, its days are revealed,
But as for death
Its day is never revealed.’

NOTES ON TABLET X

1. The Greek tradition of souls drining the waters of Lethe or Forgetfulness, may have been derived from the tavern of the Babylonians. Campbell Thompson calls Siduri the provider of strong waters and the Wine Maker. Heidel calls her the barmaid, and Speiser refers to her as the ale-wife. Apparently Babylonian taverns were run by women rather than men, so that Siduri’s sex is usual in this role and may have no special significance. I chose to call her Refresher instead of Barmaid or Ale-Wife.
2. We must recollect that babu, gate means also commencement of a motion (see tablet VII,note 3), and is used in a symbolic sense here. The word daltu here used for door also has symbolic significance: it is the word used for the doors of heaven and the Underworld, as well as for special cedar door mentioned in some Uruk tablets, meaning flood-gate. Siduri’s door, gate and bolt are thus of celestial significance, not simply those of a mundane alehouse.

3. See Tablet VIII, notes 3 and 4.

4. The older version of this name is Sursunabu. But I have retained the Assyrian name here because it means Priest of the Two-Thirds/Forty (see Tablet IX, note 11).

5. Scholars have long puzzled over these mysterious stone things which I have translated as lodestones. A relatively recent discovery of a fragment of the Epic revealed that Urshanabi the Boatman had used the stone things to bear him along safely in his boat. They helped him to get across, and to avoid certain dangers. The only stone things I can think of that would be conceivably useful in sailing and navigating (apart from ballast, which is clearly not meant here) are lodestones. Evidence survives that the ancient Egyptians knew them and their properties, much later, Plutarch referred to their importance in Egyptian tradition. The lodestone compass was described as ‘ancient’ in the 3rd century BCE in China and a lodestone compass dated to 1,000 BCE has been excavated at an Olmec site in Mexico. What is surprising, however, is the suggestion in the Epic that they may have been used in maritime navigation at such an early date. This is not inherently improbable, but is surprising because there is no other evidence of it. In which case the matter may be of importance to the history of science, as constituting what may the ealiest known evidence in the world for the use of a lodestone compass. However, the interpretation still remains tentative.
Of course, it is not necessary to assume that lodestone compasses were actually used on real ships at the time, except in a crude way. The full technological mastery of the maritime compass need not have been achieved. After all, it is Urshanabi, a magical celestial boatman who seems to be using the lodestones for navigation, not an earthly merchant. If the stone things are lodestones, then their description in Gilgamesh’s dream in Tablet IX as rejoicing in life can be explained by the liveliness of their movements, for they would have seemed alive and dancing due to their habit of jumping about when in contact with one another. This so impressed the Chinese that they developed a form of magnetic chess where the chess pieces were made of lodestones which when they came in contact with one another, did battle by repelling each other by magnetic force. It has been established that much Babylonian astronomy was transmitted to China and lodestone lore may have accompanied it. It should also be mentioned that since lodestones point to the poles, they are highly relevant to the great celestial circle through the poles referred to earlier in the Epic.

6. The urnu-snakes have always been exceedingly mystifying. I think the word urnu might be connected to the Egyptian word Urnes, which is the name of a portion of the river in the Egyptian Underworld. Since urnu appears in the Epic in connection with navigating the river that leads to the Underworld, I suspect that this is not a coincidence. And if that be so, then the snakes may be the survival of a multiple Egyptian pun based on the Egyptian word nem, which means wriggler and as such was an epithet applied to worms and snakes, but in its more serious meaning meant wanderer, and was applied to wandering stars, that is, the planets. Its other meanings are even more directly relevant to the epic: to travel by boat, and in the form of nemer, steering pole or paddle. I suspect therefore that urnu-snakes were magical paddles for propelling Urshanabi’s boat and were cut or selected rather than picked in the forest. However, I have not changed my translation but hav left the accpeted meanings in quotation marks to indicate that they are not meant to be taken literally. For picked readers may if they like substitute selected, and for urnu-smakes they may choose to substitute Underworld river-paddles.

7. Without compass or paddles (see notes 5 and 6 above) Urshanabi would need some other method of steering his boat – hence the request for punting-poles.

8. I have no explanation for the figure tree hundred. The older fragment, one would have assumed, would have been more likely to preserve a number with archaic numerological meaning. However, 120 is 1/3 of 360 degrees, just as the Boatman Urshanabi’s name provides the other two-thirds to complete the circle, since his name means, as previously mentioned, Priest of the Two-Thirds (See Tablet IX, note 11).

9. Punting poles exactly like this are still used in Iraq.

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