Epic of Gilgamesh: Death of Enkidu

In this excerpt, the goddess Ishtar has fallen in love with the hero, Gilgamesh. When he rejects her, she sends the Bull of Heaven to kill Gilgamesh and his friend, Enkidu. They, however, kill the Bull, but afterward Enkidu dies at the hands of the gods. This story reveals Mesopotamian views of gods, life and afterlife.

Gilgamesh washed out his long locks and cleaned his weapons; he flung back his hair from his shoulders; he threw off his stained clothes and changed them for new. He put on his royal robes and made them fast. When Gilgamesh had put on the crown, glorious Ishtar lifted her eyes, seeing the beauty of Gilgamesh. She said, ‘Come to me Gilgamesh, and be my bridegroom; grant me seed of your body, let me be your bride and you shall be my husband. I will harness for you a chariot of lapis lazuli and of gold, with wheels of gold and horns of copper; and you shall have mighty demons of the storm for draft-mules. When you enter our house in the fragrance of cedar-wood, threshold and throne will kiss your feet. Kings, rulers, and princes will bow down before you; they shall bring you tribute from the mountains and the plain. Your ewes shall drops twins and your goats triplets; your pack-ass shall outrun mules; your oxen shall have no rivals, and your chariot horses shall be famous far-off for their swiftness.’

Gilgamesh opened his mouth and answered glorious Ishtar, ‘If I take you in marriage, what gifts can I give you in return? What ointments and clothing for your body, what bread for your eating? How can I give food to a god and drink to the Queen of Heaven? Moreover, if I take you in marriage how will it go with me? Your lovers have found you like a brazier which smolders in the cold, a backdoor which keeps out neither squall of wind nor storm, a castle which crushes the garrison, pitch that blackens the bearer, a leaky skin that wets the carrier, a stone which falls from the parapet, a sandal that trips the wearer, an engine of assault set up in the enemy’s land. Which of your lovers did you ever love for ever? What shepherd of yours has pleased you for all time? Listen to me while I tell the tale of your lovers. There was Tammus, the lover of your youth, for him you decreed wailing, year after year. You loved the many-coloured roller, but still you struck and broke his wing; now in the grove he sits and cries, "kappi, kappi, my wing, my wing." You have loved the lion tremendous in strength: seven pits you dug for him, and seven. You have loved the stallion magnificent in battle, and for him you decreed whip and spur and a thong, to gallop seven leagues by force and to muddy the water before he drinks; and for his mother Silili lamentations. You have loved the shepherd of the flock; he made meal-cake for you day after day, he killed kids for your sake. You struck and turned him into a wolf; now his own herd-boys chase his away, his own hounds worry his flanks. And did you not love Ishullanu, the gardener of your father’s palm-grove? He brought you baskets filled with dates without end; every day he loaded your table. Then you turned your eyes on him and said, "Dearest Ishullanu, come here to me, let us enjoy your manhood, come forward and take me I am yours." Ishullanu answered, "What are you asking from me? My mother has baked and I have eaten; why should I come to such as you for food that is tainted and rotten? For when was a screen of rushes sufficient protection from frosts"? but when you had heard his answer you struck him. He was changed to a blind mole deep in the earth, one whose desire is always beyond his reach. And if you and I should be lovers, should not I be served in the same fashion as all these others whom you loved once?’

When Ishtar heard this she fell into a bitter rage, she went up to high heaven to her father Anu and to Antum her mother. She said, 'My father, Gilgamesh has heaped insults on me; he has told over all my abominable behaviour, all my tainted acts.’ Anu opened his mouth and said, ‘You invited this rebuke yourself, because of this Gilgamesh has related your abominable behaviour and your tainted acts.’

Ishtar opened her mouth and said again, ‘My father, make me the Bull of Heaven to destroy Gilgamesh. Fill Gilgamesh, I say, with arrogance to his destruction; but if you refuse to make me the Bull of Heaven I will break in the door of hell and smash the bolts. I will let the doors of hell stand wide open and bring up the dead to eat food with living; and the hosts of dead will outnumber the living.’ Anu said to Ishtar, ‘If I do what you desire there will be seven years of drought when the corn will be seedless husks. Have you saved grain enough for the people and grass for the cattle?’ Ishtar replied. ‘I have saved grain for the people, grass for the cattle; for seven years of seedless husks there is grain and there is grass enough.’

So Anu created the Bull of Heaven for Ishtar his daughter. The Bull fell on the earth; with his first snort he slew a hundred men, and again he slew two hundred, he slew three hundred; with his second snort hundreds more fell dead. With his third snort he charged at Enkidu, but he dodged aside and leapt on the Bull and seized it by the horns. The Bull of Heaven foamed in his face, it brushed him with the thick of its tail. Enkidu cried to Gilgamesh, 'My friend, we boasted that we would leave enduring names behind us. Now thrust in your sword between the nape and the horns.' So Gilgamesh followed the Bull, he seized the thick of its tail, he thrust the sword between the nape and the horns and slew the Bull. When they had killed the Bull of Heaven they cut out its heart and gave it to Shamash, and the brothers rested.

But Ishtar rose up and mounted the great wall of Uruk; she sprang on the tower and uttered a curse: 'Woe to Gilgamesh, for he has scorned me in killing the Bull of Heaven.' When Enkidu heard these words he tore out the Bull's right thigh and tossed it in her face saying, 'If I could lay my hands on you, it is this I should do to you, and lash the entrails to your side.' Then Ishtar called together her people, the dancing and singing girls, the prostitutes of the temple, the courtesans. Over the thigh of the Bull of Heaven she set up lamentation.

But Gilgamesh called the smiths and the armourers, all of them together. They admired the immensity of the horns. They were plated with lapis lazuli two fingers thick. They were thirty pounds each in weight, and their capacity in oil was six measures, which he gave to his guardian god Lugulbanda. But he carried the horns into the palace and hung them on the wall. Then they washed their hands in Euphrates, they embraced each other and went away. They drove through the streets of Uruk where the heroes were gathered to see them, and Gilgamesh called to the singing girls, 'Who is most glorious of heroes, Gilgamesh among men?' 'Gilgamesh is the most glorious of heroes, Gilgamesh is most eminent among men.' And now there was feasting, and celebrations and joy in the palace, till the heroes lay down to rest on their beds.

Enkidu also lay down to sleep, and he saw a dream. He rose from his bed to tell the dream to his brother. 'O my friend, why do the great gods sit in council together?' When the day came he said to Gilgamesh. 'Ah, such a dream I had last night. All the gods, Anu, Enlil, Ea, and Shamash sat in council and Anu said to Enlil, "Because they had killed the Bull of Heaven and killed Humbaba, one of the two must die; let it be the one who stripped the mountains of the cedar." But Enlil said, "Enkidu shall die, Gilgamesh shall not die." The glorious Shamash answered the hero Enlil, "At my command they killed the Bull of Heaven and Humbaba, and now Enkidu dies though innocent?" but Enlil was enraged at Shamash: "You have gone down to them every day like one of themselves, therefore you speak!"'

So Enkidu fell sick, and he lay before Gilgamesh: his tears ran down in streams. Gilgamesh said to him, 'O my brother, my dear brother, why do they quit me to take you?' He said again, 'Must I sit outside at the spirit's door by the ghost of the dead, never to see my dear brother again?'. . .

Enkidu slept alone in his sickness and he poured out his heart to Gilgamesh, 'Last night I dreamed my friend. The heavens moaned and the earth replied; I stood alone before an awful being; his face was sombre like the black bird of the storm. He fell upon me with the talons of an eagle and he held me fast, pinioned with his claw, till I smothered; then he transformed me so that my arms became wings covered with feathers. He turned his stare towards me, and he led me away to the palace of Irkalla, the Queen of Darkness, to the house from which none who enters ever returns, down the road from which there is no coming back.

'There is the house whose people sit in darkness; dust is their food and clay their meat. They are clothed like birds with wings for covering, they see no light, they sit in darkness. I entered the house of dust and I saw the kings of the earth, their crowns put away for ever; rulers and princes, all those who once wore kingly crowns and ruled the world in the days of old. They who had stood in the place of gods like Anu and Enlil, stood now like servants to fetch baked meats in the house of dust, to carry cooked meat and cold water from the water-skin. In the house of dust which I entered were high priests and acolytes, priests of the incantation and of ecstasy; there were servers of the temple, and there was Etana, the king of Kish whom the eagle carried to heaven in the days of old. I saw also Samuqan, god of cattle, and there was Ereshkigal the Queen of the Underworld; and Belit-Sheri squatted in front of her, she who is recorder of the gods and keeps the book of death. She held a tablet from which she read. She raised her head, she saw me and spoke: "Who has brought this one here?" Then I awoke like a man drained of blood who wanders alone in a waste of rushes; like one whom the bailiff has seized and his heart pounds with terror.'. . .

This day on which Enkidu dreamed came to an end and he lay stricken with sickness. One whole day he lay on his bed and his suffering increased, a second and a third day; ten days he lay and his suffering increased, eleven and twelve days he lay on his bed of pain. Then he called to Gilgamesh, 'My friend, the great goddess cursed me and I must die in shame. I shall not die like a man fallen in battle; I feared to fall, but happy is the man who falls in the battle, for I must die in shame.' And Gilgamesh wept over Enkidu. . . .

He touched his heart but it did not beat, nor did he lift his eyes again. When Gilgamesh touched his heart it did not beat. So Gilgamesh laid a veil, as one veils the bride, over his friend. He began to rage like a lion, like a lioness robbed of her whelps. This way and that he paced round the bed, he tore out his hair and strewed it around. He dragged off his splendid robes and flung them down as though they were abominations.

In the first light of dawn Gilgamesh cried out, 'I made you rest on a royal bed, you reclined on a couch at my left hand, the princes of the earth kissed your feet. I will cause all the people of Uruk to weep over you and raise the dirge of the dead. The joyful people will stoop with sorrow; and when you have gone to the earth I will let my hair grow long for your sake, I will wander through the wilderness in the skin of a lion.' The next day also, in the first light, Gilgamesh lamented; seven days and seven nights he wept for Enkidu, until the worm fastened on him. Only then he gave him up to the earth, for the Annunaki, the judges, had seized him.

Epic of Gilgameth: The Bull of Heaven from Lisa M Lane on Vimeo.


Why are Gilgamesh and Enkidu heroes, even though Enkidu dies?

What is the Mesopotamian afterlife like, according to Enkidu's dream?