4.3 – Read Selection from The Epic of Gilgamesh
- Read the beginning of Tablet I from The Epic of Gilgamesh.
- Write a short essay or discuss with your instructor the following questions: How does the character of Gilgamesh and the city of Uruk reflect the values of Mesopotamian culture?
SELECTION: The Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet I (excerpt).
I will tell of the history of Gilgamesh, he who knows all that has happened and has seen all the lands of the world, he who has seen all kinds of wisdom and knows the mysteries and has seen what is hidden. He bringeth news dating farther back than the deluge. He has travelled far-distant roads and became weary, and now he has engraved on standing stones the whole of the story.
When the gods fashioned Gilgamesh, to him they gave a perfect form. The glorious sun Shamash bestowed upon him glory; Adad the terrible god of storms bestowed upon him courage. The great gods perfected his magnificence beyond all others, terrible like the great wild bull. Two thirds god they made him; one third man they made him.
Of Uruk, its great rampart he built, and the wall of the sacred Eanna temple, the holy sanctuary. Behold the outer walls which gleam with the brilliance of copper; see the inner wall which none might rival. Touch the threshold stone—it is from ancient days. Goest thou into the Eanna temple, yea, the dwelling place of Ishtar, the like of which no subsequent king or living man might equal. Ascend and walk about on the wall of Uruk, inspect the corner-stone, and examine its brick-work, whether its wall is not made of burned brick, and its foundation laid by the Seven Sages. One third for city, one third for garden, one third for field, and a precinct for the temple of Ishtar. These parts and the precinct comprise Uruk. Unveil the tablet box of copper. Unlatch the clasp of its brazen lock. Unbind the fastenings of the hidden opening. Bring forth and read out the lapis lazuli tablet that tells of the great hardships endured by Gilgamesh.
Greater than other kings, lofty in stature, a hero born in Uruk, a wild and rampaging bull was he. He leads forth at the front, the leader; he brings up the rear, a trusted companion. He is a great net who protects his men, a thrashing flood-wave capable of devastating even walls of stone. As son of Lugalbanda, Gilgamesh is perfection in his strength, son too of the august cow, Ninsun, the goddess. Gilgamesh is tall, glorious, and terrific. It was he who cut open the passes through the mountains, who dug the wells on the slopes of the mountainsides, and who crossed the ocean itself, the great sea, to meet the sunrise, exploring every part of the whole world for the secret of life. It was he who by his strength alone reached Utnapishtim, the distant, who restored the holy places that the Flood had destroyed, and who for the teeming masses instilled the rites of heaven.
Who can rival Gilgamesh? Who might like him say “It is I who am king?” From the moment of his birth his name has forever been Gilgamesh. Two thirds god they made him; one third man they made him. The Great Goddess herself planned the shape of his body; glory, beauty and perfection were bestowed on him by Nudimmud. His foot was a triple cubit in size, his leg half a rod. Six cubits did he cover in each stride. His cheeks were flush with ample beard, and his hair was thick like barley. His beauty was beyond compare, he was the most handsome man on earth.
Around the enclosed space that is Uruk he walks, mighty like the wild bull, head raised high. None with weapon might challenge him as rival. His men stand at attention, longing for his orders; but the old men of Uruk grouse that Gilgamesh has left no son to his father, for his arrogance has grown boundless. He has taken all their children, for is Gilgamesh not the shepherd of his people? Gilgamesh does not leave a daughter to her mother, nor the maiden to the warrior, nor the wife to her husband. Yet Gilgamesh is the magnificent and glorious shepherd of his people.