The Epic of Gilgamesh

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

Tablet 5 (Robert Temple translation)

Reading time: 6 minutes. Word count: 900 words.

Are you reading this out loud? Really, you should: give it a try! This kind of language sounds great read out loud! In this scene, you will get an example of poetic repetition that deserves to be chanted, sung, shouted, till the voice reaches some kind of cresendo - it is a performance that happens to be written down in words, but it is still a performance, like music or like theater, not just words.

(Now many lines are lost, including the description of the slaying of Humbaba, which however, survives in other versions. The last portion of the 1980 fragment comes at the end of this tablet. We now turn to the Sumerian tale Gilgamesh and the Land of the Living, written in Sumerian language long before the Babylonian culture existed, and hence representing the earliest stage in the Gilgamesh literature. In this version the situation is slightly different. Gilgamesh and Enkidu did not go alone on their expedition but were accompanied by 50 strong warriors of Uruk, each of whom carried in his hands a felled tree - which there is some reasons to believe served as oars. It is these 50 anonymous heroes who are referred to below collectively as the sons of the city:)

Gilgamesh prayed:
'O Shamash, by the life of my mother Ninsun, who gave birth to me,
And of pure Lugulbanda, my father, truly I have entered this land of the cedar
And here have I known your dwelling place.
My small weak strength truly have I brought into this land for you as......
.... in your.................would I enter.'

Then Humbaba himself uprooted for Gilgamesh
The first of his trees.
The sons of the city who had come
Come with Gilgamesh from Uruk
Cut down the tree's crown, bundled it,
Lay it at the foot of the mountain.
After Humbaba himself had finished off
The seventh tree for him,
Gilgamesh approached his chamber.
He ... d the 'snake of the wine quay' in his wall
Like one pressing a kiss, he slapped his cheek
Like a captured ox,
A nose ring was thrown over Humbaba.
Like a captured hero,
A rope was fastened about him.

Humbaba, his teeth shook,
He warded off Gilgamesh:
'Oh, I would say a word unto...'

But Enkidu answered Gilgamesh:
'She the tallest who discriminates not,
She Namtar, awful Fate,
She will devour.
Namtar knows no distinctions.
If the caught bird is let go free,
Flies back to his place;
If the captive man returns,
Returns to the bosom of his mother;
Then will you never return to your city
To that city of your mother who gave birth to you.'

Humbaba says to Enkidu:
'To him, o Enkidu
You have spoken evil against me!
O mere hireling, who carries the food,
Who stands next to the..... of the rival,
You have spoken evil words to him!'

Humbaba then uttered against them his first terrifying roar.
The 50 companions then moved forward with Gilgamesh;
They cut down the branches, they tied them,
They laid these at the foot of the mountain.
The companions moved forward with Gilgamesh;
They cut down the branches, they tied them,
They laid these at the foot of the mountain.
He uttered against them his third terrifying roar.
The companions moved forward with Gilgamesh;
They cut down the trunk, they cut the side of Humbaba,
He uttered his fourth terrifying roar.
The companions moved forward towards him;
They cut down the trunk, they cut his side
They laid them at the foot of the mountain.
He uttered against them his fifth terrifying roar,
The companions moved forward towards him
They cut his trunk, they cut his side,
They laid these at the foot of the mountain.
He uttered his sixth terrifying roar.
The companions advanced towards him
They cut his trunk, they cut his side.
They laid these at the foot of the mountain.
At the moment when his seventh roar was coming to an end,
He approached the room where he rested.
His figure was formed like a serpent of...... wine
Like someone who gets ready to give a kiss,
He laid the palm of his hand against his cheek.
As for Humbaba, his face now became noble.
Like a captured mountain bull on a leash, he approached;
Like a captured sailor, he had tied elbows.

Humbaba, the tears came to his eyes, he grew pale:
'Gilgamesh, you, you know?
My king? Let me say a word:
A mother, who would have brought me into the world
I did not know one.
A father, who would have raised me -
I did not know one.
The mountain begat me -
You, you will raise me!'

Gilgamesh swore by the sky,
Swore by the earth,
Swore by the Underworld;
He took the .... in his hand,
When he would not want to lose it?
And of Gilgamesh, son of Ninsun,
Now is his heart moved to pity.
To his servant Enkidu, he spoke these words:
'Enkidu, a caught bird -
Ought he not to return to the arms of his mother?'

Enkidu interrupted him:
'But you, should you be taken prisoner,
You will not return to the arms of your mother.
Who has ever seen the hands of a prisoner of war unbound?
An imprisoned priest returned to the temple residence?
A lukur-priestess returned to her pleasures?
If you set him free,
He will obstruct the way up the mountain,
He will make the footpath impassable up the mountain.'

Humbaba, who had heard this speech,
Addressed these words to Enkidu:
'You, Enkidu, you have spoken these words,
Hostile and pernicious.
You, the mercenary, recruited for a pittance,
Who drags himself along after his fellow.
Such are you - that is why
The hostile words come!'

Because he had spoken in this manner,
Enkidu, in an excess of fury,
Cut off his head,
Wrapping it in a shroud.

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

  • how does Humbaba plead with Gilgamesh to spare his life? what does he give Gilgamesh?
  • what is Enkidu's reaction? how does Humbaba react to Enkidu?
  • who kills Humbaba and how?

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