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Tag: XIIth Tablet

A Snake Steals the Plant of Eternal Life

“To return to the epic:

The recital of Ut-Napishtim served its primary purpose in the narrative by proving to Gilgamesh that his case was not that of his deified ancestor.

Meanwhile the hero had remained in the boat, too ill to come ashore; now Ut-Napishtim took pity on him and promised to restore him to health, first of all bidding him sleep during six days and seven nights.

Gilgamesh listened to his ancestor’s advice, and by and by “sleep, like a tempest, breathed upon him.” Ut-Napishtim’s wife, beholding the sleeping hero, was likewise moved with compassion, and asked her husband to send the traveller safely home.

He in turn bade his wife compound a magic preparation, containing seven ingredients, and administer it to Gilgamesh while he slept. This was done, and an enchantment thus put upon the hero.

When he awoke (on the seventh day) he renewed his importunate request for the secret of perpetual life.

His host sent him to a spring of water where he might bathe his sores and be healed; and having tested the efficacy of the magic waters Gilgamesh returned once more to his ancestor’s dwelling, doubtless to persist in his quest for life.

Notwithstanding that Ut-Napishtim had already declared it impossible for Gilgamesh to attain immortality, he now directed him (apparently at the instance of his wife) to the place where he would find the plant of life, and instructed Adad-Ea to conduct him thither.

The magic plant, which bestowed immortality and eternal youth on him who ate of it, appears to have been a weed, a creeping plant, with thorns which pricked the hands of the gatherer; and, curiously enough, Gilgamesh seems to have sought it at the bottom of the sea.

At length the plant was found, and the hero declared his intention of carrying it with him to Erech. And so he set out on the return journey, accompanied by the faithful ferryman not only on the first, and watery, stage of his travels, but also overland to the city of Erech itself.

When they had journeyed twenty kasbu they left an offering (presumably for the dead), and when they had journeyed thirty kasbu, they repeated a funeral chant.

The narrative goes on :

Gilgamesh saw a well of fresh water, he went down to it and offered a libation. A serpent smelled the odour of the plant, advanced . . . and carried off the plant. Gilgamesh sat down and wept, the tears ran down his cheeks.”

He lamented bitterly the loss of the precious plant, seemingly predicted to him when he made his offering at the end of twenty kasbu.

At length they reached Erech, when Gilgamesh sent Adad-Ea to enquire concerning the building of the city walls, a proceeding which has possibly some mythological significance.

The XIIth tablet opens with the lament of Gilgamesh for his friend Eabani, whose loss he has not ceased to deplore.

“Thou canst no longer stretch thy bow upon the earth; and those who were slain with the bow are round about thee. Thou canst no longer bear a sceptre in thy hand; and the spirits of the dead have taken thee captive.

Thou canst no longer wear shoes upon thy feet; thou canst no longer raise thy war-cry on the earth. No more dost thou kiss thy wife whom thou didst love; no more dost thou smite thy wife whom thou didst hate.

No more dost thou kiss thy daughter whom thou didst love; no more dost thou smite thy daughter whom thou didst hate. The sorrow of the underworld hath taken hold upon thee.”[4]

Gilgamesh went from temple to temple, making offerings and desiring the gods to restore Eabani to him; to Ninsum he went, to Bel, and to Sin, the moon-god, but they heeded him not.

At length he cried to Ea, who took compassion on him and persuaded Nergal to bring the shade of Eabani from the underworld. A hole was opened in the earth and the spirit of the dead man issued therefrom like a breath of wind.

Gilgamesh addressed Eabani thus:

“Tell me, my friend, tell me, my friend; the law of the earth which thou hast seen, tell me.”

Eabani answered him:

“I cannot tell thee, my friend, I cannot tell thee.”

But afterwards, having bidden Gilgamesh “sit down and weep,” he proceeded to tell him of the conditions which prevailed in the underworld, contrasting the lot of the warrior duly buried with that of a person whose corpse is cast uncared for into the fields.

“On a couch he lieth, and drinketh pure water, the man who was slain in battle—thou and I have oft seen such an one—his father and his mother (support) his head, and his wife (kneeleth) at his side.

But the man whose corpse is cast upon the field—thou and I have oft seen such an one—his spirit resteth not in the earth.

The man whose spirit has none to care for it—thou and I have oft seen such an one— the dregs of the vessel, the leavings of the feast, and that which is cast out upon the streets, are his food.”

Upon this solemn note the epic closes.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 178-80.

The Gilgamesh Epic

“The most important of the various mythological strata underlying the Gilgamesh myth is probably that concerning Eabani, who, as has been said, is a type of primitive man, living among the beasts of the field as one of themselves.

The "animal man" Enkidu (aka Eabani) defeating the King of Erech, Gilgamesh, during their first encounter.

The “animal man” Enkidu (aka Eabani) defeating the King of Erech, Gilgamesh, during their first encounter.

But he is also, according to certain authorities, a form of the sun-god, even as Gilgamesh himself. Like the hero of Erech, he rises to the zenith of his powers in a triumphal progress, then descends into the underworld.

He is not lost sight of, however, but lives in the memory of his friend Gilgamesh; and in the XIIth tablet he is temporarily brought forth from the underworld (that is, his ghost, or utukkii), which in a dim and shadowy fashion may typify the daily restoration of the sun.

Another important stratum of myth is that which concerns Ut-Napishtim, the Babylonian Noah; but whereas the myths of Eabani and Gilgamesh, though still distinguishable, have become thoroughly fused, the deluge story of which Ut-Napishtim is the hero has been inserted bodily into the XIth tablet of the epic, being related to Gilgamesh by Ut-Napishtim himself.

When he first appears in the narrative he has the attributes and powers of a god, having received these for his fidelity to the gods during the flood, from whose waters he alone of all mankind escaped.

The object of his narrative in the Gilgamesh epic seems to be to point out to the hero that only the most exceptional circumstances—unique circumstances, indeed—can save man from his doom.

Other distinct portions of the epic are the battle with the monster Khumbaba, the episode of Ishtar’s love for Gilgamesh, the fight with the sacred bull of Anu, and the search for the plant of life. These, whatever their origin, have become naturally incorporated with the story of Gilgamesh.

Gilgamesh defeating the Bull of Heaven.

Gilgamesh defeating the Bull of Heaven.

But besides the various historical and mythical elements herein presented, there is also a certain amount of Babylonian religious doctrine, evident to some extent in the XIth tablet (which points the moral that all men must die), but doubly so in the XIIth tablet, wherein the shade of Eabani appears to Gilgamesh, relates the misfortunes of the unburied dead or of those uncared for after death, and inculcates care for the deceased as the only means whereby they may evade the grievous woes which threaten them in the underworld.

Let us examine in detail the Gilgamesh epic as we have it in the broken fragments which remain to us. The Ist and Ilnd tablets are much mutilated. A number of fragments are extant which belong to one or other of these two, but it is not easy to say where the Ist ends and the Ilnd begins.

One fragment would seem to contain the very beginning of the Ist tablet—a sort of general preface to the epic, comprising a list of the advantages to be derived from reading it. After this comes a fragment whose title to inclusion in the epic is doubtful. It describes a siege of the city of Erech, but makes no mention of Gilgamesh.

The woeful condition of Erech under the siege is thus picturesquely detailed :

“She asses (tread down) their young, cows (turn upon) their calves. Men cry aloud like beasts, and maidens mourn like doves. The gods of strong-walled Erech are changed to flies, and buzz about the streets.

The spirits of strong-walled Erech are changed to serpents, and glide into holes. For three years the enemy besieged Erech, and the doors were barred, and the bolts were shot, and Ishtar did not raise her head against the foe.”

If this fragment be indeed a portion of the Gilgamesh epic, we have no means of ascertaining whether Gilgamesh was the besieger, or the raiser of the siege, or whether he was concerned in the affair at all.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 159-61.

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