Authors: Brian Godawa
“I do not understand,” said Enkidu. “Are you not obligated to kill me for my
“I am king,” said Gilgamesh. “I am obligated to no
thing. I can do whatever I want.” He smiled deviously. “And I have never met a man as strong and honest and true as Enkidu of the steppe. Why would I want to kill such a man?”
Enkidu was as stunned as being thrown into a brick wall.
“Enkidu, would you be my Right Hand?”
Now, it was a genuine and heartfelt request rather than a kingly command.
Enkidu looked long and hard at Gilgamesh. Then he offered him his forearm and they grasped each other. They kissed as was the custom of the land. Not a kiss of lovers as Enkidu and Shamhat, but a kiss of male friendship as Enkidu and Gilgamesh.
Gilgamesh thought to himself,
There is much to teach this primitive man. I pray his moral rectitude does not impede his education.
Enkidu thought to himself,
There is much to teach this educated fool. It will be a most difficult task to civilize him.
Gilgamesh suddenly spoke up, “All this fighting has made me famished. Come, my Right Hand, let us feast!”
Enkidu looked at Gilgamesh with incredulity. “As your trusted ally, do you desire me to maintain my strength, honesty, and truthfulness?”
“Of course,” said Gilgamesh. “I require it, even to my detriment.”
Enkidu said, “Well, then, my lord, it would do you well to remember that I have just been interrupted from consummating my wedding night.”
Gilgamesh grinned and slapped Enkidu on the back. “Forgive me, Enkidu. Go and have your fill of love until morn. But if what Dumuzi tells me is true, you may be busily employed for the next seven days with your amazing stamina.”
Enkidu looked blankly at Gilgamesh, who winked and walked away, throwing out another playful jab, “See me in the feast hall when you are limp and can think clearly again.”
Enkidu shook his head and walked toward the waiting figure of Shamhat in the threshold of their banquet.
She smiled with pride. Why the gods had been so kind to her with so good a man was incomprehensible.
Gilgamesh sat deep in thought on his throne
, his brow disturbingly wrinkled. He gazed off into the distance, a small opening from a window above casting a beam of light upon his back in the otherwise shadowed hall.
ni (“Sin-leekee-oo-nee-nee”) stood beside Gilgamesh’s throne. He was the
, or king’s scholar. The ummanu was the head scribe of the palace. He was principal of the scribal school and was responsible for the court archives as well as the maintenance of the written stories of the culture. He wrote letters for the king and oversaw the engraving of monumental inscriptions. The ummanu had taken the place of the
before the Deluge. While the apkallu had been primarily a mystical sage of wisdom for kings, the ummanu was more of an intellectual scholar of knowledge reference.
The world was becoming less magical and more rational with the growth and accumulation of human knowledge and observation growing in libraries of cuneiform tablets in the cities. The ability to manage all that written knowledge required a person more inclined toward tablets than people, and toward rational intellect than human
nature. This also explained Sinleqiunninni’s pudgy and flabby body shape, as he was prone to spend most of his time sitting and reading.
Unfortunately for Sinleqiunni
nni, Gilgamesh did not care for his personality in the least. The scholar was intelligent and knowledgeable without doubt. He could cite from memory things written down in tablets stored deep in the library. But he did not have much wisdom, or practical ability to apply his knowledge. That, and his social and verbal skills were dreadful. The only reason his monotonous voice did not put Gilgamesh to sleep was because it annoyed him so much. But Sinleqiunninni was the only one in the kingdom who knew the library by heart, so Gilgamesh needed him, if only to recount such petty details that would be necessary for particular discussions or decisions.
Enkidu’s voice snapped Gilgamesh back into this world. “Ho, hurrah, my king!” proclaimed Enkidu. Gilgamesh looked up and saw Enkidu and Shamhat being led in by the Guard.
“Why does Gilgamesh the Gibbor appear so glum?”
Gilgamesh smiled broadly. “Contemplating the mysteries of the cosmos.”
Gilgamesh gazed upon the beautiful form of Shamhat. It was as if Enkidu’s love had transformed this hierodule, this harlot into a vision of womanly grace and honor. A splash of jealousy washed over him. He shook it off.
“Welcome, my turtledoves,” teased Gilgamesh. “
It has been a mere five days since your wedding. Are you already losing your passionate prowess, mighty Enkidu?”
nkidu and Shamhat smiled. “Self-control is a character trait of which I intend to instruct the king,” Enkidu teased back.
Shamhat joined in, “Would my Lord prefer us to demonstrate Enkidu’s continuing prowess on the throne for his majesty?”
Gilgamesh laughed heartily, “No, no, dear Shamhat. I shall trust your expert opinion and pray that I may someday find such a desirable and goodly wife as you. Thank you for civilizing this manly brute.” It was the way of men to insult one another as an ironic act of showing affection and respect.
“The honor is mine, good king,” said Shamhat.
“No,” said Gilgamesh.
Enkidu and Shamhat did not respond. They
did not know what he meant, and were not sure they wanted to.
“No, I am not a good king,” he continued. “Please accept my humblest apology for interrupting your wedding night with my scandalous unacceptable behavior. I vow to never treat you with such disrespect again. You are the wife of my Right Hand.”
Shamhat and Enkidu were stunned speechless. Shamhat started to tear up with gratitude.
She finally spoke up, “My lord the king is sovereign. He does as he pleases.”
“Indeed I do,” Gilgamesh replied. “But that is why the gods have given me your husband, as a standard to show me the consequences of my actions. Already he has me re-evaluating my policy of
jus prima noctis
, thanks to his desirous wife for whom I understand now why he would die.”
“My lord,” she said simply with embarrassment and honor of such self-disclosure of a king to so lowly a subject.
Sinleqiunninni cleared his throat like a teacher and spoke softly with a false humility, “Excuse me, my lord, but technically,
jus prima noctis
was never absolute obligation on your part. You need not abolish it to avoid universal administration. You merely apply it selectively.”
“Thank you for the technical clarification,” mouthed Gilgamesh with a touch of contempt. He looked back at Enkidu, “As you may
have figured out, this is Sinleqiunninni, the king’s scholar, or technical clarifier.”
“Ummanu, to be most accurate terminologically,” added Sinleqiunnin
Gilgamesh spouted, “Well, we
would not want to be terminologically inaccurate, now, would we?”
nni said, “Actually, if I may…”
“No, you may not, Sinleqi
,” said Gilgamesh, shortening the name as an example of his shortened patience. And the scholar shut up.
Gilgamesh looked back at Enkidu and said, “I have much to discuss with you Enkidu. But first,
if the lady permits, we shall, you and I, pay a visit to the Queen Mother, goddess Ninsun.”
Gilgamesh walked Enkidu through
, the Great Palace temple of Ninsun, his Queen Mother, in the temple district at the center of the city. Though she was a high priestess of Shamash the sun god, she was also a goddess herself and so his altar was on the roof of her own temple for convenience.
Enkidu could not get all the temples straight, there were so many of them. A pantheon of gods was a tiresome notion to him. It seemed more sensible to him to worship one god, whoever created them, but he
could not make heads or tails of those either. Was it Aruru, the goddess who supposedly created Enkidu? Was it Mami or Nintu who mixed clay with his flesh and blood? Was it Enki or Nudimmud who made mankind from the spilt blood of the god Qingu? He thought he might consult with the king’s scholar for clarification, but then thought better after his previous encounter with him.
Nevertheless, there were so many different contradicting versions of creation, that he could not get them straight. And that
very diversity was a symbol to him of the confused state that humanity seemed to be in. It was as if the Creator god had pulled away from them and this was the result of such abandonment. But who could that Creator god be?
They came to Shamash’s Gateway, where Ninsun would pray to the sun god. It was a modest room in an otherwise ostentatious temple palace. Gilgamesh had wanted his mother to meet his new Right Hand, and he wanted it to be a surprise. So he had Enkidu hide behind a pillar for Gilgamesh to introduce him.
Gilgamesh saw his mother kneeling and praying in the gateway. He approached silently so as not to startle her. When he was within hearing range, he heard her prayer of complaint to Shamash.
“He is just a domesticated
Wild Born bastard. Born in the wilderness without father or mother, raised by animals. His hair is ratty and unpleasant. What shall I say to my son if he appoints him to power in the kingdom?”
“You could say, ‘
Well done my wise and noble son,’” Gilgamesh’s voice interrupted.
She turned to see him standing behind her with a frown.
Gilgamesh continued, “Since you are already privy to the intelligence of the fight, Mother, you will apparently be unimpressed to hear that I have appointed Enkidu to the position of my Right Hand. I am sorry to disappoint you.”
was not sorry. He just enjoyed making sarcastic barbs. He loved his mother, but he was not ruled or manipulated by her. He listened to her counsel, as he did all others, but he did what he thought was right. He was lord and king of Uruk.
“My son,” she protested, “do you fault me for my concern? He has no lineage. He is not royalty. I only seek to protect your throne above all else.”
“Yes, you do,” he said. “And so you will no doubt appreciate knowing that I have never in my entire life met a man I could trust. Until this day. Mother, I have gazed into the Abyss. I know the nature of man. And I tell you, there is no guile in Enkidu of the steppe.”
She was as deeply moved by his sentiment as Gilgamesh was in saying it. He continued, “He is appointed my Right Hand and I expect you to grant him all observance and authority of his position.”
She listened without a word.
He said, “I came here to tell you something.”
He turned and walked to the back of the room.
He was going to get Enkidu, but when he arrived at the pillar where he left him, Enkidu was gone. He sighed deeply, turned back to Ninsun and said, “Come to dinner tonight and we will talk.”
“Yes, my son,” she said with heavy sadness.
Gilgamesh left her to her thoughts.
Gilgamesh found Enkidu in the royal stable. He had entertained the notion that having heard Ninsun’s derogatory complaints, Enkidu would return to where he felt more comfortable
– with animals. He found him brooding with the mighty horses of the king’s chariot.
But this escape was not weakness to Gilgamesh for he understood his new companion maybe better than he understood himself.
Gilgamesh said, “Enkidu, the animal world is not the only place where hierarchy is dictated by rules. But in human society the strong do not rule. Aristocracy is family born.”
Enkidu replied through deep sadness, “I have no family. I am not human.”
Gilgamesh stepped up to him to emphasize his intent. “You are more a man than anyone I have ever known in my entire family.”
“But I am not your family,” said Enkidu. “I should return to the steppe. That is where I was born to live and die.”
“Nonsense,” said Gilgamesh. “You have been reborn as my Right Hand. And there is a way for you to be my family.”
Enkidu looked up at Gilgamesh stupefied. “How, my lord?”
Gilgamesh gave him a serpentine grin, “It begins with you joining me in a feast.”
Enkidu asked, “Will Lady Wild Cow be there?”
Gilgamesh smiled. It was a religious name for Ninsun, but in the lips of this ex-Wild-Born, it carried irony. “Yes, she will. But so will the city elders, because I have a proposition that will affect both your destiny and mine, and I require the approval of the assembly.”
Enkidu could not shake his sadness.
Gilgamesh offered his forearm and said teasingly, “I cannot very well show up before the counsel with my left hand and not my Right Hand.”
Enkidu tried to smile. “Of course I will obey my king.” He grabbed forearms and they embraced.
The Hall of Pillars was a common location for the meeting of the assembly of ruling elders of the city. The long hallway studded with massive pillars of strength and ornamented with brightly colored cone mosaics radiated a power and glory that gave the meetings a sense of divine majesty. Gilgamesh had turned it into a hall of feasting. Long tables were spread with fish and fowl, bread and beer, plums and pomegranates. Enkidu and Shamhat sat on Gilgamesh’s right and Ninsun on his left as they ate a hearty meal together. Dumuzi sat next to Ninsun and next to him was Sinleqiunninni. All around them were the seventy assembly members, convened for an important meeting, all wondering what Gilgamesh was up to this time.
But now was the time to feast, and Enkidu was feasting. In fact, he was eating so fast that he could not keep his plate stocked or his goblet full as the servants
scurried around pouring wine and beer. He almost choked on some food and he washed it down with wine splashing down his greasy mug.
Shamhat was horrified. His animal like eating habits were the one thing that he seemed incapable of civilizing. Shamhat leaned in and whispered, “Enkidu, slow down. You are eating too fast.”
He knew she was right, but it still annoyed him. She was his wife after all, not his mother.
Gilgamesh had been watching Enkidu with amusement. He cracked a big smile, “Worry not, Enkidu. The fowl will not fly astray nor the fish swim away.”
Enkidu slowed down. He thought,
Now I have two mothers
Gilgamesh added, “I think you are so speedy, you need your own servant just to keep your plate from starving.”
, thought Enkidu,
he is more like a bratty brother than a mother
“Forgive me,” smarted Enkidu, “I am just so used to having my food stolen from me by the king’s hunters.”
“Ha! Good one!” exclaimed Gilgamesh. “Speaking of which, I have much to query you on your life in the wild.”
“It is a topic, I rather prefer not to discuss, my lord,” said Enkidu.
Ninsun and Dumuzi leaned in, eavesdropping.
Suddenly, Enkidu raised one of his legs and let go a loud and gurgling fart. He continued to eat as if nothing had happened.
Ninsun and Dumuzi leaned back with wrinkled noses in disgust. Shamhat whispered harshly to him, “Enkidu!”
gamesh laughed again, “I see Shamhat is not done discussing your wild habits and the etiquette of civilization.”
apologized, “Sorry, my lord.”
Gilgamesh added, “Mother taught me well that slowed consumption decreases flatulence.”
Enkidu was peeved. He was munching a bite in his mouth, staring at Gilgamesh. He stopped his chewing, scrunched his face, and let another fart rip out like a lightning bolt. It was his bellicose response to being judged.
“Excuse me,” said Enkidu, with the most ironic contrast of sweet politeness he could muster.
And Gilgamesh loved it. The two of them broke out in uproarious laughter. Apparently, being the only ones to enjoy such a childish violation of civilized etiquette.
But Gilgamesh was crafty. He abruptly switched the topic back to his original inquiry
. “Tell me, Enkidu, what was it like to run wild and free with the animals? I have often desired to know such liberty.”
“Being wild and free is not all it seems, my lord,” said Enkidu.
“Agh!” bellowed Gilgamesh. “We humans are constrained by such petty rules and social norms. I sometimes feel in a cage of tradition.”
Then perhaps you should eat faster
, Enkidu thought, but instead of saying it, he countered, “I consider the rules of civilization to be good boundaries. They keep man from being an animal.”
“But an animal runs naked and free,” said Gilgamesh. “Animals experience everything with gusto, the hot sun on their backs, the freezing cold rain, a cool drink of water or a battle of fangs and claws.”
Enkidu would not bow. He knew the reality. “Animals freeze to death and die of dehydration in their simplicity. They gorge themselves and starve to death. They eat their own. They leave behind the weak as victims of predators. They lack meaning and purpose, and none of them understand the spiritual intimacy of marriage beyond raw sexual urge.”
Unfortunately, Gilgamesh could not understand that one either. But it
did not keep him from pontificating, “Well, if we are more than animals, then what is the meaning? What is our purpose? To live, build cities, and die? How is that different from living in a herd, eating grass, and dying?”
“You are the king,” said Enkidu. “I would have hoped you had wisdom about such things.”
Ninsun’s opinion of Enkidu was changing. Despite his lack of pedigree, he seemed to have a good effect on her son.
“Ah, very good, Enkidu,
” said Gilgamesh. “Indeed I should. And yet, I have been young and am now older and I have seen that all of life dies, human and animal, rich and poor, king and commoner. All alike die. All of life is striving after wind. All our days are numbered, Enkidu. So what is the point? Our lives are less than a breath in the eternal timeline of existence. Like a vapor, we exist and are gone. Everyone, both the wise and the fool, is soon forgotten.”
What Gilgamesh was speaking was on the order of what
wisdom sages of old would ponder. But Enkidu was following well enough. And it resonated with him deep in his soul.
“Are you afraid of death, O king?” said Enkidu.
“Only the fool is not,” said Gilgamesh. “Death is the great equalizer. No man of any strength, cunning, or goodness has ever overcome it. It remains the only question of importance.”
Enkidu said, “Would the gods give answer? Are they not divine?”
Ninsun smiled with approval at Enkidu’s intuition.
“The gods are strangely silent,” said Gilgamesh. He turned to his mother, making note of her eavesdropping and said, “Present company excluded, Mother, the gods
do not seem to show their faces much anymore. We have their images of wood and stone, to represent their dominion, but they seem to be more markers of their absence than their presence.”
Ninsun would not let her chance be missed. She spoke up, “Ever since the
Deluge, the Annunaki gods who were not caught in the waters have chosen to rule from their cosmic mountain, Hermon, in the west. It is in the midst of the Great Cedar Forest that is guarded by a ferocious giant ten cubits tall or taller.”
Gilgamesh’s attention piqued. Enkidu’s countenance dropped and he became silent.
Ninsun finished, “The gods have not forgotten us, Gilgamesh. They are surely strategizing our future from on high.”
But Gilgamesh sat silently in thought.
Ninsun, Dumuzi, Enkidu, and Shamhat all watched him with curiosity, wondering what he would say.
Ninsun had no patience. “Son?”
Enkidu knew. “He is contemplating the mysteries of the cosmos.”
The feasting continued around them. The assemblymen ate, drank, gossiped and jockeyed for power in the Urukean political hierarchy.
Gilgamesh whispered to Enkidu, who suddenly stood up and announced to the crowd, “Ho, hurrah! Men of Uruk, listen! Assembly of the city draw near. Your king has a pronouncement that requires your approval!”
Everyone went silent. Their approval was of course mere formality. Gilgamesh always did what he wanted and then garnered whatever approval was required by the city charter to satisfy the citizens. It made them feel less ruled over than they actually were. Morale was important when the king wanted his subjects to keep from revolting.
Gilgamesh dropped his surprise. “Your king and his Right Hand will be going on a journey.”
Everyone looked at one another with curiosity.
Gilgamesh continued, “This will be a journey of such importance as to bring everlasting fame upon Uruk and upon the name of her king.”
No one was ready for what came next.
“Enkidu and I will journey to Mount Hermon, the mountain of the gods and we will fight the giant who guards the Great Cedar Forest.”
Hushes and gasps went through the crowd. Ninsun
’s face turned white in terror. Enkidu buried his face in his hands.
Gilgamesh continued, “With the approval of this assembly, we will kill this monster that all evil be banished from the land. And we will scout the Cedar Forest for timber to enhance my mighty palace to new greatness over all the land!”
Silence permeated the room. Eyes shifted back and forth, seeking to avoid the king’s attention, afraid to stand up to the king. Gilgamesh looked around for response.
“Well?” said Gilgamesh, “speak up. You are the assembly, not a brood of deaf mutes.”
Finally the mayor and head of the assembly rose to his feet. His name was Nashukh and he was so old he did not care if he was killed for the negative counsel he was about to give — even though everyone else was thinking the same. Nevertheless, sweat trickled down his forehead. His hands and his voice trembled.
“My lord and king,” Nashukh said, “you are young. Your spirit is restless. Your heart is carrying you away into foolishness.”
Voices mumbled with shock at the scandal of the old man’s words. It started a cacophony that was only stopped by Gilgamesh shaming them.
“Silence! You sound like schoolchildren. At least one of you has the guts to speak
his mind. I admire you Nashukh. Now sit down.”
Gilgamesh said, “Give me your blessing. I will embark on a distant journey and return a mightier king through the gates of Uruk. And I will do so in time for the New Year’s Festival.”
Again, he was rewarded with silence. Everything they had heard of the monster of the Great Cedar Forest forebode nothing but failure for Gilgamesh.
“Your hesitation is ill-informed,” said Gilgamesh. “Folk tales and legends always make these monsters much worse than they actually are. What say you?”
Suddenly, Enkidu blurted out, “
All eyes turned to Enkidu.
“His name is Humbaba,” He repeated. “Humbaba the Terrible.” And everyone knew he was talking of the giant guardian. They all listened in rapt attention as Enkidu spoke with deadly seriousness.
“I have been to the Great Cedar Forest when I roamed the
wild years ago. Humbaba is a mighty Rephaim giant. This is not a creature you want to face.”
felt chills down his spine as he heard the ominous tone in Enkidu’s voice, a man he thought had no fear.
Enkidu continued, “The Great Cedar Forest extends for ten thousand leagues. Enlil has assigned
Humbaba as a terror to any intruders. His roar is like a flood of many waters, his mouth breathes fire and death. He never sleeps and he can hear the rustling of a leaf one hundred leagues away.”
Okay, now he is exaggerating
, thought Gilgamesh.
Vestiges of his simple animal experience as a Wild Born.
Gilgamesh knew the Forest extension was more like a hundred leagues, not an absurd ten thousand. No giant, not even a Rapha had hearing that acute. A hundred or more cubits maybe, but not a hundred leagues. And no creature could live without sleep. A god, maybe, but not a creature. All this was the stuff of legends, and legends are overthrown by real world Gibborim warriors like himself. Enkidu’s attempt to strike fear in Gilgamesh’s heart only served to embolden him to the challenge.
Enkidu continued his story with a hushed voice,
as though telling a ghost story to impressionable children around a campfire. “His strength is unequalled, and he has occultic powers to paralyze his enemies at a distance. Every man’s battle with him is his last. The only creature more fearsome on land is the Bull of Heaven.”
The Bull of Heaven was a ferocious amphibious beast that dwelt mostly on land. The size of a temple, black as a raven,
legends said it survived the Deluge because of its aquatic nature and bullish will of iron. Enkidu could only thank the gods Gilgamesh was not foolish enough to seek out
legend. Humbaba was mild in comparison. Which was not saying enough to encourage Enkidu. He had a feeling his fate was already sealed for this journey.
broke the hypnotic spell cast by Enkidu’s story, “Men of Uruk, noble counselors of the assembly, who has immortality but the gods of heaven? As for humankind, our days are all numbered. All is chasing after wind. No one returns from the grave. Glory and fame alone can establish a name that will live forever.”
The assembly was silent with awe. A tear rolled down Ninsun’s cheek. She treasured her Gilgamesh with all her heart and feared to lose him to a foolhardy adventure. Gilgamesh looked at Enkidu with a sincere longing, and said, “Enkidu, what has become of your boldness and strength? You were born and raised in the wilderness. I have heard that you have killed a lioness with your bare hands that once escaped my own weapons of death.”
Enkidu looked up at Gilgamesh surprised. Shamhat and Dumuzi had told Gilgamesh the story of the lioness attack and he had figured out by the marks on the lioness’s face that it was the one who had faced him down earlier and might have killed him, had it not been for the accidental head injury.