The Epic of Gilgamesh

Week 2: Ancient Near East - Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images

Paraphrase of Tablets 2-3

Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 600 words.

The harlot is a really fascinating character here: many cultures tell the story of a wild man (even a beast-man) who is seduced from his "wild life" by a woman's civilizing ways. Although Gilgamesh and Enkidu become inseparable friends, they disagree about things all the time: and the first thing they quarrel about is the harlot herself. On this page you are still reading a summary of the content of the ancient texts and, as you will see, sometimes the texts have been mutilated or damaged so that part of the story is actually missing and has to be filled in based on context.

Enkidu Becomes a Man

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.

The Ogre Khumbaba

Owing to mutilation of the text this section begins obscurely, but it seems that the harlot had deserted Enkidu, for he laments his association with her.

Gilgamish then opened to him his design to go on an expedition to the Cedar Forest and fight with a fearful ogre named Khumbaba, who had been appointed by the gods as warden of the forest. Enkidu sought to dissuade his friend from this rash project, saying that he himself, when he lived with the beasts, used to penetrate into the skirts of the forest, where he had learned to dread the roaring breath and flames emitted by Khumbaba. To this Gilgamish seems to have replied that he must go to the Cedar Forest to fetch the wood he needed, and when Enkidu still objected, he concluded with the reflection that death was inevitable to mortals, and that he would therefore meet it in a glorious enterprise which should win fame for him among his children for ever.

Gilgamish and Enkidu Prepare to Fight Khumbaba

The craftsmen were then ordered to cast weapons for the pair, and this they did, making gigantic axes and gold-ornamented swords, so that each of the warriors was equipped with an armament weighing in all ten talents. Attracted by these preparations, the people of Erech gathered at the gate, and Gilgamish announced his project to the elders of the city, who in turn sought to dissuade him, but in vain. Gilgamish commended his life to the Sun-god, and the two put on their armour. The last words of the elders were a warning to the king against rash presumption in his own strength.

Setting out on their journey, the two warriors first visited the temple of Nin-sun, the divine mother of Gilgamish, who, at the earnest prayer of her son, besought the Sun-god to prosper him on his journey and in the fight against the ogre, and to bring him safely back to Erech. The latter part of this Tablet is missing.

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • what did Enkidu have to do in order to become a civilized person?
  • why did Enkidu and Gilgamish start fighting? who won the fight?
  • who was Khumbaba? why was Enkidu afraid to fight Khumbaba?

Source: The Babylonian Story of the Deluge and the Epic of Gilgamish by E.A. Wallis Budge (1929). Weblink.

Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:52 PM