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Category: Gilgamesh

The Deluge Tale of Utnapishtim and the Search for Immortality

“Gilgamesh now begins a series of wanderings in search of the restoration of his vigor, and this motif is evidently a continuation of the nature myth to symbolize the sun’s wanderings during the dark winter in the hope of renewed vigor with the coming of the spring.

Professor Haupt’s view is that the disease from which Gilgamesh is supposed to be suffering is of a venereal character, affecting the organs of reproduction. This would confirm the position here taken that the myth symbolizes the loss of the sun’s vigor. The sun’s rays are no longer strong enough to fertilize the earth.

In accord with this, Gilgamesh’s search for healing leads him to the dark regions in which the scorpion-men dwell. The terrors of the region symbolize the gloom of the winter season.

At last Gilgamesh reaches a region of light again, described as a landscape situated at the sea. The maiden in control of this region bolts the gate against Gilgamesh’s approach, but the latter forces his entrance. It is the picture of the sun-god bursting through the darkness, to emerge as the youthful reinvigorated sun-god of the spring.

Now with the tendency to attach to popular tales and nature myths lessons illustrative of current beliefs and aspirations, Gilgamesh’s search for renewal of life is viewed as man’s longing for eternal life.

The sun-god’s waning power after midsummer is past suggests man’s growing weakness after the meridian of life has been left behind. Winter is death, and man longs to escape it.

Gilgamesh’s wanderings are used as illustration of this longing, and accordingly the search for life becomes also the quest for immortality. Can the precious boon of eternal life be achieved?

Popular fancy created the figure of a favorite of the gods who had escaped a destructive deluge in which all mankind had perished. Gilgamesh hears of this favorite and determines to seek him out and learn from him the secret of eternal life. The deluge story, again a pure nature myth, symbolical of the rainy season which destroys all life in nature, is thus attached to the Epic.

Gilgamesh after many adventures finds himself in the presence of the survivor of the Deluge who, although human, enjoys immortal life among the gods. He asks the survivor how he came to escape the common fate of mankind, and in reply Utnapishtim tells the story of the catastrophe that brought about universal destruction.

The moral of the tale is obvious. Only those singled out by the special favor of the gods can hope to be removed to the distant “source of the streams” and live forever. The rest of mankind must face death as the end of life.

That the story of the Deluge is told in the eleventh tablet of the series, corresponding to the eleventh month, known as the month of “rain curse” and marking the height of the rainy season, may be intentional, just as it may not be accidental that Gilgamesh’s rejection of Ishtar is recounted in the sixth tablet, corresponding to the sixth month, which marks the end of the summer season. The two tales may have formed part of a cycle of myths, distributed among the months of the year.

The Gilgamesh Epic, however, does not form such a cycle. Both myths have been artificially attached to the adventures of the hero.

For the deluge story we now have the definite proof for its independent existence, through Dr. Poebel’s publication of a Sumerian text which embodies the tale, and without any reference to Gilgamesh. Similarly, Scheil and Hilprecht have published fragments of deluge stories written in Akkadian and likewise without any connection with the Gilgamesh Epic.

In the Epic the story leads to another episode attached to Gilgamesh, namely, the search for a magic plant growing in deep water, which has the power of restoring old age to youth. Utnapishtim, the survivor of the deluge, is moved through pity for Gilgamesh, worn out by his long wanderings.

At the request of his wife, Utnapishtim decides to tell Gilgamesh of this plant, and he succeeds in finding it. He plucks it and decides to take it back to Erech so that all may enjoy the benefit, but on his way stops to bathe in a cool cistern.

A serpent comes along and snatches the plant from him, and he is forced to return to Erech with his purpose unachieved. Man cannot hope, when old age comes on, to escape death as the end of everything.”

Morris Jastrow (ed.), Albert T. Clay (trans.), An Old Babylonian Version of the Gilgamesh Epic on the Basis of Recently Discovered Texts, 1920, pp. 20-1.

On the Rejection of the Goddess Ishtar

“If, now, Enkidu is not only the older figure but the one who is the real hero of the most notable episode in the Gilgamesh Epic; if, furthermore, Enkidu is the Hercules who kills lions and dispatches the bull sent by an enraged goddess, what becomes of Gilgamesh? What is left for him?

In the first place, he is definitely the conqueror of Erech. He builds the wall of Erech, and we may assume that the designation of the city as Uruk supûri, “the walled Erech,” rests upon this tradition. He is also associated with the great temple Eanna, “the heavenly house,” in Erech.

To Gilgamesh belongs also the unenviable tradition of having exercised his rule in Erech so harshly that the people are impelled to implore Aruru to create a rival who may rid the district of the cruel tyrant, who is described as snatching sons and daughters from their families, and in other ways terrifying the population–an early example of “Schrecklichkeit.”

Tablets II to V inclusive of the Assyrian version being taken up with the Huwawa episode, modified with a view of bringing the two heroes together, we come at once to the sixth tablet, which tells the story of how the goddess Ishtar wooed Gilgamesh, and of the latter’s rejection of her advances.

This tale is distinctly a nature myth … The goddess Ishtar symbolizes the earth which woos the sun in the spring, but whose love is fatal, for after a few months the sun’s power begins to wane. Gilgamesh, who in incantation hymns is invoked in terms which show that he was conceived as a sun-god, recalls to the goddess how she changed her lovers into animals, like Circe of Greek mythology, and brought them to grief.

Enraged at Gilgamesh’s insult to her vanity, she flies to her father Anu and cries for revenge. At this point the episode of the creation of the bull is introduced, but if the analysis above given is correct it is Enkidu who is the hero in dispatching the bull, and we must assume that the sickness with which Gilgamesh is smitten is the punishment sent by Anu to avenge the insult to his daughter.

This sickness symbolizes the waning strength of the sun after midsummer is past. The sun recedes from the earth, and this was pictured in the myth as the sun-god’s rejection of Ishtar; Gilgamesh’s fear of death marks the approach of the winter season, when the sun appears to have lost its vigor completely and is near to death.

The entire episode is, therefore, a nature myth, symbolical of the passing of spring to midsummer and then to the bare season. The myth has been attached to Gilgamesh as a favorite figure, and then woven into a pattern with the episode of Enkidu and the bull. The bull episode can be detached from the nature myth without any loss to the symbolism of the tale of Ishtar and Gilgamesh.

As already suggested, with Enkidu’s death after this conquest of the bull the original Enkidu Epic came to an end. In order to connect Gilgamesh with Enkidu, the former is represented as sharing in the struggle against the bull.

Enkidu is punished with death, while Gilgamesh is smitten with disease. Since both shared equally in the guilt, the punishment should have been the same for both. The differentiation may be taken as an indication that Gilgamesh’s disease has nothing to do with the bull episode, but is merely part of the nature myth.”

Morris Jastrow (ed.), Albert T. Clay (trans.), An Old Babylonian Version of the Gilgamesh Epic on the Basis of Recently Discovered Texts, 1920, pp. 19-20.

Contrasting Views of Women in Genesis and the Epic of Gilgamesh

“Tablet I, col. 2, 34-35: Creation of Enkidu by Aruru.

36-41: Description of Enkidu’s hairy body and of his life with the animals.

42-50: The hunter sees Enkidu, who shows his anger, as also his woe, at his condition.

3, 1-12: The hunter tells his father of the strange being who pulls up the traps which the hunter digs, and who tears the nets so that the hunter is unable to catch him or the animals.

19-24: The father of the hunter advises his son on his next expedition to take a woman with him in order to lure the strange being from his life with the animals.

Line 25, beginning “On the advice of his father,” must have set forth, in the original form of the episode, how the hunter procured the woman and took her with him to meet Enkidu.

Column 4 gives in detail the meeting between the two, and naïvely describes how the woman exposes her charms to Enkidu, who is captivated by her and stays with her six days and seven nights. The animals see the change in Enkidu and run away from him. He has been transformed through the woman.  . In the Assyrian version there follows an address of the woman to Enkidu beginning (col. 4, 34):

“Beautiful art thou, Enkidu, like a god art thou.”

We find her urging him to go with her to Erech, there to meet Gilgamesh and to enjoy the pleasures of city life with plenty of beautiful maidens. Gilgamesh, she adds, will expect Enkidu, for the coming of the latter to Erech has been foretold in a dream.  

The address of the woman begins in line 51 of the Pennsylvania tablet:

“I gaze upon thee, Enkidu, like a god art thou.”

This corresponds to the line in the Assyrian version (I, 4, 34) as given above, just as lines 52-53: “Why with the cattle Dost thou roam across the field?” correspond to I, 4, 35, of the Assyrian version.

There follows in both the old Babylonian and the Assyrian version the appeal of the woman to Enkidu, to allow her to lead him to Erech where Gilgamesh dwells (Pennsylvania tablet lines 54-61 = Assyrian version I, 4, 36-39); but in the Pennsylvania tablet we now have a second speech (lines 62-63) beginning like the first one with al-ka, “come:”

“Come, arise from the accursed ground.”

Enkidu consents, and now the woman takes off her garments and clothes the naked Enkidu, while putting another garment on herself.

She takes hold of his hand and leads him to the sheepfolds (not to Erech!!), where bread and wine are placed before him. Accustomed hitherto to sucking milk with cattle, Enkidu does not know what to do with the strange food until encouraged and instructed by the woman.

The entire third column is taken up with this introduction of Enkidu to civilized life in a pastoral community, and the scene ends with Enkidu becoming a guardian of flocks. Now all this has nothing to do with Gilgamesh, and clearly sets forth an entirely different idea from the one embodied in the meeting of the two heroes.

In the original Enkidu tale, the animal-man is looked upon as the type of a primitive savage, and the point of the tale is to illustrate in the naïve manner characteristic of folklore the evolution to the higher form of pastoral life. …

We now obtain, thanks to the new section revealed by the Pennsylvania tablet, a further analogy with the story of Adam and Eve, but with this striking difference, that whereas in the Babylonian tale the woman is the medium leading man to the higher life, in the Biblical story the woman is the tempter who brings misfortune to man.

This contrast is, however, not inherent in the Biblical story, but due to the point of view of the Biblical writer, who is somewhat pessimistically inclined and looks upon primitive life, when man went naked and lived in a garden, eating of fruits that grew of themselves, as the blessed life in contrast to advanced culture which leads to agriculture and necessitates hard work as the means of securing one’s substance.

Hence the woman through whom Adam eats of the tree of knowledge and becomes conscious of being naked is looked upon as an evil tempter, entailing the loss of the primeval life of bliss in a gorgeous Paradise.

The Babylonian point of view is optimistic. The change to civilized life–involving the wearing of clothes and the eating of food that is cultivated (bread and wine) is looked upon as an advance. Hence the woman is viewed as the medium of raising man to a higher level.

The feature common to the Biblical and Babylonian tales is the attachment of a lesson to early folk-tales. The story of Adam and Eve, as the story of Enkidu and the woman, is told with a purpose. Starting with early traditions of men’s primitive life on earth, that may have arisen independently, Hebrew and Babylonian writers diverged, each group going its own way, each reflecting the particular point of view from which the evolution of human society was viewed.

Leaving the analogy between the Biblical and Babylonian tales aside, the main point of value for us in the Babylonian story of Enkidu and the woman is the proof furnished by the analysis, made possible through the Pennsylvania tablet, that the tale can be separated from its subsequent connection with Gilgamesh.

We can continue this process of separation in the fourth column, where the woman instructs Enkidu in the further duty of living his life with the woman decreed for him, to raise a family, to engage in work, to build cities and to gather resources.

All this is looked upon in the same optimistic spirit as marking progress, whereas the Biblical writer, consistent with his point of view, looks upon work as a curse, and makes Cain, the murderer, also the founder of cities.

The step to the higher forms of life is not an advance according to the J document. It is interesting to note that even the phrase the “cursed ground” occurs in both the Babylonian and Biblical tales; but whereas in the latter (Gen. 3, 17) it is because of the hard work entailed in raising the products of the earth that the ground is cursed, in the former (lines 62-63) it is the place in which Enkidu lives before he advances to the dignity of human life that is “cursed,” and which he is asked to leave. Adam is expelled from Paradise as a punishment, whereas Enkidu is implored to leave it as a necessary step towards progress to a higher form of existence.

The contrast between the Babylonian and the Biblical writer extends to the view taken of viniculture. The Biblical writer (again the J document) looks upon Noah’s drunkenness as a disgrace. Noah loses his sense of shame and uncovers himself (Genesis 9, 21), whereas in the Babylonian description Enkidu’s jolly spirit after he has drunk seven jars of wine meets with approval. The Biblical point of view is that he who drinks wine becomes drunk; the Babylonian says, if you drink wine you become happy.”

Morris Jastrow (ed.), Albert T. Clay (trans.), An Old Babylonian Version of the Gilgamesh Epic on the Basis of Recently Discovered Texts, 1920, pp. 17-8.

A Serpent Steals the Plant of Immortality in the Eleventh Tablet of the Epic of Gilgamesh

THE ELEVENTH TABLET.

” … When Uta-Napishtim had finished the story of the Deluge, he said to Gilgamish, “Now, as touching thyself; who will gather the gods together for thee, so that thou mayest find the life which thou seekest? Come now, do not lay thyself down to sleep for six days and seven nights.”

But in spite of this admonition, as soon as Gilgamish had sat down, drowsiness overpowered him and he fell fast asleep. Uta-Napishtim, seeing that even the mighty hero Gilgamish could not resist falling asleep, with some amusement drew the attention of his wife to the fact, but she felt sorry for the tired man, and suggested that he should take steps to help him to return to his home.

In reply Uta-Napishtim told her to bake bread for him, and she did so, but she noted by a mark on the house-wall each day that he slept. On the seventh day, when she took the loaf Uta-Napishtim touched Gilgamish, and the hero woke up with a start, and admitted that he had been overcome with sleep, and made incapable of movement thereby.

Still vexed with the thought of death and filled with anxiety to escape from it, Gilgamish asked his host what he should do and where he should go to effect his object. By Uta-Napishtim’s advice, he made an agreement with Ur-Shanabi the boatman, and prepared to re-cross the sea on his way home.

But before he set out on his way Uta-Napishtim told him of the existence of a plant which grew at the bottom of the sea, and apparently led Gilgamish to believe that the possession of it would confer upon him immortality.

Thereupon Gilgamish tied heavy stones [to his feet], and let himself down into the sea through an opening in the floor of the boat. When he reached the bottom of the sea, he saw the plant and plucked it, and ascended into the boat with it.

Showing it to Ur-Shanabi, he told him that it was a most marvellous plant, and that it would enable a man to obtain his heart’s desire. Its name was “Shîbu issahir amelu,” i.e., “The old man becometh young [again],” and Gilgamish declared that he would “eat of it in order to recover his lost youth,” and that he would take it home to his fortified city of Erech. Misfortune, however, dogged his steps, and the plant never reached Erech, for whilst Gilgamish and Ur-Shanabi were on their way back to Erech they passed a pool the water of which was very cold, and Gilgamish dived into it and took a bath.

Whilst there a serpent discovered the whereabouts of the plant through its smell and swallowed it. When Gilgamish saw what had happened he cursed aloud, and sat down and wept, and the tears coursed down his cheeks as he lamented over the waste of his toil, and the vain expenditure of his heart’s blood, and his failure to do any good for himself.

Disheartened and weary he struggled on his way with his friend, and at length they arrived at the fortified city of Erech.

Then Gilgamish told Ur-Shanabi to jump up on the wall and examine the bricks from the foundations to the battlements, and see if the plans which he had made concerning them had been carried out during his absence.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, The Babylonian Story of the Deluge and the Epic of Gilgamish1929, pp. 54-6.

Death is the Fate of Mankind in the 10th Tablet of the Epic of Gilgamesh

THE TENTH TABLET.

“In the region to which Gilgamish had come stood the palace or fortress of the goddess Siduri, who was called the “hostess,” or “ale-wife,” and to this he directed his steps with the view of obtaining help to continue his journey.

The goddess wore a veil and sat upon a throne by the side of the sea, and when she saw him coming towards her palace, travel-stained and clad in the ragged skin of some animal, she thought that he might prove an undesirable visitor, and so ordered the door of her palace to be closed against him.

But Gilgamish managed to obtain speech with her, and having asked her what ailed her, and why she had closed her door, he threatened to smash the bolt and break down the door. In answer Siduri said to him:–

“Why is thy vigour wasted? Thy face is bowed down,

Thine heart is sad, thy form is dejected,

And there is lamentation in thy heart.”

And she went on to tell him that he had the appearance of one who had travelled far, that he was a painful sight to look upon, that his face was burnt, and finally seems to have suggested that he was a runaway trying to escape from the country. To this Gilgamish replied:–

“Nay, my vigour is not wasted, my face not bowed down,

My heart not sad, my form not dejected.”

And then he told the goddess that his ill-looks and miserable appearance were due to the fact that death had carried off his dear friend Enkidu, the “panther of the desert,” who had traversed the mountains with him and had helped him to overcome Khumbaba in the cedar forest, and to slay the bull of heaven, Enkidu his dear friend who had fought with lions and killed them, and who had been with him in all his difficulties; and, he added, “I wept over him for six days and nights . . . . before I would let him be buried.”

Continuing his narrative, Gilgamish said to Siduri:

“I was horribly afraid . . .

I was afraid of death, and therefore I wander over the country.

The fate of my friend lieth heavily upon me,

Therefore am I travelling on a long journey through the country.

The fate of my friend lieth heavily upon me,

Therefore am I travelling on a long journey through the country.

How is it possible for me to keep silence? How is it possible for me to cry out?

My friend whom I loved hath become like the dust.

Enkidu, my friend whom I loved hath become like the dust.

Shall not I myself also be obliged to lay me down

And never again rise up to all eternity?”

To this complaint the ale-wife replied that the quest of eternal life was vain, since death was decreed to mankind by the gods at the time of creation. She advised him, therefore, to enjoy all mortal pleasures while life lasted and to abandon his hopeless journey.

But Gilgamish still persisted, and asked how he might reach Uta-Napishtim, for thither he was determined to go, whether across the ocean or by land.

Then the ale-wife answered and said to Gilgamish:

“There never was a passage, O Gilgamish,

And no one, who from the earliest times came hither, hath crossed the sea.

The hero Shamash (the Sun-god) hath indeed crossed the sea, but who besides him could do so?

The passage is hard, and the way is difficult,

And the Waters of Death which bar its front are deep.

If, then, Gilgamish, thou art able to cross the sea,

When thou arrivest at the Waters of Death what wilt thou do?”

Siduri then told Gilgamish that Ur-Shanabi, the boatman of Uta-Napishtim, was in the place, and that he should see him, and added:

“If it be possible cross with him, and if it be impossible turn back.”

Gilgamish left the goddess and succeeded in finding Ur-Shanabi, the boatman, who addressed to him words similar to those of Siduri quoted above. Gilgamish answered him as he had answered Siduri, and then asked him for news about the road to Uta-Napishtim.

In reply Ur-Shanabi told him to take his axe and to go down into the forest and cut a number of poles 60 cubits long; Gilgamish did so, and when he returned with them he went up into the boat with Ur-Shanabi, and they made a voyage of one month and fifteen days; on the third day they reached the [limit of the] Waters of Death, which Ur-Shanabi told Gilgamish not to touch with his hand.

Meanwhile, Uta-Napishtim had seen the boat coming and, as something in its appearance seemed strange to him, he went down to the shore to see who the newcomers were. When he saw Gilgamish he asked him the same questions that Siduri and Ur-Shanabi had asked him, and Gilgamish answered as he had answered them, and then went on to tell him the reason for his coming.

He said that he had determined to go to visit Uta-Napishtim, the remote, and had therefore journeyed far, and that in the course of his travels he had passed over difficult mountains and crossed the sea. He had not succeeded in entering the house of Siduri, for she had caused him to be driven from her door on account of his dirty, ragged, and travel-stained apparel. He had eaten birds and beasts of many kinds, the lion, the panther, the jackal, the antelope, mountain goat, etc., and, apparently, had dressed himself in their skins.

A break in the text makes it impossible to give the opening lines of Uta-Napishtim’s reply, but he mentions the father and mother of Gilgamish, and in the last twenty lines of the Tenth Tablet he warns Gilgamish that on earth there is nothing permanent, that Mammitum, the arranger of destinies, has settled the question of the death and life of man with the Anunnaki, and that none may find out the day of his death or escape from death.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, The Babylonian Story of the Deluge and the Epic of Gilgamish1929, pp. 51-3.

Gilgamesh Sees the Tree of the Gods in the 9th Tablet of the Epic of Gilgamesh

THE NINTH TABLET.

“In bitter grief Gilgamish wandered about the country uttering lamentations for his beloved companion, Enkidu. As he went about he thought to himself,

“I myself shall die, and shall not I then be as Enkidu?

Sorrow hath entered into my soul,

Because I fear death do I wander over the country.”

His fervent desire was to escape from death, and remembering that his ancestor Uta-Napishtim, the son of Ubara-Tutu, had become deified and immortal, Gilgamish determined to set out for the place where he lived in order to obtain from him the secret of immortality.

Where Uta-Napishtim lived was unknown to Gilgamish, but he seems to have made up his mind that he would have to face danger in reaching the place, for he says, “I will set out and travel quickly. I shall reach the defiles in the mountains by night, and if I see lions, and am terrified at them, I shall lift up my head and appeal to the Moon-god, and to (Ishtar, the Lady of the Gods), who is wont to hearken to my prayers.”

After Gilgamish set out to go to the west he was attacked either by men or animals, but he overcame them and went on until he arrived at Mount Mashu, where it would seem the sun was thought both to rise and to set.

The approach to this mountain was guarded by Scorpion-men, whose aspect was so terrible that the mere sight of it was sufficient to kill the mortal who beheld them; even the mountains collapsed under the glance of their eyes.

When Gilgamish saw the Scorpion-men he was smitten with fear, and under the influence of his terror the colour of his face changed, and he fell prostrate before them.

Then a Scorpion-man cried out to his wife, saying, “The body of him that cometh to us is the flesh of the gods,” and she replied, “Two-thirds of him is god, and the other third is man.”

The Scorpion-man then received Gilgamish kindly, and warned him that the way which he was about to travel was full of danger and difficulty. Gilgamish told him that he was in search of his ancestor, Uta-Napishtim, who had been deified and made immortal by the gods, and that it was his intention to go to him to learn the secret of immortality.

The Scorpion-man in answer told him that it was impossible for him to continue his journey through that country, for no man had ever succeeded in passing through the dark region of that mountain, which required twelve double-hours to traverse.

Nothing dismayed, Gilgamish set out on the road through the mountains, and the darkness increased in density every hour, but he struggled on, and at the end of the twelfth hour he arrived at a region where there was bright daylight, and he entered a lovely garden, filled with trees loaded with luscious fruits, and he saw the “tree of the gods.” Here the Sun-god called to him that his quest must be in vain, but Gilgamish replied that he would do anything to escape death.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, The Babylonian Story of the Deluge and the Epic of Gilgamish1929, pp. 49-51.

Gilgamesh Recites the Iniquities of the Goddess Ishtar, the Sixth Tablet of the Epic of Gilgamesh

THE SIXTH TABLET.

“The scene now returns to Erech, whither the heroes returned after their glorious exploit. As Gilgamish was washing himself and dressing himself in splendid attire the goddess Ishtar saw his comeliness and desired him to be her lover, saying,

Go to, Gilgamish, do thou be (my) bridegroom,

Give me freely the fruit (of thy body).

Be thou my husband, I will be thy wife,

(So) will I make them yoke for thee a chariot of lapis-lazuli and gold,

Its wheels of gold, and its horns of electrum.

Every day shalt thou harness great mules thereto.

Enter (then) our house with the perfume of cedar.

When thou enterest our house

Threshold and dais shall kiss thy feet,

Beneath thee shall kings, lords and princes do homage,

Bringing thee as tribute the yield of the mountains and plains,

Thy she-goats shall bring forth abundantly, thy ewes bear twins,

Thine asses shall be (each) as great as a mule,

Thy horses in the chariot shall be famous for their swiftness,

Thy mules in the yoke shall not have a peer.

In answer to this invitation, Gilgamish made a long speech, in which he reviewed the calamities of those who had been unfortunate enough to attract the love of the goddess. To be her husband would be a burdensome privilege, and her love was deceptive, a ruin that gave no shelter, a door that let in the storm, a crazy building, a pitfall, defiling pitch, a leaky vessel, a crumbling stone, a worthless charm, an ill-fitting shoe.

“Who was ever thy lord that had advantage thereby? Come, I will unfold the tale of thy lovers.”

He refers to Tammuz, the lover of her youth, for whom year by year she causes wailing. Every creature that fell under her sway suffered mutilation or death; the bird’s wings were broken, the lion destroyed, the horse driven to death with whip and spur.

Her human lovers fared no better, for a shepherd, once her favourite, was turned by her into a jackal and torn by his own dogs, and Ishullanu, her father’s gardener, was turned into a spider (?) because he refused her advances.

“So, too,” said Gilgamish, “would’st thou love me, and (then) make me like unto them.”

When Ishtar heard these words she was filled with rage, and went up to heaven, and complained to Anu her father and Antu her mother that Gilgamish had blasphemed her, and revealed all her iniquitous deeds.

Anu replied, in effect, that it was her own fault, but she insisted in the request that he should create a heavenly bull to destroy Gilgamish. This he finally agreed to do, and the bull appeared before the citizens of Erech, and destroyed one, two and three hundred men who were sent out against him.

At length Enkidu and Gilgamish attacked the bull themselves, and after a hard fight: the details of which are lost, they slew him, and offered his heart together with a libation to the Sun-god. As soon as Ishtar heard of the bull’s death she rushed out on the battlements of the wall of Erech and cursed Gilgamish for destroying her bull.

When Enkidu heard what Ishtar said, he tore out the member of the bull and threw it before the goddess, saying, “Could I but get it at thee, I would serve thee like him; I would hang his it entrails about thee.”

Then Ishtar gathered together all her temple-women and harlots, and with them made lamentation over the member of the bull.

And Gilgamish called together the artisans of Erech, who came and marvelled at the size of the bull’s horns, for each of them was in bulk equal to 30 minas of lapis-lazuli, their thickness two finger-breadths, and together they contained six kur measures of oil.

These Gilgamish dedicated in the temple of his god Lugalbanda, to hold the god’s unguent, and, having made his offering, he and Enkidu washed their hands in the Euphrates, took their way back to the city, and rode through the streets of Erech, the people thronging round to admire them.

Gilgamish put forth a question to the people, saying

Who is splendid among men?

Who is glorious among heroes?

And the answer was:

[Gilgamish] is splendid among men,

[Enkidu] is glorious among heroes.

Gilgamish made a great feast in his palace, and after it all lay down to sleep. Enkidu also slept and had a vision, so he rose up and related it to Gilgamish.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, The Babylonian Story of the Deluge and the Epic of Gilgamish1929, p. 45-8.

The Friendship of Enkidu and Gilgamesh, the 2d Tablet of the Epic of Gilgamesh

” … When Enkidu saw the beasts forsake him his knees gave way, and he could not run as of old; but when he came to himself he returned to the harlot. She spoke to him flattering words, and asked him why he wandered with the wild beasts in the desert, and then told him she wished to take him back with her to Erech, where Anu and Ishtar lived, and where the mighty Gilgamish reigned.

Enkidu hearkened and the harlot then told him of the glories of Erech and of Gilgamish, who, she said, had been forewarned of Enkidu’s coming by two dreams, which he had related to his divine mother, Nin-sun. These she had interpreted as foreshowing the approach of a strong and faithful friend.

THE SECOND TABLET.

Having related these dreams of Gilgamish, the harlot again urged Enkidu to go with her to Erech, and they set out together. On the way she brought him to a shepherds’ village, where she instructed him how to eat the bread and beer which was set before him; for until then he had only sucked the milk of cattle.

By virtue of eating and drinking this human fare Enkidu became a man instead of a beast, and, taking weapons, he hunted the lions and wolves which preyed upon the shepherds’ flocks.

A messenger from Gilgamish now appeared with a summons to the city. He announced that the king offered entertainment, but that he would expect the customary present from a stranger, and would exercise his privilege over the woman who accompanied him.

The entrance of Enkidu into the city caused a general excitement, all being amazed at his surpassing strength and his conversion from savagery. The first meeting of Gilgamish and Enkidu took place when the king came in the night to claim his right to the strange woman.

Enkidu violently resisted him, and the two heroes in the doorway “grappled and snorted (?) like bulls; they shattered the threshold, the wall quivered” in their strife. Gilgamish was finally worsted, but the result of this combat was that the two became fast friends and allies.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, The Babylonian Story of the Deluge and the Epic of Gilgamish1929, p. 43.

Gilgamesh, Enkidu and the Nameless Harlot

THE EPIC OF GILGAMISH.

“The narrative of the life, exploits and travels of Gilgamish, king of Erech, filled Twelve Tablets which formed the Series called from the first three words of the First Tablet, SHA NAGBU IMURUi.e., “He who hath seen all things.”

The exact period of the reign of this king is unknown, but in the list of the Sumerian kingdoms he is fifth ruler in the Dynasty of Erech, which was considered the second dynasty to reign after the Deluge. He was said to have ruled for 126 years.

The principal authorities for the Epic are the numerous fragments of the tablets that were found in the ruins of the Library of Nebo and the Royal Library of Ashur-bani-pal at Nineveh, and are now in the British Museum, but very valuable portions of other and older versions (including some fragments of a Hittite translation) have now been recovered from various sources, and these contribute greatly to the reconstruction of the story.

The contents of the Twelve Tablets may be briefly described thus–

THE FIRST TABLET.

The opening lines describe the great knowledge and wisdom of Gilgamish, who saw everything, learned everything, under stood everything, who probed to the bottom the hidden mysteries of wisdom, and who knew the history of everything that happened before the Deluge.

He travelled far over sea and land, and performed mighty deeds, and then he cut upon a tablet of stone an account of all that he had done and suffered. He built the wall of Erech, founded the holy temple of E-Anna, and carried out other great architectural works.

He was a semi-divine being, for his body was formed of the “flesh of the gods,” and “two-thirds of him were god, and one-third was man,” The description of his person is lost. As Shepherd (i.e., King) of Erech he forced the people to toil overmuch, and his demands reduced them to such a state of misery that they cried out to the gods and begged them to create some king who should control Gilgamish and give them deliverance from him.

The gods hearkened to the prayer of the men of Erech, and they commanded the goddess Aruru to create a rival to Gilgamish. The goddess agreed to do their bidding, and having planned in her mind what manner of being she intended to make, she washed her hands, took a piece of clay, cast it on the ground, and made a male creature like the god En-urta. His body was covered all over with hair. The hair of his head was long like that of a woman, and he wore clothing like that of Sumuqan, the god of cattle.

He was different in every way from the people of the country, and his name was Enkidu. He lived in the forests on the hills, ate herbs like the gazelle, drank with the wild cattle, and herded with the beasts of the field. He was mighty in stature, invincible in strength, and obtained complete mastery over all the creatures of the forests in which he lived.

One day a certain hunter went out to snare game, and he dug pit-traps and laid nets, and made his usual preparations for roping in his prey. But after doing this for three days he found that his pits were filled up and his nets smashed, and he saw Enkidu releasing the beasts that had been snared.

The hunter was terrified at the sight of Enkidu, and went home hastily and told his father what he had seen and how badly he had fared. By his father’s advice he went to Erech, and reported to Gilgamish what had happened.

When Gilgamish heard his story he advised him to act upon a suggestion which the hunter’s father had already made, namely that he should hire a harlot and take her out to the forest, so that Enkidu might be ensnared by the sight of her beauty, and take up his abode with her.

The hunter accepted this advice, and having found a harlot to help him in removing Enkidu from the forests, he set out from Erech with her and in due course arrived at the forest where Enkidu lived, and sat down by the place where the beasts came to drink.

On the second day when the beasts came to drink and Enkidu was with them, the woman carried out the instructions which the hunter had given her, and when Enkidu saw her cast aside her veil, he left his beasts and came to her, and remained with her for six days and seven nights. At the end of this period he returned to the beasts with which he had lived on friendly terms, but as soon as the gazelle winded him they took to flight, and the wild cattle disappeared into the woods.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, The Babylonian Story of the Deluge and the Epic of Gilgamish1929, pp. 41-3.

Legends of Creation and Dragons

” … Both the source of the original form of the Legend of the Fight between Ea and Apsu, and Marduk and Tiâmat, and the period of its composition are unknown, but there is no doubt that in one form or another it persisted in Mesopotamia for thousands of years.

The apocryphal book of “Bel and the Dragon” shows that a form of the Legend was in existence among the Babylonian Jews long after the Captivity, and the narrative relating to it associates it with religious observances.

But there is no foundation whatsoever for the assertion which has so often been made that the Two Accounts of the Creation which are given in the early chapters in Genesis are derived from the Seven Tablets of Creation described in the preceding pages. It is true that there are many points of resemblance between the narratives in cuneiform and Hebrew, and these often illustrate each other, but the fundamental conceptions of the Babylonian and Hebrew accounts are essentially different.

In the former the earliest beings that existed were foul demons and devils, and the God of Creation only appears at a later period, but in the latter the conception of God is that of a Being Who existed in and from the beginning, Almighty and Alone, and the devils of chaos and evil are His servants.

The seal may illustrate a scene from the epic of creation in which the forces of chaos, led by Tiamat, are defeated by a god representing cosmic order, probably Ninurta.

The seal may illustrate a scene from the epic of creation in which the forces of chaos, led by Tiamat, are defeated by a god representing cosmic order, probably Ninurta.

Among the primitive Semitic peoples there were probably many versions of the story of the Creation; and the narrative told by the Seven Tablets is, no doubt, one of them in a comparatively modern form.

It is quite clear that the Account of the Creation given in the Seven Tablets is derived from very ancient sources, and a considerable amount of literary evidence is now available for reconstructing the history of the Legend.

Thus in the Sumerian Account the narrative of the exploits of the hero called ZIUSUDU 19  begins with a description of the Creation and then goes on to describe a Flood, and there is little doubt that certain passages in this text are the originals of the Babylonian version as given in the Seven Tablets.

In the Story of ZIUSUDU, however, there is no mention of any Dragon. And there is reason to think that the Legend of the Dragon had originally nothing whatever to do with the Creation, for the texts of fragments of two distinct Accounts 20 of the Creation describe a fight between a Dragon and some deity other than Marduk.

In other Accounts the Dragon bears a strong resemblance to the Leviathan of Psalm civ, 26; Job xli, 1. In the one text he is said to be 50 biru 21 in length, and 1 biru in thickness; his mouth was 6 cubits (about 9 feet) wide, and the circumference of his ears 12 cubits (18 feet).

He was slain by a god whose name is unknown, and the blood continued to flow from his body for three years, three months, one day and one night.

In the second text the Dragon is 60 biru long and his thickness is 30 biru; the diameter of each eye is half a biru, and his paws are 20 biru long.

Thus there is every reason for believing that the Legend as it is given in the Seven Tablets is the work of some editor, who added the Legend of the Creation to the Legend of the Dragon in much the same way as the editor of the Gilgamish Legends included an account of the Deluge in his narrative of the exploits of his hero.

All forms of the Legend of the Creation and of the Dragon were popular in Babylonia, and one of them achieved so much notoriety that the priest employed recited it as an incantation to charm away the toothache.

The literary form of the text of the Seven Tablets fulfils the requirements of Semitic poetry in general. The lines usually fall into couplets, the second line being the antiphon of the first, e.g.:–

“When in the height heaven was not named,
And the earth beneath did not yet bear a name.”

Thus we have:–

enuma elish || lâ nabû shamamu
shaplish ammatum || shuma lâ zakrat

E.A. Wallis Budge, The Babylonian Legends of the Creation and the Fight Between Bel and the Dragon, 1921.

Ashur-bani-pal

” … The records of Ashur-bani-pal cease after 640 B.C., so that we are unable to follow the events of his reign during its last fourteen years. Apparently peace prevailed everywhere. The great monarch, who was a pronounced adherent of the goddess cults, appears to have given himself up to a life of indulgence and inactivity.

Under the name Sardanapalus he went down to tradition as a sensual Oriental monarch who lived in great pomp and luxury, and perished in his burning palace when the Medes revolted against him. It is evident, however, that the memory of more than one monarch contributed to the Sardanapalus legend, for Ashur-bani-pal had lain nearly twenty years in his grave before the siege of Nineveh took place.

In the Bible he is referred to as “the great and noble Asnapper,” and he appears to have been the emperor who settled the Babylonian, Elamite, and other colonists “in the cities of Samaria.”

He erected at Nineveh a magnificent palace, which was decorated on a lavish scale. The sculptures are the finest productions of Assyrian art, and embrace a wide variety of subjects–battle scenes, hunting scenes, and elaborate Court and temple ceremonies. Realism is combined with a delicacy of touch and a degree of originality which raises the artistic productions of the period to the front rank among the artistic triumphs of antiquity.

Ashur-bani-pal in the palace of Nineveh.

Ashur-bani-pal boasted of the thorough education which he had received from the tutors of his illustrious father, Esarhaddon. In his palace he kept a magnificent library. It contained thousands of clay tablets on which were inscribed and translated the classics of Babylonia.

To the scholarly zeal of this cultured monarch is due the preservation of the Babylonian story of creation, the Gilgamesh and Etana legends, and other literary and religious products of remote antiquity. Most of the literary tablets in the British Museum were taken from Ashur-bani-pal’s library.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 486-7.

The Enduring, Syncretic Cult of the Great Mother

” … Tashmit, whose name signifies “Obedience,” according to Jastrow, or “Hearing,” according to Sayce, carried the prayers of worshippers to Nebo, her spouse.

As Isis interceded with Osiris, she interceded with Nebo, on behalf of mankind. But this did not signify that she was the least influential of the divine pair. A goddess played many parts: she was at once mother, daughter, and wife of the god; the servant of one god or the “mighty queen of all the gods.”

The Great Mother was, as has been indicated, regarded as the eternal and un-decaying one; the gods passed away, son succeeding father; she alone remained. Thus, too, did Semiramis survive in the popular memory, as the queen-goddess of widespread legends, after kings and gods had been forgotten.

To her was ascribed all the mighty works of other days in the lands where the indigenous peoples first worshipped the Great Mother as Damkina, Nina, Bau, Ishtar, or Tashmit, because the goddess was anciently believed to be the First Cause, the creatrix, the mighty one who invested the ruling god with the powers he possessed–the god who held sway because he was her husband, as did Nergal as the husband of Eresh-ki-gal, queen of Hades.

The multiplication of well-defined goddesses was partly due to the tendency to symbolize the attributes of the Great Mother, and partly due to the development of the great “Lady” in a particular district where she reflected local phenomena and where the political influence achieved by her worshippers emphasized her greatness.

Legends regarding a famous goddess were in time attached to other goddesses, and in Aphrodite and Derceto we appear to have mother deities who absorbed the traditions of more than one local “lady” of river and plain, forest and mountain.

Semiramis, on the other hand, survived as a link between the old world and the new, between the country from which emanated the stream of ancient culture and the regions which received it. As the high priestess of the cult, she became identified with the goddess whose bird name she bore, as Gilgamesh and Etana became identified with the primitive culture-hero or patriarch of the ancient Sumerians, and Sargon became identified with Tammuz.

No doubt the fame of Semiramis was specially emphasized because of her close association, as Queen Sammu-rammat, with the religious innovations which disturbed the land of the god Ashur during the Middle Empire period.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 436-8.

Prehistoric Sumerian Burial Customs, Magical Talismans and Amulets

” … The conservative element in Babylonian religion is reflected by the burial customs. These did not change greatly after the Neolithic period. Prehistoric Sumerian graves resemble closely those of pre-Dynastic Egypt.

The bodies of the dead were laid on their sides in crouching posture, with a “beaker,” or “drinking cup” urn, beside the right hand. Other vessels were placed near the head. In this connection it may be noted that the magic food prepared for Gilgamesh by Pir-napishtim’s wife, when he lay asleep, was also placed near his head.

The corpse was always decked with various ornaments, including rings, necklaces, and armlets. As has been indicated, these were worn by the living as charms, and, no doubt, they served the same purpose for the dead.

This charm-wearing custom was condemned by the Hebrew teachers. On one occasion Jacob commanded his household to “put away the strange gods which were in their hand, and all the ear-rings which were in their ears; and Jacob buried them under the oak which was by Shechem.”

To Jacob, personal ornaments had quite evidently an idolatrous significance.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

Different Categories of Paradise

” … In the sacred books of India a number of Paradises are referred to. No human beings, however, entered the Paradise of Varuna, who resembles the Sumerian Ea-Oannes.

The souls of the dead found rest and enjoyment in the Paradise of Yama, while “those kings that yield up their lives, without turning their backs on the field of battle, attain,” as the sage told a hero, “to the mansion of Indra,” which recalls the Valhal of Odin. It will thus be seen that belief in immortality was a tenet of the Indian cults of Indra and Yama.

It is possible that the Gilgamesh epic in one of its forms concluded when the hero reached the island of Pir-napishtim, like the Indian Yama who “searched and spied the path for many.” The Indian “Land of the Pitris” (Ancestors), over which Yama presided, may be compared to the Egyptian heaven of Osiris. It contains, we are told, “all kinds of enjoyable articles,” and also “sweet, juicy, agreeable and delicious edibles … floral wreaths of the most delicious fragrance, and trees that yield fruits that are desired of them.”

Thither go “all sinners among human beings, as also (those) that have died during the winter solstice”–a suggestion that this Paradise was not unconnected with the Tammuz-like deity who took up his abode in the spirit land during the barren season.

The view may be urged that in the Gilgamesh epic we have a development of the Tammuz legend in its heroic form. Like Ishtar, when she descended to Hades, the King of Erech could not return to earth until he had been sprinkled by the water of life. No doubt, an incident of this character occurred also in the original Tammuz legend. The life of the god had to be renewed before he could return.

Did he slumber, like one of the Seven Sleepers, in Ea’s house, and not awake again until he arrived as a child in his crescent moon boat–“the sunken boat” of the hymns–like Scef, who came over the waves to the land of the Scyldings?”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

On the Burial Rites

” … The primitive house-burial rite is referred to in the Ethiopic version of the life of Alexander the Great.

The “Two-horned,” as the hero was called, conversed with Brahmans when he reached India. He spoke to one of them, “saying: ‘Have ye no tombs wherein to bury any man among ye who may die?’

And an interpreter made answer to him, saying:

‘Man and woman and child grow up, and arrive at maturity, and become old, and when any one of them dieth we bury him in the place wherein he lived; thus our graves are our houses. And our God knoweth that we desire this more than the lust for food and meat which all men have: this is our life and manner of living in the darkness of our tombs.'”

When Alexander desired to make a gift to these Brahmans, and asked them what they desired most, their answer was, “Give us immortality.”

In the Gilgamesh epic the only ray of hope which relieves the gloomy closing passages is Ea-bani’s suggestion that the sufferings endured by the dead may be alleviated by the performance of strict burial rites. Commenting on this point Professor Jastrow says: “A proper burial with an affectionate care of the corpse ensures at least a quiet repose.

Such a one rests on a couch and drinks pure water;

But he whose shade has no rest in the earth, as I have seen and you will see,

His shade has no rest in the earth

Whose shade no one cares for …

What is left over in the pot, remains of food

That are thrown in the street, he eats.”

Gilgamesh Epic.

By disseminating the belief that the dead must be buried with much ceremony, the priests secured great power over the people, and extracted large fees.

In Egypt, on the other hand, the teachers of the sun cult sold charms and received rewards to perform ceremonies so that chosen worshippers might enter the sun-barque of Ra; while the Osirian priests promised the just and righteous that they would reach an agricultural Paradise where they could live and work as on earth, but receive a greater return for their labour, the harvests of the Otherworld being of unequalled abundance.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

Nether Cuthah

” … In the Descent of Ishtar the Babylonian Underworld is called Cuthah.

This city had a famous cemetery, like Abydos in Egypt, where many pious and orthodox worshippers sought sepulture. The local god was Nergal, who symbolized the destructive power of the sun and the sand storm; he was a gloomy, vengeful deity, attended by the spirits of tempest, weariness, pestilence, and disease, and was propitiated because he was dreaded.

In Nether Cuthah, as Ea-bani informed Gilgamesh, the worm devoured the dead amidst the dust and thick darkness.

It is evident that this Underworld was modelled on the grave. In early times men believed that the spirits of the dead hovered in or about the place of sepulture. They were therefore provided with “houses” to protect them, in the same manner as the living were protected in their houses above the ground.

The enemies of the human ghosts were the earth spirits. Weapons were laid beside the dead in their graves so that they might wage war against demons when necessary.

The corpse was also charmed, against attack, by the magical and protecting ornaments which were worn by the living–necklaces, armlets, ear-rings, &c.

Even face paint was provided, probably as a charm against the evil eye and other subtle influences.

So long as corpses were left in their graves, the spirits of the dead were, it would appear, believed to be safe. But they required food and refreshment. Food vessels and drinking urns were therefore included in the funerary furniture, and the dead were given food offerings at regular intervals.

Once a year the living held feasts in the burial ground, and invited the ghosts to share in the repast. This custom was observed in Babylonia, and is not yet obsolete in Egypt; Moslems and Coptic Christians alike hold annual all-night feasts in their cemeteries.

[ … ]

According to Babylonian belief, the dead who were not properly buried roamed through the streets searching for food, eating refuse and drinking impure water.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

Hades, Nifelhel, Put, Underworld.

“There was no Heaven for the Babylonian dead.

All mankind were doomed to enter the gloomy Hades of the Underworld, “the land of darkness and the shadow of death; a land of darkness, as darkness itself; and of the shadow of death, without any order, and where the light is darkness,” as Job exclaimed in the hour of despair, lamenting his fate.

This gloomy habitation of the dead resembles the Greek Hades, the Teutonic Nifelhel, and the Indian Put. No detailed description of it has been found.

The references, however, in the Descent of Ishtar and the Gilgamesh epic suggest that it resembled the hidden regions of the Egyptians, in which souls were tortured by demons who stabbed them, plunged them in pools of fire, and thrust them into cold outer darkness where they gnashed their teeth, or into places of horror swarming with poisonous reptiles.

Ishtar was similarly tortured by the plague demon, Namtar, when she boldly entered the Babylonian Underworld to search for Tammuz. Other sufferings were, no doubt, in store for her, resembling those, perhaps, with which the giant maid in the Eddic poem Skirnismal was threatened when she refused to marry Frey, the god of fertility and harvest:

Trolls shall torment thee from morn till eve

In the realms of the Jotun race,

Each day to the dwellings of Frost giants must thou

Creep helpless, creep hopeless of love;

Thou shalt weeping have in the stead of joy,

And sore burden bear with tears….

May madness and shrieking, bondage and yearning

Burden thee with bondage and tears.

In like manner, too, the inhabitants of the Indian Hell suffered endless and complicated tortures.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

Only Two Residents of the Babylonian Paradise

“Leaving, meantime, the many problems which arise from consideration of the Deluge legends and their connection with primitive agricultural myths, the attention of readers may be directed to the Babylonian conception of the Otherworld.

Pir-napishtim, who escaped destruction at the Flood, resides in an Island Paradise, which resembles the Greek “Islands of the Blessed”, and the Irish “Tir nan og” or “Land of the Young,” situated in the western ocean, and identical with the British …

… island-valley of Avilion,

Where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow,

Nor ever wind blows loudly, but it lies

Deep meadow’d, happy, fair with orchard lawns

And bowery hollows crowned with summer sea.

Only two human beings were permitted to reside on the Babylonian island paradise, however. These were Pir-napishtim and his wife.

Apparently Gilgamesh could not join them there. His gods did not transport heroes and other favoured individuals to a happy isle or isles like those of the Greeks and Celts and Aryo-Indians.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

Questing for Immortality

” … Pir-napishtim, the Babylonian Noah, and the semi-divine Gilgamesh appear to be represented in Vedic mythology by Yama, god of the dead. Yama was “the first man,” and, like Gilgamesh, he set out on a journey over mountains and across water to discover Paradise.

He is lauded in the Vedic hymns as the explorer of “the path” or “way” to the “Land of the Pitris” (Fathers), the Paradise to which the Indian un-cremated dead walked on foot. Yama never lost his original character. He is a traveller in the Epics as in the Vedas.

Him who along the mighty heights departed,

Him who searched and spied the path for many,

Son of Vivasvat, gatherer of the people,

Yama, the King, with sacrifices worship.

Rigveda, x, 14, 1.

To Yama, mighty King, be gifts and homage paid,

He was the first of men that died,

the first to brave Death’s rapid rushing stream,

the first to point the road

To heaven, and welcome others to that bright abode.

Sir M. Monier Williams’ Translation.

Yama and his sister Yami were the first human pair. They are identical with the Persian Celestial twins, Yima and Yimeh. Yima resembles Mitra (Mithra); Varuna, the twin brother of Mitra, in fact, carries the noose associated with the god of death.

The Indian Yama, who was also called Pitripati, “lord of the fathers,” takes Mitra’s place in the Paradise of Ancestors beside Varuna, god of the sky and the deep. He sits below a tree, playing on a flute and drinking the Soma drink which gives immortality. When the descendants of Yama reached Paradise they assumed shining forms “refined and from all taint set free.”

In Persian mythology “Yima,” says Professor Moulton, “reigns over a community which may well have been composed of his own descendants, for he lived yet longer than Adam. To render them immortal, he gives them to eat forbidden food, being deceived by the Daevas (demons). What was this forbidden food? May we connect it with another legend whereby, at the Regeneration, Mithra is to make men immortal by giving them to eat the fat of the Ur-Kuh, the primeval cow from whose slain body, according to the Aryan legends adopted by Mithraism, mankind was first created?”

Yima is punished for “presumptuously grasping at immortality for himself and mankind, on the suggestion of an evil power, instead of waiting Ahura’s good time.” Professor Moulton wonders if this story, which he endeavours to reconstruct, “owed anything to Babylon?”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

The Babylonian Account of the Deluge

The story of the Deluge which was related to Gilgamesh by Pir-napishtim runs as follows:–

“Hear me, O Gilgamesh, and I will make revelation regarding the hidden doings of the high gods. As thou knowest, the city of Shurippak is situated upon the bank of the Euphrates. The gods were within it: there they assembled together in council.

Anu, the father, was there, and Bel the counsellor and warrior, Ninip the messenger, and Ennugi the governor. Ea, the wise lord, sat also with them. In their hearts the gods agreed together to send a great deluge.

“Thereafter Ea made known the purpose of the divine rulers in the hut of reeds, saying: ‘O hut of reeds, hear; O wall, understand … O man of Shurippak, son of Umbara Tutu, tear down thy house and build a ship; leave all thou dost possess and save thy life, and preserve in the ship the living seed of every kind. The ship that thou wilt build must be of goodly proportions in length and height. It must be floated on the great deep.’

“I heard the command of Ea and understood, and I made answer, saying, ‘O wise lord, as thou hast said so will I do, for thy counsel is most excellent. But how shall I give reason for my doings to the young men and the elders?’

“Ea opened his mouth and said unto me, his servant: ‘What thou shalt say unto them is this…. It hath been revealed unto me that Bel doth hate me, therefore I cannot remain any longer in his domain, this city of Shurippak, so I must depart unto the domain of Ea and dwell with him…. Unto you will Bel send abundance of rain, so that you may obtain birds and fishes in plenty and have a rich harvest. But Shamash hath appointed a time for Ramman to pour down destruction from the heavens.‘”

Ea then gave instructions to Pir-napishtim how to build the ship in which he should find refuge. So far as can be gathered from the fragmentary text, it appears that this vessel was to have a deck house six stories high, with nine apartments in each story. According to another account, Ea drew a plan of the great ship upon the sand.

Pir-napishtim set to work and made a flat-bottomed vessel, which was 120 cubits wide and 120 cubits in height. He smeared it with bitumen inside and pitch outside; and on the seventh day it was ready. Then he carried out Ea’s further instructions. Continuing his narrative to Gilgamesh, he said:

“I gathered together all that I possessed, my silver and gold and seeds of every kind, and my goods also. These I placed in the ship. Then I caused to go aboard all my family and house servants, the animals of the field and the beasts of the field and the workers–every one of them I sent up.

“The god Shamash appointed the time, saying: ‘I will cause the Night Lord to send much rain and bring destruction. Then enter thou the ship and shut thy door.’

“At the appointed time the Night Lord sent at even-time much rain. I saw the beginning of the deluge and I was afraid to look up. I entered the ship and shut the door. I appointed Buzur-Kurgala, the sailor, to be captain, and put under his command the great vessel and all that it contained.

“At the dawn of day I saw rising athwart the heavens a dark cloud, and in the midst of it Ramman thundered. Nebo and Merodach went in front, speeding like emissaries over hills and plains. The cables of the ship were let loose.

“Then Ninip, the tempest god, came nigh, and the storm broke in fury before him. All the earth spirits leapt up with flaming torches and the whole land was aflare. The thunder god swept over the heavens, blotting out the sunlight and bringing thick darkness.

Rain poured down the whole day long, and the earth was covered with water; the rivers were swollen; the land was in confusion; men stumbled about in the darkness, battling with the elements.

Brothers were unable to see brothers; no man could recognize his friends…. The spirits above looked down and beheld the rising flood and were afraid: they fled away, and in the heaven of Anu they crouched like to hounds in the protecting enclosures.

“In time Ishtar, the lady of the gods, cried out distressfully, saying: ‘The elder race hath perished and turned to clay because that I have consented to evil counsel in the assembly of the gods. Alas! I have allowed my people to be destroyed. I gave being to man, but where is he? Like the offspring of fish he cumbers the deep.’

“The earth spirits were weeping with Ishtar: they sat down cowering with tightened lips and spake not; they mourned in silence.

“Six days and six nights went past, and the tempest raged over the waters which gradually covered the land. But when the seventh day came, the wind fell, the whirling waters grew peaceful, and the sea retreated. The storm was over and the rain of destruction had ceased. I looked forth. I called aloud over the waters. But all mankind had perished and turned to clay. Where fields had been I saw marshes only.

“Then I opened wide the window of the ship, and the sunlight suffused my countenance. I was dazzled and sank down weeping and the tears streamed over my face. Everywhere I looked I saw water.

“At length, land began to appear. The ship drifted towards the country of Nitsir, and then it was held fast by the mountain of Nitsir. Six days went past and the ship remained stedfast. On the seventh day I sent forth a dove, and she flew away and searched this way and that, but found no resting place, so she returned.

I then sent forth a swallow, and she returned likewise. Next I sent forth a raven, and she flew away. She saw that the waters were shrinking, and gorged and croaked and waded, but did not come back. Then I brought forth all the animals into the air of heaven.

“An offering I made on the mountain. I poured out a libation. I set up incense vessels seven by seven on heaped-up reeds and used cedar wood with incense. The gods smelt the sweet savour, and they clustered like flies about the sacrificer.

“Thereafter Ishtar (Sirtu) drew nigh. Lifting up the jewels, which the god Anu had fashioned for her according to her desire, she spake, saying: ‘Oh! these gods! I vow by the lapis lazuli gems upon my neck that I will never forget! I will remember these days for ever and ever. Let all the gods come hither to the offering, save Bel (Enlil) alone, because that he ignored my counsel, and sent a great deluge which destroyed my people.’

“But Bel Enlil came also, and when he beheld the ship he paused. His heart was filled with wrath against the gods and the spirits of heaven. Angrily he spake and said: ‘Hath one escaped? It was decreed that no human being should survive the deluge.’

“Ninip, son of Bel, spoke, saying: ‘Who hath done this save Ea alone? He knoweth all things.’

“Ea, god of the deep, opened his mouth and said unto the warrior Bel: ‘Thou art the lord of the gods, O warrior. But thou wouldst not hearken to my counsel and caused the deluge to be. Now punish the sinner for his sins and the evil doer for his evil deed, but be merciful and do not destroy all mankind. May there never again be a flood.

Let the lion come and men will decrease. May there never again be a flood. Let the leopard come and men will decrease. May there never again be a flood. Let famine come upon the land; let Ura, god of pestilence, come and snatch off mankind…. I did not reveal the secret purpose of the mighty gods, but I caused Atra-chasis (Pir-napishtim) to dream a dream in which he had knowledge of what the gods had decreed.’

“Having pondered a time over these words, Bel entered the ship alone. He grasped my hand and led me forth, even me, and he led forth my wife also, and caused her to kneel down beside me. Then he stood between us and gave his blessing.

He spoke, saying: ‘In time past Pir-napishtim was a man. Henceforth Pir-napishtim and his wife will be like unto deities, even us. Let them dwell apart beyond the river mouths.’

“Thereafter Bel carried me hither beyond the mouths of rivers.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

The Unearthly Lotuses of Life

” … The quest of the plant, flower, or fruit of life is referred to in many folk tales.

In the Mahabharata, Bhima, the Indian Gilgamesh or Hercules, journeys to north-eastern Celestial regions to find the lake of the god Kuvera (Kubera), on which grow the “most beautiful and unearthly lotuses,” which restore health and give strength to the weary.

As Gilgamesh meets with Pir-napishtim, who relates the story of the Deluge which destroyed the “elder race,” Bhima meets with Hanuman, who informs him regarding the Ages of the Universe and the races which were periodically destroyed by deluges.

When Bhima reaches the lotus lake he fights with demons. To heal his wounds and recover strength he plunges into the lake. “As he drank of the waters, like unto nectar, his energy and strength were again fully restored.”

Hercules similarly sets out to search for the golden apples which grow in

” … those Hesperian gardens famed of old,

Fortunate fields, and groves and flowery vales.”

As Bhima slew Yakshas which guarded the lotuses, Hercules slew Ladon, the guardian of the apples. Other heroes kill treasure-protecting dragons of various kinds.

There is a remarkable resemblance between the Babylonian account of Gilgamesh’s journey through the mountain tunnel to the garden and seashore, and the Indian story of the demigod Hanuman passing through the long cavern to the shoreland palace of the female ascetic, when he was engaged searching for Sita, the wife of Rama, who had been carried away by Ravana, the demon king of Ceylon.

In the version of the latter narrative which is given in the Mahabharata, Hanuman says:

“I bring thee good news, O Rama; for Janaka’s daughter hath been seen by me. Having searched the southern region with all its hills, forests, and mines for some time, we became very weary. At length we beheld a great cavern. And having beheld it, we entered that cavern which extended over many yojanas. It was dark and deep, and overgrown with trees and infested by worms.

And having gone a great way through it, we came upon sunshine and beheld a beautiful palace. It was the abode of the Daitya (sea demon) Maya. And there we beheld a female ascetic named Parbhvati engaged in ascetic austerities. And she gave us food and drink of various kinds. And having refreshed ourselves therewith and regained our strength, we proceeded along the way shown by her. At last we came out of the cavern and beheld the briny sea, and on its shores, the Sahya, the Malaya, and the great Dardura mountains.

And ascending the mountains of Malaya, we beheld before us the vast ocean (or, “the abode of Varuna”). And beholding it, we felt sorely grieved in mind…. We despaired of returning with our lives…. We then sat together, resolved to die there of starvation.”

Hanuman and his friends, having had, so far, experiences similar to those of Gilgamesh, next discovered the eagle giant which had burned its wings when endeavouring to soar to the sun. This great bird, which resembles the Etana eagle, expressed the opinion that Sita was in Lanka (Ceylon), whither she must have been carried by Ravana. But no one dared to cross the dangerous ocean.

Hanuman at length, however, obtained the assistance of Vayu, the wind god, his divine father, and leapt over the sea, slaying monsters as he went. He discovered where the fair lady was concealed by the king of demons.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

Excerpts from the Epic of Gilgamesh

” … Pir-napishtim made answer, reminding the pilgrim that all men must die. Men built houses, sealed contracts, disputed one with another, and sowed seeds in the earth, but as long as they did so and the rivers rose in flood, so long would their fate endure. Nor could any man tell when his hour would come. The god of destiny measured out the span of life: he fixed the day of death, but never revealed his secrets.

Gilgamesh then asked Pir-napishtim how it chanced that he was still alive. “Thou hast suffered no change,” he said, “thou art even as I am. Harden not thy heart against me, but reveal how thou hast obtained divine life in the company of the gods.”

Pir-napishtim thereupon related to his descendant the story of the deluge … The gods had resolved to destroy the world, and Ea in a dream revealed unto Pir-napishtim how he could escape. He built a ship which was tossed about on the waters, and when the world had been destroyed, Bel discovered him and transported him to that island in the midst of the Sea of Death.

Gilgamesh sat in the boat listening to the words of his ancestor. When the narrative was ended, Pir-napishtim spoke sympathetically and said: “Who among the gods will restore thee to health, O Gilgamesh? Thou hast knowledge of my life, and thou shalt be given the life thou dost strive after. Take heed, therefore, to what I say unto thee. For six days and seven nights thou shalt not lie down, but remain sitting like one in the midst of grief.”

Gilgamesh sat in the ship, and sleep enveloped him like to a black storm cloud.

Pir-napishtim spoke to his wife and said: “Behold the hero who desireth to have life. Sleep envelops him like to a black storm cloud.”

To that lone man his wife made answer: “Lay thine hand upon him so that he may have perfect health and be enabled to return to his own land. Give him power to pass through the mighty door by which he entered.”

Then Pir-napishtim addressed his wife, saying: “His sufferings make me sad. Prepare thou for him the magic food, and place it near his head.”

On the day when Gilgamesh lay down, the food was prepared by seven magic processes, and the woman administered it while yet he slept. Then Pir-napishtim touched him, and he awoke full of life.

Gilgamesh spake unto Pir-napishtim and said: “I was suddenly overcome by sleep…. But thou didst awaken me by touching me, even thou…. Lo! I am bewitched. What hast thou done unto thy servant?”

Then Pir-napishtim told Gilgamesh that he had been given to eat of the magic food. Afterwards he caused Arad Ea to carry Gilgamesh to a fountain of healing, where his disease-stricken body was cleansed. The blemished skin fell from him, and he was made whole.

Thereafter Gilgamesh prepared to return to his own land. Ere he bade farewell, however, Pir-napishtim revealed unto him the secret of a magic plant which had power to renew life and give youth and strength unto those who were old.

Arad Ea conducted the hero to the island where the plant grew, and when Gilgamesh found it he rejoiced, and said that he would carry it to Erech, his own city, where he would partake of it and restore his youth.

So Gilgamesh and Arad Ea went on their way together, nor paused until they came to a well of pure water. The hero stooped down to draw water. But while he was thus engaged that demon, the Earth Lion, crept forth as a serpent, and, seizing the magic plant of life, carried it away. Stricken with terror, Gilgamesh uttered a curse. Then he sat down and wept bitterly, and the tears streamed over his face. To Arad Ea he spake, saying: “Why has my health been restored to me? Why should I rejoice because that I live? The benefit which I should have derived for myself has now fallen to the Earth Lion.”

The two travellers then resumed their journey, performing religious acts from time to time; chanting dirges and holding feasts for the dead, and at length Gilgamesh returned to Erech. He found that the city walls were crumbling, and he spake regarding the ceremonies which had been performed while yet he was in a far-distant country.

During the days which followed Gilgamesh sorrowed for his lost friend Ea-bani, whose spirit was in the Underworld, the captive of the spirits of death. “Thou canst not draw thy bow now,” he cried, “nor raise the battle shout. Thou canst not kiss the woman thou hast loved; thou canst not kiss the child thou hast loved, nor canst thou smite those whom thou hast hated.”

In vain Gilgamesh appealed to his mother goddess to restore Ea-bani to him. Then he turned to the gods, and Ea heard him. Thereafter Nergal, god of death, caused the grave to yawn, and the spirit of Ea-bani arose like a wind gust.

Gilgamesh, still dreading death, spoke to the ghost of his friend, saying: “Tell me, my friend, O tell me regarding the land in which thou dost dwell.”

Ea-bani made answer sorrowfully: “Alas! I cannot tell thee, my friend. If I were to tell thee all, thou wouldst sit down and weep.”

Said Gilgamesh: “Let me sit down and weep, but tell me regarding the land of spirits.”

The text is mutilated here, but it can be gathered that Ea-bani described the land where ill-doers were punished, where the young were like the old, where the worm devoured, and dust covered all. But the state of the warrior who had been given burial was better than that of the man who had not been buried, and had no one to lament or care for him.

“He who hath been slain in battle,” the ghost said, “reposeth on a couch drinking pure water–one slain in battle as thou hast seen and I have seen. His head is supported by his parents: beside him sits his wife. His spirit doth not haunt the earth.

But the spirit of that man whose corpse has been left unburied and uncared for, rests not, but prowls through the streets eating scraps of food, the leavings of the feast, and drinking the dregs of vessels.”

So ends the story of Gilgamesh in the form which survives to us.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

Human Sacrifice

“The goddesses of classic mythology had similar reputations. Aphrodite (Venus) had many divine and mortal lovers. She links closely with Astarte and Ashtoreth (Ishtar), and reference has already been made to her relations with Adonis (Tammuz). These love deities were all as cruel as they were wayward. When Ishtar wooed the Babylonian hero, Gilgamesh, he spurned her advances, as has been indicated, saying:

On Tammuz, the spouse of thy youth,

Thou didst lay affliction every year.

Thou didst love the brilliant Allalu bird

But thou didst smite him and break his wing;

He stands in the woods and cries “O my wing.”

He likewise charged her with deceiving the lion and the horse, making reference to obscure myths:

Thou didst also love a shepherd of the flock,

Who continually poured out for thee the libation,

And daily slaughtered kids for thee;

But thou didst smite him and didst change him into a leopard,

So that his own sheep boy hunted him,

And his own hounds tore him to pieces.

These goddesses were ever prone to afflict human beings who might offend them or of whom they wearied. Demeter (Ceres) changed Ascalaphus into an owl and Stellio into a lizard. Rhea (Ops) resembled

The tow’red Cybele,

Mother of a hundred gods,

the wanton who loved Attis (Adonis). Artemis (Diana) slew her lover Orion, changed Actaeon into a stag, which was torn to pieces by his own dogs, and caused numerous deaths by sending a boar to ravage the fields of Oeneus, king of Calydon.

Human sacrifices were frequently offered to the bloodthirsty “mothers.” The most famous victim of Artemis was the daughter of Agamemnon, “divinely tall and most divinely fair.” Agamemnon had slain a sacred stag, and the goddess punished him by sending a calm when the war fleet was about to sail for Troy, with the result that his daughter had to be sacrificed.

Artemis thus sold breezes like the northern wind hags and witches.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

Revolting Unmoral Rites

“There is another phase, however, to the character of the mother goddess which explains the references to the desertion and slaying of Tammuz by Ishtar. “She is,” says Jastrow, “the goddess of the human instinct, or passion which accompanies human love. Gilgamesh … reproaches her with abandoning the objects of her passion after a brief period of union.” At Ishtar’s temple “public maidens accepted temporary partners, assigned to them by Ishtar.”

The worship of all mother goddesses in ancient times was accompanied by revolting unmoral rites which are referred to in condemnatory terms in various passages in the Old Testament, especially in connection with the worship of Ashtoreth, who was identical with Ishtar and the Egyptian Hathor.

Ishtar in the process of time overshadowed all the other female deities of Babylonia, as did Isis in Egypt. Her name, indeed, which is Semitic, became in the plural, Ishtar·te, a designation for goddesses in general. But although she was referred to as the daughter of the sky, Anu, or the daughter of the moon, Sin or Nannar, she still retained traces of her ancient character.

Originally she was a great mother goddess, who was worshipped by those who believed that life and the universe had a female origin in contrast to those who believed in the theory of male origin. Ishtar is identical with Nina, the fish goddess, a creature who gave her name to the Sumerian city of Nina and the Assyrian city of Nineveh.

Other forms of the Creatrix included Mama, or Mami, or Ama, “mother,” Aruru, Bau, Gula, and Zerpanitum. These were all “Preservers” and healers. At the same time they were “Destroyers,” like Nin-sun and the Queen of Hades, Eresh-ki-gal or Allatu.

They were accompanied by shadowy male forms ere they became wives of strongly individualized gods, or by child gods, their sons, who might be regarded as “brothers” or “husbands of their mothers,” to use the paradoxical Egyptian term.

Similarly Great Father deities had vaguely defined wives. The “Semitic” Baal, “the lord,” was accompanied by a female reflection of himself–Beltu, “the lady.” Shamash, the sun god, had for wife the shadowy Aa.

As has been shown, Ishtar is referred to in a Tammuz hymn as the mother of the child god of fertility. In an Egyptian hymn the sky goddess Nut, “the mother” of Osiris, is stated to have “built up life from her own body.” Sri or Lakshmi, the Indian goddess, who became the wife of Vishnu, as the mother goddess Saraswati, a tribal deity, became the wife of Brahma, was, according to a Purana commentator, “the mother of the world … eternal and undecaying.”

The gods, on the other hand, might die annually: the goddesses alone were immortal. Indra was supposed to perish of old age, but his wife, Indrani, remained ever young. There were fourteen Indras in every “day of Brahma”, a reference apparently to the ancient conception of Indra among the Great Mother-worshipping sections of the Aryo-Indians.

In the Mahabharata the god Shiva, as Mahadeva, commands Indra on “one of the peaks of Himavat,” where they met, to lift up a stone and join the Indras who had been before him. “And Indra on removing that stone beheld a cave on the breast of that king of mountains in which were four others resembling himself.”

Indra exclaimed in his grief, “Shall I be even like these?” These five Indras, like the “Seven Sleepers,” awaited the time when they would be called forth. They were ultimately reborn as the five Pandava warriors.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

Comparative Mythology

” … Of special interest in this connection are the resemblances between some of the Indian and Babylonian myths. The writer has drawn upon that “great storehouse” of ancient legends, the voluminous Indian epic, the Mahabharata, and it is shown that there are undoubted links between the Garuda eagle myths and those of the Sumerian Zu bird and the Etana eagle, while similar stories remain attached to the memories of “Sargon of Akkad” and the Indian hero Karna, and of Semiramis (who was Queen Sammu-ramat of Assyria) and Shakuntala.

The Indian god Varuna and the Sumerian Ea are also found to have much in common, and it seems undoubted that the Manu fish and flood myth is a direct Babylonian inheritance, like the Yuga (Ages of the Universe) doctrine and the system of calculation associated with it. It is of interest to note, too, that a portion of the Gilgamesh epic survives in the Ramayana story of the monkey god Hanuman’s search for the lost princess Sita; other relics of similar character suggest that both the Gilgamesh and Hanuman narratives are derived in part from a very ancient myth.

Gilgamesh also figures in Indian mythology as Yama, the first man, who explored the way to the Paradise called “The Land of Ancestors”, and over which he subsequently presided as a god. Other Babylonian myths link with those found in Egypt, Greece, Scandinavia, Iceland, and the British Isles and Ireland. The Sargon myth, for instance, resembles closely the myth of Scyld (Sceaf), the patriarch, in the Beowulf epic, and both appear to be variations of the Tammuz-Adonis story. Tammuz also resembles in one of his phases the Celtic hero Diarmid, who was slain by the “green boar” of the Earth Mother, as was Adonis by the boar form of Ares, the Greek war god.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

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