The Epic of Gilgamesh

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

Paraphrase of Tablet 10

Reading time: 6 minutes. Word count: 1000 words.

Next, Gilgamesh encounters Siduri, the "ale wife", a mysterious divine goddess associated with the mysteries of beer- and wine-making. Today she gives her name to a brand of Pinot Noir - but who was she in the ancient world? What kind of goddess was she? If you are pursuing the comparisons to Odysseus, Siduri is in some ways the equivalent of the goddess Calypso, with whom Odysseus stays for seven years.

Gilgamish and Siduri

In the region to which Gilgamish had come stood the palace or fortress of the goddess Siduri, who was called the "hostess," or "ale-wife," and to this he directed his steps with the view of obtaining help to continue his journey. The goddess wore a veil and sat upon a throne by the side of the sea, and when she saw him coming towards her palace, travel-stained and clad in the ragged skin of some animal, she thought that he might prove an undesirable visitor, and so ordered the door of her palace to be closed against him. But Gilgamish managed to obtain speech with her, and having asked her what ailed her, and why she had closed her door, he threatened to smash the bolt and break down the door. In answer Siduri said to him:--

"Why is thy vigour wasted? Thy face is bowed down,
Thine heart is sad, thy form is dejected,
And there is lamentation in thy heart."

And she went on to tell him that he had the appearance of one who had travelled far, that he was a painful sight to look upon, that his face was burnt, and finally seems to have suggested that he was a runaway trying to escape from the country. To this Gilgamish replied:--

"Nay, my vigour is not wasted, my face not bowed down,
My heart not sad, my form not dejected."

And then he told the goddess that his ill-looks and miserable appearance were due to the fact that death had carried off his dear friend Enkidu, the "panther of the desert," who had traversed the mountains with him and had helped him to overcome Khumbaba in the cedar forest, and to slay the bull of heaven, Enkidu his dear friend who had fought with lions and killed them, and who had been with him in all his difficulties; and, he added, "I wept over him for six days and nights . . . . before I would let him be buried."

Continuing his narrative, Gilgamish said to Siduri:

"I was horribly afraid . . .
I was afraid of death, and therefore I wander over the country.
The fate of my friend lieth heavily upon me,
Therefore am I travelling on a long journey through the country.
The fate of my friend lieth heavily upon me,
Therefore am I travelling on a long journey through the country.
How is it possible for me to keep silence? How is it possible for me to cry out?
My friend whom I loved hath become like the dust.
Enkidu, my friend whom I loved hath become like the dust.
Shall not I myself also be obliged to lay me down
And never again rise up to all eternity?"

To this complaint the ale-wife replied that the quest of eternal life was vain, since death was decreed to mankind by the gods at the time of creation. She advised him, therefore, to enjoy all mortal pleasures while life lasted and to abandon his hopeless journey.

But Gilgamish still persisted, and asked how he might reach Uta-Napishtim, for thither he was determined to go, whether across the ocean or by land. Then the ale-wife answered and said to Gilgamish:

"There never was a passage, O Gilgamish,
And no one, who from the earliest times came hither, hath crossed the sea.
The hero Shamash (the Sun-god) hath indeed crossed the sea, but who besides him could do so?
The passage is hard, and the way is difficult,
And the Waters of Death which bar its front are deep.
If, then, Gilgamish, thou art able to cross the sea,
When thou arrivest at the Waters of Death what wilt thou do?"

Gilgamish and Ur-Shanabi

Siduri then told Gilgamish that Ur-Shanabi, the boatman of Uta-Napishtim, was in the place, and that he should see him, and added: "If it be possible, cross with him, and if it be impossible, turn back."

Gilgamish left the goddess and succeeded in finding Ur-Shanabi, the boatman, who addressed to him words similar to those of Siduri quoted above. Gilgamish answered him as he had answered Siduri, and then asked him for news about the road to Uta-Napishtim. In reply Ur-Shanabi told him to take his axe and to go down into the forest and cut a number of poles 60 cubits long; Gilgamish did so, and when he returned with them he went up into the boat with Ur-Shanabi, and they made a voyage of one month and fifteen days; on the third day they reached the Waters of Death, which Ur-Shanabi told Gilgamish not to touch with his hand.

Gilgamish and Uta-Napishtim

Meanwhile, Uta-Napishtim had seen the boat coming and, as something in its appearance seemed strange to him, he went down to the shore to see who the newcomers were. When he saw Gilgamish he asked him the same questions that Siduri and Ur-Shanabi had asked him, and Gilgamish answered as he had answered them, and then went on to tell him the reason for his coming. He said that he had determined to go to visit Uta-Napishtim, the remote, and had therefore journeyed far, and that in the course of his travels he had passed over difficult mountains and crossed the sea. He had not succeeded in entering the house of Siduri, for she had caused him to be driven from her door on account of his dirty, ragged, and travel-stained apparel. He had eaten birds and beasts of many kinds, the lion, the panther, the jackal, the antelope, mountain goat, etc., and, apparently, had dressed himself in their skins.

A break in the text makes it impossible to give the opening lines of Uta-Napishtim's reply, but he mentions the father and mother of Gilgamish, and in the last twenty lines of the Tenth Tablet he warns Gilgamish that on earth there is nothing permanent, that Mammitum, the arranger of destinies, has settled the question of the death and life of man with the Anunnaki, and that none may find out the day of his death or escape from death.

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

  • who was Siduri? what advice did she give to Gilgamish?
  • who was Ur-Shanabi? what did he do for Gilgamish?
  • what does Uta-Napishtim say when Gilgamish asks him for the secret of immortality?

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