The Epic of Gilgamesh

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

Tablet 5 (Robert Temple translation)

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

And here at last is Humbaba: a monster, a giant, a terrible creature to be sure - but you will also find that he is very articulate and words are also a part of the attack that he launches against Gilgamish and, even more so, against Enkidu.

After 20 intervals, they broke off a morsel
After 30 more, rested for the night.
Before Shamash the Sun they dug a well....
Gilgamesh went up a mountain
Made offering of his fine-meal and intoned:
'O Mountain, bring a dream for Enkidu,
Bring for him a dream of mine to interpret!'
And the mountain did bring a dream for Enkidu.
It brought for him....
Cold rain passed overhead....
He had to take shelter....
.... and like unto the wild barley of the mountains.....
Gilgamesh puts his chin to his knees,
Sleep which falls upon mankind
Fell upon Gilgamesh.
He started, full awake, said to his friend:
'My friend, have you called me?
Why am I awake?
Did you touch me?
Why have I started so?
Did not some god pass by?
Why have I gone numb?
Why are my limbs paralysed?
My friend, I saw a third dream,
And this dream was terrible in every way.
The heavens were roaring and screaming
The earth was blasted with booming sounds,
And darkness descended like a shroud -
A sudden streak of fire as lightning flashed,
The clouds grew bloated and full
And they rained down death!
Then the fire-glow of the skies died out
And all the fallen of the fire
Of that downpour of death
Crusted over to ashes.
Oh, let us go down into the plain!
There we can take counsel!'
When Enkidu heard this,
Heard the dream his friend offered him,
He said to Gilgamesh interpreting his dream,
Made him come to acceptance of his dream:

(Most unfortunately we do not have any account of Enkidu's interpretation of the dream as the text breaks here. When the text resumes, Gilgamesh and Enkidu are no longer conversing about the dream but have arrived at the forest of Humbaba:)

Gilgamesh gripped the axe
And with it felled the cedar.
Humbaba, hearing the sound of this,
Fell into a fury and raged:
'Who is it who has come -
Come and intefered with my trees?
My trees which have grown on my own mountains?
And has also felled the cedar?'
But just then from heaven came the voice
Of the Great God Shamash the Sun:
'Have no fear. Approach him and........
March, as long as...........
He enters not into his house........'

(Here the text breaks off. Gilgamesh and Enkidu are apparently given instructions by the voice of Shamash on how to approach Humbaba in order to kill him. This would seem to include specific directions and useful information about Humbaba's movements. But the heroes do not seem to fare very well even with such helpful hints:)

His tears streamed down from him
And Gilgamesh said to Shamash in heaven:

(Here two lines are mutilated in the tablet and cannot be read:)

'But I have taken the way of heavenly Shamash,
I have trod the way he said.'

Humbaba said to him, said to Gilgamesh:
'The fool, the stupid man -
They should take advice, Gilgamesh!
Why do you now approach me?
With that Enkidu, that son of a fish
Who knew not his father,
Companion of the small turtles, of the large turtles,
And who never sucked the milk of his mother?
In your youth I beheld you
Now should I kill you to satisfy my belly?
Shamash brought you, Gilgamesh, and allowed you to reach me.
It is through his assistance that you are stepping along thus.
But, Gilgamesh, I will bite through the palate-pin
Of your throat and your neck.
I will allow the shrieking serpent-bird
The eagle and the raven to eat your flesh!'

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

  • what does Gilgamesh see in his third dream?
  • who helps Gilgamesh and Enkidu to find Humbaba in the forest?
  • what does Humbaba threaten to do to Gilgamesh when he catches him?

Source: He Who Saw Everything: A verse version of the Epic of Gilgamesh by Robert Temple (1991). 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