The Epic of Gilgamesh

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

Paraphrase of Tablets 6-7

Reading time: 7 minutes. Word count: 1100 words.

Now you will be going back to the summary of the story by Wallis Budge, interspersed with some brief bits of actual translation. The story starts up again when the two heroes are back again in the city of Erech, after Humbaba has been slain. You will meet the goddess Ishtar who definitely has a thing for Gilgamesh, although he resists her seductions and provides a list of all the disastrous things that had happened to Ishtar's other lovers. As the goddess of love, Ishtar can be compared to the Greek goddess Aphrodite or the Roman goddess Venus. The famous legend of Venus and Adonis derives from the Mesopotamian legend of Isthar and Tammuz which is mentioned in passing here.

Ishtar and Gilgamish

The scene now returns to Erech, whither the heroes returned after their glorious exploit. As Gilgamish was washing himself and dressing himself in splendid attire the goddess Ishtar saw his comeliness and desired him to be her lover, saying,

Go to, Gilgamish, do thou be (my) bridegroom,
Give me freely the fruit (of thy body).
Be thou my husband, I will be thy wife,
(So) will I make them yoke for thee a chariot of lapis-lazuli and gold,
Its wheels of gold, and its horns of electrum.
Every day shalt thou harness great mules thereto.
Enter (then) our house with the perfume of cedar.
When thou enterest our house,
Threshold and dais shall kiss thy feet,
Beneath thee shall kings, lords and princes do homage,
Bringing thee as tribute the yield of the mountains and plains,
Thy she-goats shall bring forth abundantly, thy ewes bear twins,
Thine asses shall be (each) as great as a mule,
Thy horses in the chariot shall be famous for their swiftness,
Thy mules in the yoke shall not have a peer.

Gilgamish Refuses Ishtar

In answer to this invitation, Gilgamish made a long speech, in which he reviewed the calamities of those who had been unfortunate enough to attract the love of the goddess. To be her husband would be a burdensome privilege, and her love was deceptive, a ruin that gave no shelter, a door that let in the storm, a crazy building, a pitfall, defiling pitch, a leaky vessel, a crumbling stone, a worthless charm, an ill-fitting shoe.

"Who was ever thy lord that had advantage thereby? Come, I will unfold the tale of thy lovers."

The Story of Tammuz and Ishtar's Other Lovers

Gilgamish refers to Tammuz, the lover of Ishtar's youth, for whom year by year she causes wailing. Every creature that fell under her sway suffered mutilation or death; the bird's wings were broken, the lion destroyed, the horse driven to death with whip and spur.

Her human lovers fared no better, for a shepherd, once her favourite, was turned by her into a jackal and torn by his own dogs, and Ishullanu, her father's gardener, was turned into a spider because he refused her advances.

"So, too," said Gilgamish, "would'st thou love me, and (then) make me like unto them."

The Bull of Heaven

When Ishtar heard these words she was filled with rage, and went up to heaven, and complained to Anu her father and Antu her mother that Gilgamish had blasphemed her, and revealed all her iniquitous deeds.

Anu replied, in effect, that it was her own fault, but she insisted in the request that he should create a heavenly bull to destroy Gilgamish. This he finally agreed to do, and the bull appeared before the citizens of Erech, and destroyed one, two and three hundred men who were sent out against him.

At length Enkidu and Gilgamish attacked the bull themselves, and after a hard fight (the details of which are lost) they slew him, and offered his heart together with a libation to the Sun-god.

The Victory of Enkidu and Gilgamish

As soon as Ishtar heard of the bull's death she rushed out on the battlements of the wall of Erech and cursed Gilgamish for destroying her bull. When Enkidu heard what Ishtar said, he tore out the member of the bull and threw it before the goddess, saying, "Could I but get it at thee, I would serve thee like him; I would hang his entrails about thee." Then Ishtar gathered together all her temple-women and harlots, and with them made lamentation over the member of the bull.

And Gilgamish called together the artisans of Erech, who came and marvelled at the size of the bull's horns, for each of them was in bulk equal to 30 minas of lapis-lazuli, their thickness two finger-breadths, and together they contained six kur measures of oil. These Gilgamish dedicated in the temple of his god Lugalbanda, to hold the god's unguent, and, having made his offering, he and Enkidu washed their hands in the Euphrates, took their way back to the city, and rode through the streets of Erech, the people thronging round to admire them. Gilgamish put forth a question to the people, saying

Who is splendid among men?
Who is glorious among heroes?
And the answer was:
[Gilgamish] is splendid among men,
[Enkidu] is glorious among heroes.

Gilgamish made a great feast in his palace, and after it all lay down to sleep. Enkidu also slept and had a vision, so he rose up and related it to Gilgamish.

The Anger of Enlil

From fragments of a version of the Gilgamish Epic translated into the Hittite language, which have more recently been discovered, it is possible to gain some notion of the contents of this Tablet, the earlier part of which is almost entirely missing from the Assyrian version. It appears that Enkidu beheld in his dream the gods Enlil, Ea, and the Sun-god taking counsel together. Enlil was greatly incensed at the exploits of Gilgamish and Enkidu, and had resolved that Enkidu must die, though Gilgamish might be spared. This was finally decreed, in spite of the attempted opposition of the Sun-god.

The Punishment of Enkidu

In consequence Enkidu soon afterwards fell sick, though nothing is preserved concerning the circumstances of this. But he seems to have attributed his misfortune for some reason to the harlot who had first brought him to Erech, for he is found heaping curses upon her.

While he thus spoke, the Sun-god heard him, and, calling from heaven, rebuked him for ingratitude to the woman, who had taught him all the ways of civilized life and had been the means of introducing him to Gilgamish, by whom he had been raised to great place and would be given signal honours at his death. Admonished thus, Enkidu repented of his anger and now bestowed as many blessings on the harlot as he had before uttered curses.

Enkidu then lay down again, with sickness heavy upon him, and dreamed a dream which he told to Gilgamish. He saw a monster with lion's claws which attacked and overcame him, and led him away to the Underworld, where he saw the miserable plight of the dead inhabitants, and ancient kings now acting as servants, and priests and sages who served before Ereshkigal, the queen of Hades.

How the dream ended, and how Enkidu died, is unknown, for the text breaks off here.

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

  • who was Ishtar? what happened when Gilgamish rejected Ishtar?
  • which god wanted to kill Enkidu?
  • what did Enkidu see in his dream as he was dying?

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