Authors: Brian Godawa
The new city of Uruk was rebuilt upon the ruins of the old that had been destroyed in the Deluge. All the cities of the area had likewise been rebuilt: Eridu, Ur, Shuruppak and the others, but Uruk had grown quickly to become once again the largest city-state in Sumer, boasting over sixty thousand residents. Its territory covered three and a half square miles of land. One square mile of city, one square mile of orchards, one square mile of clay pits, and one half square mile for the temple mount.
Following his predecessors,
Gilgamesh had restored the cult centers along with their religious worship of deity. Inanna’s and Anu’s temples were rehabilitated with that extra flourish that Gilgamesh added to all his ventures in an attempt to establish his unsurpassed greatness. His own Great Palace was in the same district and included a temple,
for his mother, the goddess Ninsun.
Deluge, most of the gods no longer showed their presence to mankind as they used to. They seemed strangely distant. But the religious cult continued with images of the gods made from stone and wood. They still performed their “opening of the mouth” ceremony to bring the breath of the god into the statue and make it a living representation of the deity’s presence in its absence. The rumors were that the pantheon was hidden away in its holy mountain, Hermon, in the west, because the devastation of the flood waters had sent shock waves through their ranks. But no one really knew why.
was not long before scribes in their tablet schools began spinning their own yarns to suit their purposes. It was said that Enlil, the god of the air, was angry at the clamor of humanity and proposed to send a flood to wipe them all out, but that Enki, the crafty god of the waters of the Abyss, warned Noah, a leader of Shuruppak, called “Ziusudra” by some, to build a boat and escape the wrath. So Enki had thwarted the plans of Enlil, just when Enlil was trying to take charge of the pantheon. Anu, the high god of the pantheon, had faded into the background as a more distant deity.
What the scribes did not know was the reality behind their myths. Anu
was actually the Watcher Semjaza. He had faded in his historical presence because he had been bound into the heart of the earth by Uriel the archangel during the War of Gods and Men at the time of the Flood. All the seven high gods “who decree the fates” had been imprisoned in that battle because they too were rebel Watchers of Elohim’s heavenly host with revolutionary intent. The only one of the high gods not bound in the earth was Utu the sun god who escaped in a fit of cowardice during the battle. He had also run away in the Titanomachy and the War on Eden which made him a particular nuisance to the plans of the divine pantheon. Utu had changed his name to Shamash, but remained a sun god. Other surviving Watchers had taken over the identities of the other high gods so as to insure the continuity of their rule over mankind. There was a new Enlil, and a new Anu, a new Enki, Nanna, and Ninhursag.
The only deity whose identity was not taken over was Inanna. She had been seized in the mouth of Rahab the sea dragon and buried under tons of sediment in the
Flood. Her reputation for self-aggrandizement and violence was so notorious that no Watcher wanted to carry that stigma with them into the new world. But what the humans did not know would not hurt them, as they continued to venerate Inanna throughout the land.
Irrigation canals were redug to bring water from the Euphrates River into the fields surrounding the city that were tended by the farmers. The city walls were a new addition by Gilgamesh. The land of Sumer was a confederation of city-states with their own economies, governmental bureaucracy, and patron deit
ies. Though they traded with one another and usually respected their boundaries, the nature of humankind is always to take more. Hostilities had grown between the cities and some engaged in battles over territory and passage rights on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The two rivers were still the lifeline of the land that brought water for crops and transportation for trade. It became evident to some that control of the waterway would lead to control of the land, so the cities on the edge of the river vied for that control by charging duties and transportation taxes. It was a seedling of trouble that would prove to grow into a tree of thorns.
Gilgamesh saw this growing aggression as a threat to the safety of Uruk, so he embarked upon a massive project to build a protective wall around his city like none had ever seen. It was a mighty wall worthy of a mighty king who was determined to make a name for himself in history.
About fifty cubits or eighty feet high, the wall boasted a sevenfold gateway protecting the entrance into the city. A chariot could ride across its threshold with a full rig of horses. The brickwork was meticulous and made of kiln-fired bricks that could withstand weather, war, and even floodwaters, unlike the more common mud bricks that most building structures were made of. The amount of material needed for this glorious enterprise was so massive that the clay pits for brick making took up one third of the city and were going deeper into the earth with every day of building. The labor needed to accomplish this feat was so overwhelming that King Gilgamesh had to institute forced corveé labor upon the citizens for many years just to have any hope of actually finishing the massive brick snake that wound its way around the city.
“And therein lays your flaw, Gilgamesh,” whispered Ninsun.
at gloriously on his throne, washed up from the hunt. He was a majestic six cubits or nine feet tall. Ninsun stood intimately by his ear. He posed motionless so an artisan could carve an accurate likeness of his face into a clay tablet while another sculpted a statuette. They were commemorating his slaughter of the two great lions by crafting images of him as “Lord of the Animals,” savior of his people. His muscular likeness stood mightily in the center, hands stretched out to grasp the throat of a lion on either side of him. On his head was the horned hat of deity. Ironically, his throne also sported a carved stone lion on either side as a symbol of his royalty, so these were particularly symbolic animals that helped exalt his reputation and glory.
The huge lion skins were being stripped from their carcasses and cured by tanners to put on display in his palace later. Gilgamesh neglected to mention to anyone the third missing lioness. It
was not flattering to his reputation. Who would believe him that the smaller female was more ferocious? And the legendary fame of two vanquished lions would forever be sullied by “the one that got away.” He decided that was an extraneous detail that need not spoil the symmetry of his gallant story and artwork.
Gilgamesh responded to Ninsun in a whisper, so as not to be heard by the artists. “I
have restored the cosmic rites of the gods, I opened up passes in the mountains for travel, dug many wells of water for my people, and I have brought much fame upon Uruk by building walls of strength and glory.”
“And you have done so at the expense of your own subjects,” Ninsun added. “You are working
your own people into an early grave.” As a high-priestess of Shamash, Ninsun was in touch with the soul of the commoner. She heard their confessions and prayers to Shamash for deliverance from their king’s oppressive demands.
“I ask nothing of them that I do not also ask of myself,” he hissed back.
“True enough, my son,” she said. “But they are not part god as you are. The workers in the pits and on the wall are working day and night in rotating shifts with nary a rest for their labors. You must allow them some happiness or they may rise up in sheer desperation.”
“That is why
they will not rise up. Because they fear their king,” he said.
“A healthy fear maintains authority, law, and order,” she said. “But a cruel fear breeds resentment, spite
, and chaos. Leave them some time to tend to their families and their own gardens of produce. Then they will die for you if you need them to.”
Gilgamesh let her words sink in. His mother was his most respected counsel and he took her words to heart. A melancholy spirit came over him and he barely whispered, “Father created a healthy fear.”
“Yes, he did,” she said. “But he was a good king. Holy Lugalbanda.” Her eyes sparkled with reminiscence. “I was his child bride but he treated me with tender consideration on our wedding night. Like you, he had the divine right of kings. He could have taken me any way he wanted. But he was kind. And my loyalty was eternal.”
Gilgamesh looked at Ninsun. She had a wise way of saying several things in one metaphor. And this time she was not merely talking about treating subjects with goodness. There was another meaning that penetrated her words. For Gilgamesh’s slave-driving impatience was not his only weakness. He was a giant born of the union of god and human. He was a
, a mighty warrior with a mighty appetite for two things: Combat and women.
The wedding banquet
, comprised of the families and communities of the bride and bridegroom, numbered about two hundred or so celebrants. Beer and wine flowed heavily as the participants ended the seven day celebration in the partially blocked off neighborhood of the bride. The marriage was typical, arranged by the parents of both sides for economic or familial benefits. A bride price of ten shekels of silver and some livestock was given by the bridegroom as a down payment for the engagement, followed by a large gift of foodstuffs at the wedding banquet. The bride’s father had provided her a dowry of precious metals and stones that would remain her own property to protect her in case of her husband’s death, divorce, or other personal tragedy.
On this last day of the party, the bride had been covered with a veil by her
father that would be taken off later by her new husband. Normally, friends of the bridegroom, called “best-men,” would oversee the carnal union of the couple in order to protect the virginity of the bride against demons.
But the happiness of the celebration barely kept at bay the sadness that hung over the evening like a shadow. Their gazes all turned to the looming figure of king Gilgamesh standing in the
shadows of the threshold. For a long while now, Gilgamesh had enforced the institution of
jus prima noctis
, the divine right of the Lord to first conjugal rights with all brides of the city. It was a way for him to assert his status of power over the men of the city-state, while also giving temporary satisfaction to his insatiable hunger for women.
But there were political benefits as well. If many women had their firstborn through union with the king, rebellion or insurrection would be less likely because of the deep primal feelings of family ties to his majesty.
At least, that is how he thought of it. His mother, Ninsun thought differently.
“There are plenty of hierodules to satisfy your appetite,” she would say. A hierodule was one of many sacred temple prostitutes available at the beck and call of the king.
“As king you already have complete control over the male citizens’ bodies and allegiance. They must submit to you, work for you, fight and die for you. If you allow them nothing of their own you will breed resentment that will lead to resignation and despair. And a man who has nothing left to lose is a dangerous man who will stop at nothing if he chooses revenge.”
Gilgamesh was not concerned. He knew he could out fight any angry man of the city at any time. If any one of them tried to hurt their king, he would justly execute
him for treason. He was after all the king, and the king was the law.
They should thank me for being kind and tender with their women,
he justified to himself.
I choose such graciousness, it is not my obligation.
The crowd tried to ignore what was happening by giving their attention to their feasting and fellowship. The bridegroom took the bride in his arms and raised her veil. She was weeping. He too had tears of pain rolling down his cheek. But this was their fate. They
would simply have to accept the violation as the price they paid for being subjects of the greatest city of Sumer. He kissed her, whispered a promise of hope in her ear, and led her into the hands of Gilgamesh, who gently led her away to have his privilege with her. The bridegroom downed a half dozen goblets of beer in order to numb himself to the incomparable personal injury he and his new wife would experience. They had no choice in the matter. Gilgamesh was their king.
The next day, the Game of Champions took place in the huge clay pits. Because of the gradual slope of the incline
, the pits made a natural amphitheater that could easily seat thousands of the citizenry as viewers of the spectacle that took place a hundred cubits below. The brick-making tools and equipment were cleared away to make room for the warriors to fight. It was a near-daily event consisting of warriors fighting against the King. It was not a duel to the death. It was a contest of strength, wit, and strategy, but it often ended in broken bones and unconsciousness.
Some thought it was only a staged spectacle to glorify the king
— until they joined it themselves and had their back broken or their nose flowing with blood. It was mandated by Gilgamesh in order to give an outlet for his pent up energy that made him restless, impatient, and prone to hot-tempered outbursts.
Every tournament consisted of three or four men challenging Gilgamesh in boxing, wrestling, or staffs, rods, and other non-lethal weapons. Because of his superior size, strength, and skill as a Gibbor, Gilgamesh had to increase the number of his opponents to even the odds. The tradition had started innocently enough with the
challengers holding back or feigning attack wary of the consequences of defeating or hurting their King. But Gilgamesh could not abide such half-heartedness and soon demanded the warriors truly seek to conquer him.
ped the stakes by offering them the Right Hand of his kingdom and commensurate wealth if they could but pin him, knock him unconscious, or break a bone. The office of the Right Hand of the king was the highest honor in the city. The king’s Right Hand acted in the name of the king, carrying out his wishes with the complete authority of the state assembly behind him. The only one with more authority was the king himself.
swore upon his holy honor that the victor would truly be granted this authority. He even did so in the temple of Inanna and the altar of Shamash in the presence of the entire city as well as his mother Ninsun. Gilgamesh was a hard taskmaster, and aloof from those whom he ruled, but one thing he was not was a liar. If he gave his word, he would honor it if even just to magnify his reputation of integrity.
It had the desired effect. Warriors not
only gave their all in sparring with their ruler, they even practiced, planned, and strategized with one another before the Games with the hope of outwitting Gilgamesh. And all for the prize of being the Right Hand of the King. Unfortunately, the fighting would sometimes get out of hand as warriors were pushed to desperation. But when it did, Gilgamesh would meet them with equal ferocity. That is when the broken bones and other damages resulted. A couple of times Gilgamesh had accidentally killed a contestant. He paid the family proper compensation, and a glorious burial, but it was still not good for his legacy.
He had been so invigorated by his recent victory over the lions that he decided to face the
largest number of combatants he had ever faced in the Games: Six experienced challengers at once. The increased number of opponents would be difficult enough, but there was a small detail he was not aware of: One of the fighters had a personal vendetta against the king. His name was Dumuzi the Shepherd, and he had experienced the gut wrenching pain of
jus prima noctis
, forced upon him by Gilgamesh, and shortly afterward, lost his wife to sickness. Ninsun’s fears had materialized. A man had finally come to kill Gilgamesh. Dumuzi would do so with a secreted knife hidden on his person for just the right moment.
Dumuzi recognized two of the contestants as soldiers but the other three
he had never seen before. He thought they looked like foreigners but knew they could not be because foreigners were not allowed in the Games. The six men surrounded Gilgamesh. Dumuzi had a shepherd’s staff with which he had become adept at fighting wolves and other predators of his flock. He had also become quite a skilled hunter. One combatant had a rope, another had a net, two were competition wrestlers, and one was a champion boxer who had once knocked out a bull with a punch. Gilgamesh had his bare hands and was covered in a simple loin cloth and sandals.
But could any of these men have killed the two great lions?
Not even all of them together.
Dumuzi attacked first. He was a bit hasty, but he did have a plan. He swung his staff with martial accuracy and got a couple of good blunt hits off before Gilgamesh took it from him and threw him ten feet away. He landed with a thud and lost his breath in a cloud of dust.
The two wrestlers pounced simultaneously. One would have been a challenge, but two threw Gilgamesh off balance. He fell to the ground and they moved to pin him. They should not have been so confident. Gilgamesh grabbed both their heads and knocked them together with a loud CRACK echoing through the amphitheater. Groans of sympathetic pain peppered the crowd. Three were down so quickly. Gilgamesh looked at the other three with a grin.
Dumuzi grabbed his secreted dagger from his boot and crawled through the dust cloud toward the back of Gilgamesh as he focused on the other three fighters.
Dumuzi was considered out for the count and therefore out of Gilgamesh’s attention: Exactly what he had planned. It would be too easy to come up from behind and slip a blade into the king’s kidney or spleen and slice his life force right out of him.
But then something happened
that took everyone by surprise. The other three men positioned themselves at preplanned locations and each stooped down to quickly brush away some of the dirt on the ground. Even Gilgamesh paused curiously.
The three warriors
pulled up a series of weapons buried in the dirt for their retrieval. One drew a sword, another a battle axe, and the third a javelin. The swordsman screamed at the top of his lungs, “For the honor of King Agga!” and they attacked.
The identity of the three strangers
became clear in an instant when Gilgamesh heard the war cry. Agga was king of Kish and the two cities had been at odds for some time. Kish was the first city to have kingship lowered from heaven after the Flood. As current regent of that city, Agga had become quite aggressive in his attempt to dominate the region. He had demanded a tribute from Uruk and the elders of the city had counseled Gilgamesh to pay it and avoid hostilities. Gilgamesh refused and gathered the army on his side. Agga besieged Uruk. The walls of Uruk were not yet complete so Gilgamesh was vulnerable.
But after his first envoy
to Agga, Birhurturra, was detained and beaten, Gilgamesh was so incensed at Agga’s offense that he personally snuck over to Agga’s encampment on his own that night and surprised the king in his tent. Gilgamesh did not kill Agga, but rather, held his axe in hand and whispered to his opponent with poetic flair, “Agga, my lord, you once gave me safe refuge when I was on the run. You gave me my life. Now you seek to subdue Uruk, blessed of the gods, its great wall reaching the sky, the sacred temple-tower of Anu. Now, what am I to do with
Agga lay trembling and damp with sweat. He could think of
nothing other than to ask for mercy, but to do so in a way that retained his dignity. So through a voice that mustered as much courage as he could, he whimpered, “Repay my favor?”
Gilgamesh grinned was satisfaction and said, “Now, we are even. The next time I see you, we will not be. So take
care, great king and hero. I set you free to return to Kish.”
Before Agga could gather himself together, Gilgamesh had disappeared into the night.
Gilgamesh had Agga in his hands and did not kill him. Agga was so unnerved by the incident that he packed up and ended the siege. Gilgamesh’s little taunt was enough to stop the inevitable war. But it also had completely emasculated Agga. And Agga had never forgotten.
the king of Kish had conspired to have his three best mercenary killers slip into the roster of the Games unnoticed. They had planted the weapons the night before after the arena was cleared for the battle. And now they were lunging at Gilgamesh with murderous intent.
Gilgamesh’s survival instinct kicked in and he responded before he knew what he was doing. The swordsman was swinging his blade in slashing arcs so quickly that Gilgamesh would not be able to dodge them. But Gilgamesh was nine feet tall and had very powerful legs. So when the swordsman was almost upon him, he crouched and jumped ten feet in the air over the swordsman, landing in a roll behind him.
Gilgamesh did not hear the crowd cheering above them. None of the fighters did. All their senses were focused on the fight and the kill.
The spearman thrust his javelin in an attempt to skewer Gilgamesh. And that was
the first mistake. Gilgamesh turned aside and grabbed the javelin in the air before it could pass him by. Now he had a weapon. The spearman’s eyes went wide with shock. But instead of using the javelin, Gilgamesh broke it in two and tossed it to the ground. That act of confidence and disdain would have sent most fighters running. But these were battle hardened warriors who considered it an advantage. Which was the second mistake.
The axeman swung. Gilgamesh dodged. But he looked like he was giving the axeman a second chance, so he swung again, and Gilgamesh dodged again. The axeman became frustrated at the ease with which Gilgamesh moved. And that was the third mistake. He swung down to cleave Gilgamesh in two, but the
king was not there and the axe buried deep in the dirt. Before he could jerk it back out, Gilgamesh took the warrior and crushed his skull in his hands.
The spearman jumped on Gilgamesh with just enough force to throw him to the ground. Gilgamesh rolled, breaking the warrior’s spine beneath him.
The king looked up into the raised blade of the swordsman above him.
But Dumuzi had been watching the entire fight. When he saw his king in danger, he instinctively found his moment and threw his dagger twenty cubits and buried it in the back of the swordsman. The blade
did not kill him, but it caused him to pause long enough for Gilgamesh to extend his legs around the swordsman’s feet and roll, bringing him down to the ground, where Gilgamesh punched through his throat and ripped out his esophagus.
The king looked up at Dumuzi. And then he finally heard the crowd for the first time. It was wild with bloodlust. But it was for their king. Gilgamesh walked over to Dumuzi and stared down into his eyes. Dumuzi was frozen like a statue in the face of a god. Dumuzi
did not know why he had acted so contrarily to his passions. Perhaps it was training or loyalty to his city-state. But he knew now that his life was entirely in the hands of his king. And he could crush him like a bug.
Gilgamesh leaned in and whispered, “I am not going to ask you where you got the knife. You saved the life of your king. You will receive honor. And perhaps any misgivings you may have had will no longer remain and lead you to an early grave.”
As the mighty Gibbor king of Uruk, Gilgamesh could execute him on the spot. But he did not. He did not give Dumuzi what he deserved. It was an act of grace.
Dumuzi was du
mbfounded. He blurted out, “My lord and king,” without thinking.
Gilgamesh smiled and turned to the crowd with a triumphant lift of his fists. They applauded with standing ovation. Many of them had secretly wished
success for the assassins, but they cheered the winner because he had won. It was the way of Sumer. Might made right, and he was Gilgamesh the mighty, the Scion of Uruk, the Wild Bull on the Rampage.
Power was an aphrodisiac.
Power was god.