The Epic of Gilgamesh

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Paraphrase of Tablets 8-9

Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 650 words.

After Enkidu's death, Gilgamesh suffers from overwhelming grief. In reaction to Enkidu's death, Gilgamesh decides to go on a quest: the quest for Eternal Life. He knows that Uta-Napishtim obtained immortality, so Gilgamesh decides to go find Uta-Napishtim. This is a difficult quest, because Gilgamesh does not actually know where Uta-Napishtim lives. He goes through many adventures and meets some myserious characters on the way. The story of Gilgamesh's wanderings exerted a tremendous influence on the Greek story of Odysseus's wanderings in his quest to return home. There are many many parallels between the adventures of these two heroes.

Gilgamish Mourns Enkidu

This Tablet was entirely occupied by a description of the mourning of Gilgamish over his dead companion. He lamented to himself, and lamented to the elders of the city, recalling how they had together overthrown Khumbaba, and slain the heavenly bull, and shared in many another exploit. Repeating the words of the Sun-god in the preceding Tablet, he promised that he would cause all his subjects to join with himself in the lament for Enkidu.

The funeral honours seem to have been described in the latter part of the Tablet, which is missing.

Gilgamish's Grief

In bitter grief Gilgamish wandered about the country uttering lamentations for his beloved companion, Enkidu. As he went about he thought to himself,

"I myself shall die, and shall not I then be as Enkidu?
Sorrow hath entered into my soul,
Because I fear death do I wander over the country."

His fervent desire was to escape from death, and remembering that his ancestor Uta-Napishtim, the son of Ubara-Tutu, had become deified and immortal, Gilgamish determined to set out for the place where he lived in order to obtain from him the secret of immortality.

Where Uta-Napishtim lived was unknown to Gilgamish, but he seems to have made up his mind that he would have to face danger in reaching the place, for he says, "I will set out and travel quickly. I shall reach the defiles in the mountains by night, and if I see lions, and am terrified at them, I shall lift up my head and appeal to the Moon-god, and to Ishtar, the Lady of the Gods, who is wont to hearken to my prayers."

Gilgamish and the Scorpion-Men

After Gilgamish set out to go to the west he was attacked either by men or animals, but he overcame them and went on until he arrived at Mount Mashu, where it would seem the sun was thought both to rise and to set. The approach to this mountain was guarded by Scorpion-men, whose aspect was so terrible that the mere sight of it was sufficient to kill the mortal who beheld them; even the mountains collapsed under the glance of their eyes.

When Gilgamish saw the Scorpion-men he was smitten with fear, and under the influence of his terror the colour of his face changed, and he fell prostrate before them. Then a Scorpion-man cried out to his wife, saying, "The body of him that cometh to us is the flesh of the gods," and she replied, "Two-thirds of him is god, and the other third is man." The Scorpion-man then received Gilgamish kindly, and warned him that the way which he was about to travel was full of danger and difficulty.

Gilgamish told him that he was in search of his ancestor, Uta-Napishtim, who had been deified and made immortal by the gods, and that it was his intention to go to him to learn the secret of immortality. The Scorpion-man in answer told him that it was impossible for him to continue his journey through that country, for no man had ever succeeded in passing through the dark region of that mountain, which required twelve double-hours to traverse.

Nothing dismayed, Gilgamish set out on the road through the mountains, and the darkness increased in density every hour, but he struggled on, and at the end of the twelfth hour he arrived at a region where there was bright daylight, and he entered a lovely garden, filled with trees loaded with luscious fruits, and he saw the "tree of the gods." Here the Sun-god called to him that his quest must be in vain, but Gilgamish replied that he would do anything to escape death.

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

  • how did Gilgamish feel when Enkidu died?
  • what did Gilgamish want from Uta-Napishtim?
  • who were the Scorpion-Men? how did they treat Gilgamish?

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