The legend of Gilgamesh is believed to be the first story ever written by man. Before Gilgamesh was written it was passed from mouth to mouth by the ancient civilization of the Sumerians. The Sumerians existed over three thousand years before the birth of Christ. They recorded the story of Gilgamesh in cuneiform script. Later the Sumerian story was passed on to the Babylonians, Akkadians, Asyrians, Hitties, and Persians whom had also learned to write in their own languages. The Sumerians and their language disappeared, but their story of Gilgamesh has continued.
With the rediscovery of the ancient cities and the objects contained within we found clay tablets with curios markings. Slowly theses markings were recognized as writing and the script, in its various languages, was laboriously deciphered. In these tablets we find the epic of Gilgamesh. Although scholars have disagreed about the meanings in the story and there have been as many versions of it as there have been translators it still has remained a historic myth.
The story begins a description of the world in which Gilgamesh lived. There were the several gods in Gilgamesh’s world. The city of Gilgamesh was one in which the walls tower so high that they protect the city from invaders, floods, wild beasts, and even unfriendly gods. Even with all this protection the people of Uruk were not happy they spent all their time building the walls higher and higher. The mothers were without their sons and the woman without their lovers. The elders of the city went to complain to the gods about Gilgamesh who has ordered them to keep building the massive walls. They were answered by Anu. Anu dismissed the elders. He respected Gilgamesh as a fearless ruler and thought that he knew best for his people. The goddess of love, Ishtar disagreed. She was angered to see her young girls without their lovers and her mothers without their sons. The elders suggested a plan for the gods to create a man equal Gilgamesh. Aruru, the goddess who created mankind, came down and shaped a piece of clay and placed it in the forest. This man was very similar to Gilgamesh but this was a wild beast of a man. He was Enkidu. Enkidu lived in the cedar forest outside of Uruk. He learned to feed from the gazelle and learned to fight by wrestling the lion.
One day a young trapper encountered Enkidu and was scared by him. He ran to his father, a shepherd, and told him about this beast man who had been letting the animals in his traps go free. The boy described the man as taller and more powerful than Gilgamesh. The Father and his son went to the city of Uruk to complain. They were led to Gilgamesh and told him that there was a wild man terrorizing the countryside. Gilgamesh sent a temple harlot with them in order to soften his heart and lead him into the city. When the harlot arrived to the cedar forest she sat beside the bubbling spring and dipped her feet in the water. Enkidu traveled to the spring with his friend the gazelle. When they came closer the gazelle was frightened and ran away. Enkidu went on to investigate when he saw the beautiful woman by the spring. When the girl noticed Enkidu she greeted him and he slowly approached her. After a while in the forest the harlot removed the beast in Enkidu and brought him to the city.
Meanwhile in Uruk, Gilgamesh was tormented by his dreams. He went to his mother, Ninsun, a goddess who had the gift of prophecy and could read dreams. She interpreted his dreams. She told him there would be the arrival of a man equal to you he will at first be a competitor but later he will be an intimate friend.
The harlot led Enkidu into Uruk when there was a festival, in which Gilgamesh as king was to have intercourse with the wife before the husband. Enkidu enraged by this blocks Gilgamesh from entering the marital chambers. The two of them fought intensely. Eventually Gilgamesh prevails in the fight but was so moved to have met such an equal rival the two men embraced and pledged eternal friendship. After finding true companionship Gilgamesh proposed that he and Enkidu leave the city and kill the monster Humbaba, who is the guardian of the cedar forest. Enkidu knew of the ferocious Humbaba and feared fighting the beast. Gilgamesh eventually talked Enkidu into the adventure. The elders worn Enkidu that he is to protect Gilgamesh. Distressed that Gilgamesh is undertaking such a dangerous adventure, Ninsun pleads to the sun god Shamash to guard the two of them. Gilgamesh and Enkidu travel for six days to reach the cedar forest. Each day Gilgamesh gives offerings to Shamash. Shamash rewards Gilgamesh by warning him through fearful dreams. However Enkidu translates these dreams into a positive meaning. Eventually the two become fearful and begin squabbling. Humbaba disturbed by their presence comes down the mountain to kill them. The two stand together and defeat the monster Humbaba.
The goddess Ishtar heard the fighting and was impressed by the two heroes courage. She eventually developed love for Gilgamesh. She proposes marriage, but Gilgamesh knowing what misery she has caused other men she has loved, turns her down. Furious, Ishtar asks her father Anu to send down a bull to attack the city. Anu sends the Bull of Heaven to Uruk. In the Bull of Heavens wrath it kills hundreds of men. Enkidu begins to fight the beast and Gilgamesh quickly joins in. Together they fight the beast for hours. Then Gilgamesh distracted the Bull of Heaven and Enkidu killed it. Ishtar enraged at the two heroes curses them. In revenge Enkidu rips off the leg of the bull and throws it at Ishtar.
During the night Enkidu is roused by a dream. It told him that Ishtar and all of the priestesses gathered around the bull leg and howled over the loss of the bull. The gods hearing the awful noise gathered around her and were angry. Anu decreed that one of them shall die. Enil said that Enkidu shall die. Enkidu then curses the cedar door, cutting it down has made the gods condemn him. Gilgamesh tries to rebuke his irreverence by telling him that a memorial statue will be dedicated to him. Enkidu continues to curse the harlot and the trapper, but is reminded that she did bring him to this world that he has enjoyed. Enkidu forgives the harlot and falls into another dream in which he is taken to the Netherworld by demons and Gilgamesh does not try and stop them. After 12 days Enkidu dies still accusing Gilgamesh of abandoning him.
Gilgamesh, distraught by his friend death, removes his fine attire and dresses himself in animal skins. He has a statue dedicated to “My Friend” dedicated and the city falls into mourning. Aware of his own mortality Gilgamesh goes on a quest to find Utanapishtim, a mortal turned immortal.
On his quest Gilgamesh encounters a scorpion man and his wife. The question him on why he has traveled so far. He tells them he is in search of Utanapishtim. The scorpion man directs him to the caverns beneath the mountain where he travels 10 leagues in pitch dark. After 12 leagues hours he emerged from the cavern and entered the Eastern Garden, which was filled with precious gems. Gilgamesh continued through the garden following the god Shamash. Shamash tried to influence Gilgamesh into staying in the garden but Gilgamesh rejected the idea. Shamash pointed Gilgamesh toward Siduri the tavern-keeper. When Siduri sees Gilgamesh’s gaunt appearance she locks herself in her house. Gilgamesh insists that he is whom he says and Siduri responds by telling him that his quest is futile. Gilgamesh demands directions to Utanapishtim. Siduri sends him to the ferryman, Urshanabi.
Gilgamesh reaches the ferry on the shore of the Waters-of-Death, and awaits the return of the ferry-man. Eventually Gilgamesh becomes impatient and begins destroying the stone things on the boat. The ferryman approaches and scolds Gilgamesh for destroying the boat of Utanapishtim. Gilgamesh profusely apologizes and asks to be taken across the river. Since the boat is so damaged Gilgamesh is asked to cut poles in order to push there way across the river. Once Gilgamesh arrives to the other side he encounters a man and tells him of how he came to be there. The man, Utanapishtim, tells him that only the gods can make him immortal. He goes on to tell him how he became immortal. Utanapishtim tries to test if Gilgamesh could become immortal but Gilgamesh could not pass the test of warding off sleep. So Utanapishtim sends him back home, but not without telling him of a magic plant of rejuvenation. Gilgamesh finds the plant but out of distrust takes the plant with him to test on an old man instead of eating it immediately. While returning home a snake snatched the plant away and slithered into a hole leaving only his old skin behind. Gilgamesh eventually returns home with nothing. The moral being that there are no second chances.