The Epic of Gilgamesh

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

Tablet 5 (Robert Temple translation)

Reading time: 5 minutes. Word count: 800 words.

Remember the roars of Humbaba from the previous section? They are going to come back again, becoming a part of the natural world (this is called an "aetiological" myth, a story that explains the origin of something, especially some natural phenomenon). In one of the versions translated here, you will find the untranslated word "melammus" which is the word for these "roars" of Humbaba, although they are clearly more than just the sound that Humbaba makes; they are somehow a manifestation of his power in a perceptible form. You will also find some other words which have been left untranslated: what can you guess about the meaning of these words from the context?

[Another fragment gives the following version:]

When he had spoken thus,
They cut off his neck
They placed upon him....
They brought him before God Enlil and Goddess Ninlil
Enlil brought forth from the sea his palace servant
And Ninlil brought forth from.... her....
When Enlil and Ninlil.....
'Why thus......?
Let him come forth, let him seize.....'

[We now return to where we broke off a moment ago]

In front of Enlil they entered,
In front of Enlil, having kissed the earth,
They threw down the shroud,
They took out the head
And they rested it in front of Enlil.
Enlil, at the sight of Humbaba,
Grew angry at the words of Gilgamesh and said:
'Why do you act in this way?
May your faces be seared by fire!
May the food you eat be eaten by fire!
May the water you drink be drunk by fire!'

(There is a gap here, during which Enlil presents Gilgamesh with the seven melammus or roars of Humbaba:)

At the end of their conversation,
After his servant had prepared a sweet....
Enlil said:
'Place him down before you,
Make him eat the bread that you eat,
Make him drink the drink that you drink.'

After Enlil had taken away Humbaba,
He retained his exalted terrifying roar;
He attached the first roar to a large river;
He attached the second roar to................
He attached the third roar to ..... which carried....
He attached the fourth roar to a lion
He attached the fifth roar to barbarity,
He attached the sixth roar to a mountain
He attached the seventh roar to the goddess Nungal.
To the king, who subdued and conquered the terrifying roar,
To Gilgamesh the wild bull.
Who plunders the mountain.
Who goes from there to the sea -
Glory to him!
And from valiant Enkidu - glory to Enki!
God Enki, that your glory be sweet!

(The Sumerian text breaks off here. The text which follows is from a recently discovered fragment of a later period and also uses the imagery of the caught bird. As the reader will already have noted, the reference in the Sumerian material to the cutting down of the trees as a gesture of appeasement by Humbaba to Gilgamesh continues a theme in the fragment of a later period which came just before the Sumerian inset. We now return to the Epic of the later period, which offers another version of the death of Humbaba:)

Gilgamesh said to Enkidu:
'We will arrive in.....................,
In the confusion the melammus will vanish -
The melammus, the furies, the radiant beams,
The ordained haloes of the power, these -
They will vanish.
The melammus will vanish and then
The brilliance will become all clouded.'

Enkidu said to Gilgamesh:
'My friend, first catch the bird.
Then, where will the young birds fly?
Therefore let us see later those Melammus.
For, like young birds, they will only run about the grass!
First kill Humbaba, then kill his servants!'

Gilgamesh heeded the words of his friend.
With his hand he took the axe,
Drew the sword from his belt.
Gilgamesh struck the neck of Humbaba,
Enkidu, his friend, struck Humbaba twice also.
At the third blow Humbaba fell.
Confusion..... dumbfounded,
He struck the watchman, Humbaba, to the ground.
For two leagues the cedars resounded.
Enkidu killed with him
Forest.... cedars
At whose word Mount Hermon-Saria
And all the Lebanon trembled.
All the mountains became.......
All the hills became.......

He slew the ......cedars,
Those destroyed.... after he killed the seven,
The net.... the sword which weighed eight talents,
The netam of eight talents,
Bearing these he pressed on into the forest.
He opened up the secret dwelling of
The 50 Great Gods, the Anunnaki,
They who are seated on their thrones.
While Gilgamesh cut down the trees,
Enkidu dug up the urmazili
Enkidu said to Gilgamesh:
'.........Gilgamesh, felled are the cedars.'

(The 1980 fragment of von Weiher provides a bit more of the text here:)

....... the blow of their rottenness,
Gilgamesh felled the trees,
Enkidu searched everywhere towards.....

Enkidu said to him
Said to Gilgamesh:
'My friend up to now the high-grown cedar's tip would have penetrated to heaven
I make from it a door whose height will be six dozen yards
Whose width will be two dozen yards.
One yard will be its thickness. Its door-pole
Its lower door-hinge and its upper door-hinge
Each one will be one....
To the city of Nippur one might bring it,
To Nippur which is midway between the River Euphrates and the River Tigris
Then they joined together a raft....
Enkidu [steered?] ......
And Gilgamesh.......the head of Humbaba....
They washed......

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

  • what happens to the "roars", the Melammus, of Humbaba?
  • who kills Humbaba in this last version of the story?
  • what does Enkidu build with the wood of Humbaba's forest?

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