The Gilgamesh Epic
Retold in English by Stan Rummel
 with Discussion Questions



Gilgamesh and Enkidu

TABLET 1: Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, experienced everything
    in all the countries of the world;
He rebuilt the city-wall of Uruk
    and the holy place "Eanna" for the sky-god Anu.
Two-thirds of him was divine; he was like a wild bull.

One day, the men of Uruk complained to the deities:
    "Gilgamesh is the greatest fighter in the world, but he pushes us too hard.
    His arrogance is limitless in the night and in the day."
So the deities summoned the goddess Aruru:
    "You created this wild bull; now create his image.
    Let them contend with each other, that Uruk might have peace."
Aruru took a pinch of mud and threw the valiant Enkidu into the desert.
    The mighty Enkidu knew nothing of civilization.
    He lived with the wild animals.

One day, a trapper saw Enkidu tearing up his traps;
    and he told Gilgamesh, who replied:
    "Take a prostitute to the desert. Let her lure Enkidu.
    Then the wild animals will run away from him."
After seven nights of love, the prostitute said to Enkidu:
    "You are like a god. Why live with the wild animals?
    Let me take you to Uruk, where Gilgamesh lords it over the men like a wild bull.
    Maybe you could challenge him and take over."

TABLET 2: When Enkidu met Gilgamesh, they fought like wild bulls
    until Gilgamesh sank to one knee in defeat, and he turned his back.
Yet Enkidu said:
    "The goddess Ninsuna, strong as a wild bull, gave birth to you.
    She raised your head above those of other men. You are the true king!"
TABLET 3: Gilgamesh embraced Enkidu, and they became friends.

 The Quest

One day, Enkidu's eyes filled with tears.
Gilgamesh looked into his eyes and asked, "What's wrong, my friend?"
Enkidu replied, "My desert-strength has turned to city-weakness."
Gilgamesh said, "There is evil in all the land,
    caused by Huwawa, the giant monster who lives in the forest.
    We must go to the cedar forest in the west and kill him."
Enkidu pleaded with Gilgamesh:
    "Once I saw the monster in the distant forest.
    When he roars, the floodstorm comes;
    His mouth is filled with fire - his breath means death."
Gilgamesh chided Enkidu:
    "My friend, what human could rise to heaven and live forever?
    Our days are numbered - our achievements like a breath of wind.
    Already, you are afraid to die. What happened to your courage?
    If I fall, I will have lasting fame. Later generations will say:
    `Gilgamesh went down fighting the terrible Huwawa'."

TABLET 5: After a long journey, they reached the cedar forest where mighty Huwawa lived.
    He came out of his house of cedar,
    And looked at Gilgamesh with death in his eyes.
But Gilgamesh summoned the sun-god Shamash to send the scorching winds,
    and Huwawa's eyes filled with tears.
Huwawa said, "Let me live, Gilgamesh, and I will be your slave."
Gilgamesh felt sorry for him and asked Enkidu, "Shouldn't we let him live?"
Enkidu replied, "The tallest man who has no judgment will fall to death."
    Then Gilgamesh and Enkidu drew their swords,
    and the guardian of the cedars lay dead on the ground - slain by Enkidu.

Gilgamesh Learns about Being Human

TABLET 7: The earth-god Enlil, who had made Huwawa guardian of the cedars,
    Became enraged and said, "Enkidu must die."
Then Enkidu became ill and his eyes filled with tears:
    "I die not like one fallen in battle, but as one cursed and ashamed."
TABLET 8: Gilgamesh said, "What sleep is this that has taken you?
    You are in the dark and cannot hear me."
Then Gilgamesh touched Enkidu's heart, but it did not beat.
TABLET 9: Gilgamesh cried out, "Will I not die like Enkidu? I am afraid.
    I must go to my ancestor Utanapishtim,
    who joined the council of the deities and became immortal."

TABLET 10: After a long journey, Gilgamesh arrived at the Waters of Death,
    and met Urshanabi, the boatman of Utanapishtim.
    So Urshanabi took Gilgamesh to Utanapishtim.
TABLET 11: Utanapishtim said to Gilgamesh: "I will tell you a secret known only to the deities <THE STORY OF THE FLOOD FOLLOWS>.
Afterward, Enlil blessed me: `Utanapishtim shall be like the deities'.
    But who will assemble the deities for you,
    that you might find the life you search for?"
Gilgamesh said, "What can I do? Where shall I go?
    Wherever I look, I see death."
Utanapishtim answered, "At the bottom of the great sea is a thorny plant.
    Eat it when you grow old, and you will return to childhood."
So Gilgamesh tied stones to his feet and got the plant,though it stung his hand.
He said, "I will share with all the old men this plant called `Old Man Becomes A Child'."
And he started back for Uruk with Urshanabi.
After one day's journey, Gilgamesh saw a cool pond and went to bathe.
    But deep in the pond was a snake that sniffed the sweet flower.
    The snake rose out of the water and ate the plant.
    Immediately it shed its old skin and returned to the pond.
Gilgamesh sat down and cried, "Is this what I worked for?
    I gained nothing - but at least the snake is happy."

When they arrived in Uruk, Gilgamesh said to Urshanabi:
    "Walk on the city-wall. Examine it closely.
    Is it not made of the finest bricks,
    as though the seven sages before the flood laid its foundations?
    One part of the whole is city, one part is orchards,
    one part is fields; and there is the temple-precinct.
    Three parts and the temple-precinct make up Uruk."

Discussion Questions
What good points and bad points of Gilgamesh's character are stated at the beginning?
What is the bond between Gilgamesh and Enkidu? What does each character symbolize?
Why does Enkidu proclaim Gilgamesh the true king after their battle?
Why do Gilgamesh and Enkidu become friends?
In the quest, how do Gilgamesh and Enkidu function as monomyth-heroes?
What does Gilgamesh learn about being human?
Why does Utanapishtim weep after the flood ends? Why does Ishtar weep? Why does Gilgamesh weep after the snake steals the plant? What view of order does each character's weeping reflect?
How would you summarize the understanding of order conveyed by Gilgamesh's return home?



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  ©1998 Stan Rummel. All rights reserved.
This page was last updated 29 August 1998