Authors: Brian Godawa
Gilgamesh continued with his characteristic touch of sarcasm, “Well, if you are afraid, my Right Hand, you may trail behind me and call out to me
, ’Go this way or that.’” He then turned back to the assembly and concluded, “I will vanquish Humbaba and cut down his Cedar. And should I fall, I will still establish my fame for eternity as Gilgamesh, the mighty Gibbor, who locked horns in battle with Humbaba the Terrible!”
The assembly broke into more murmurs. Sinleqiunni
nni gave his characteristic teacherly throat clearing and spoke up, “My, king, trees are not all that Humbaba guards.”
Gilgamesh waited with curiosity. But as the king’s scholar continued, he lost track of what was being said.
Sinleqiunninni said, “The Cedar Forest is actually two hundred leagues in extension, not ten thousand as Enkidu claimed with his hyperbole. It contains not merely cedars but juniper, cypress, acacia, myrtle and olive trees. And it surrounds Mount Hermon, which rises approximately five thousand, eight hundred and seventy one cubits high into the air and is part of the Sirion mountain range that extends for thirty one leagues in a northeast southwest direction.”
It was amazing. The king’s scholar
could deaden any discussion by simply speaking. It was as if this man of knowledge made knowledge boring. It was worse than Enkidu’s flatulence.
determined to keep the assembly focused before Sinleqiunninni distracted them to oblivion. “Well, what is the point, scholar? Is there a point here?”
nni finally got to the point, “Mount Hermon is the home of the gods.”
“I would appreciate it if you do not rattle off the list of gods who reside there as we do not have all day,” said Gilgamesh. Sinleqiunni
nni sat down, quieted.
Enkidu said, “What will you do, O king,
when the gods discover that you have killed their Guardian?”
“I do not know, Enkidu, but do you not desire to know why they hide away in their cosmic mountain with such timidity? This is more than an heroic adventure of killing a giant and establishing a name. This is a search for the gods in whose hands is eternal life.”
Enkidu said, “But you are already two thirds god.”
“And one third human,” added Gilgamesh.
“So death still has its claim on me.”
Enkidu considered his words carefully. Gilgamesh continued, “You have transformed from an animal into a man. Would you not want to transform from a man into a god?”
“But is it for man to do so?” asked Enkidu.
“Join my side, Enkidu, and together we
shall see,” said Gilgamesh.
There was no stopping him. Gilgamesh would answer each objection that Enkidu could come up with, and defy any technical fact the king’s scholar could muster until every defense was worn down. It was sheer will power and Gilgamesh had more of it than everyone in the room combined.
Enkidu resigned himself to his fate, stood up and announced to the assembly, “Noble counselors, I know the route to the Great Cedar Forest, and I know the wiles of Humbaba. If you will grant your blessing, I will accompany King Gilgamesh on his journey for the greatness of Uruk and his good name.”
And so they received the blessing of the assembly who charged Gilgamesh not to trust his strength, but to trust his Right Hand to lead the way and his skill of fighting to make each blow hit its mark.
But such a mighty quest of mighty deeds would require mighty weapons of special handiwork.
Gilgamesh and Enkidu oversaw the forging of battle axes of three talents each. Men of normal human strength could not wield them. Their swords with gold hilts weighed two talents each, their girded kilts were fifty minas. A war net of two talents completed their battle gear that totaled ten talents each. Gilgamesh also brought along his magical animal skins that took away the fear that animals and predators had of man. But he told no one about his special talisman, not even Enkidu, his most trusted ally.
Then Gilgamesh and Enkidu went to the town square near the main gate. Gilgamesh blew his horn to gather the men of the city. He called for fifty warriors to join their journey to the Cedar Forest.
“But this quest is the most dangerous I have ever performed,” Gilgamesh told them. “So if you have a wife, return to your wife, and if you have children, return to your children. For I require warriors who have no family to suffer loss.”
Among the champions who volunteered were seven warriors of the same mother with special talents. The eldest had mighty hands like the paws of a lion that could tear a man in half. Another had a strong jaw whose bite was like the mouth of a cobra. A third had a sword made of flexible metal that operated like a whip and cut like a dragon serpent, rumored to have been handed down from a son of Noah himself. A fourth could spit fire like a dragon. A fifth could track anything with the taste of his serpentine tongue. A sixth had the mighty power in his fists and arms to batter mountains into rubble, and a seventh could call down lightning from heaven onto his adversaries.
But Gilgamesh was not ready to leave on his journey. He told Enkidu that one last thing remained to knit him to Gi
lgamesh as close as a brother.
Queen Mother, goddess Ninsun, left the feast for her temple Egalmah to intercede with Shamash on behalf of Gilgamesh and his crazy idea for glory and fame. She bathed herself seven times in tamarisk and soapwart for purity. Donning a robe and sash, along with jewels and her tiara, she went up to the roof, set incense before Shamash, and sprinkled holy water onto the ground.
She grieved before the sun god with raised arms, “Why have you inflicted my son Gilgamesh with a restless heart? He will travel on a road he knows not, to a destination he knows not where, and fight a battle he may never know again. During his days of journey to the Cedar Forest and back, may the Anunnaki, the Watchers of the night watch over him and his companion, Enkidu. Bring your mighty winds against
But the sun god was strangely silent.
He was after all a statue of stone.
A servant arrived and notified Ninsun that her guests had arrived. She completed her supplication and retired to her chapel below to speak with Gilgamesh and Enkidu.
hummed with the activities of priestesses, as well as votaries bound by oath, and the hierodules of the temple. Gilgamesh and Enkidu stood before the altar, Enkidu with wide eyes of wonder at all the pomp unfolding before him. It was a ceremony of some kind, the juniper incense tickling his sensitive nostrils. That was one of the things about religion that he did not care for, the incense. The odor was too strong for his highly attuned olfactory sense. There was much about religion that he questioned. But now was not the time.
Ninsun approached Gilgamesh and Enkidu, followed by her coterie. She looked at Gilgamesh and nodded in agreement. Gilgamesh smiled. They had some kind of agreement between them.
She looked at Enkidu and Gilgamesh whispered to him, “This is what I told you about earlier, my brother.”
Enkidu gave Gilgamesh a look of
skeptical wariness and Ninsun spoke, “Mighty Enkidu, though you are not of my womb, I speak for the votaries of Gilgamesh and the priestesses and sacred women of Egalmah.”
Enkidu could feel the hair that was growing back in on his neck stand up. An excited chill ran through him as he began to realize what was taking place. Ninsun pulled off a leather strap with gold amulet from around her neck and draped it onto Enkidu’s trembling form. It bore the family seal stamped on precious metal.
Ninsun continued, a smiling tear rolling down her cheek, “This amulet is a talisman of our family name. It bears all the weight of mighty Uruk behind it. As the daughters of the gods take in a foundling, so I take Enkidu, to love as my adopted son. May Gilgamesh be a favorable brother to you.”
Now, Enkidu burst out weeping. It would be the only time Gilgamesh would ever see such a display of emotion from this former
Wild Born, this Gibborim warrior by his side. Enkidu hugged Gilgamesh first and whispered into his ear, “My brother.”
Then Enkidu stood and embraced Ninsun saying, “
My goddess, my mother.”
Ninsun concluded with a benediction, “I commission you
, Enkidu to safeguard your King, your brother, and that if necessary you give your life for such an honor.” Enkidu’s eyes stared at her with utter submission.
Enkidu said simply, “I will.”
She looked at them both now. “May your journey to the Great Cedar Forest have short nights and long days. And may your loins be girded with strength and your stride be steadfast and sure.”
She reached behind her and pulled out a powerful looking bow that had a foreign design to it. It was not crafted for normal human use but for a giant. Gilgamesh knew immediately where it was from. Ninsun said, “I present this, the bow of Anshan, from the distant land of Elam to you my son to slay
Humbaba the Terrible.”
She handed it to him and they made an offering of cuttings and prayed to Shamash for protection. It dawned on Gilgamesh that this must have been the meaning of his dream
s of the star and axe that would be “made his equal” by Ninsun. By becoming his brother, Enkidu would be the family equal of Gilgamesh. He could not help thinking about her off-the-cuff comment about this equal being a possible “betrayer.” But he hoped it was just another one of her wrong interpretations.
Enkidu was moved to the very core of his being. Adoption into the family of Gilgamesh was more to him than royalty. It was the very answer to the human identity for which he had longed but of which he had been deprived. To have a family was to have continuity with humanity. It was to be a part of a lineage that would continue through the ages and give meaning to the branches and roots. As a lone wolf he would exist alone and die alone in the vast emptiness of solitary annihilation. What would his days of comfort
and love with his wife be but a cruel joke, a momentary spasm in an eternal nothingness? By being grafted into this tree of human history, he would finally be rooted in a transcendence beyond himself, something bigger than his meaningless unrooted self. And semi-divine roots at that. It was the opposite of what Gilgamesh sought. It was a losing of himself in the whole. What Gilgamesh wanted was to stand out and be separate, to be a unique and eternal self of importance that shined above the masses of mundane existence — like a star, like a god.
Both of them were about to encounter the surprise of their lives.
The next day, Gilgamesh and Enkidu met with the fifty chosen warriors for their journey to the Great Cedar Forest. Gilgamesh had also called Dumuzi and Sinleqiunnin
ni to see them off. Ninsun stayed in her palace that day. She was too emotional and full of fear for her sons. And she harbored a secret that was tearing her heart and soul apart. She could barely face Gilgamesh without the feeling of deep guilt and regret. But she was determined he would never discover her secret and so she stayed in her palace and hid herself away.
Gilgamesh spoke to Sinleqiunni
nni, “My scholar, be prepared when I return to inscribe my tale that I will bring back. For I will have mighty deeds to tell.”
“Yes, my king,” said Sinleqiunni
nni, “Your fame will bring you eternal life.”
The thought of that sentence suddenly struck Gilgamesh as incongruent.
Fame is eternal life? What good was fame in Sheol? Was he a fool searching for the impossible? Was he a fool to search at all?
Enkidu leaned in and said in a low voice, “
It is still not too late to turn back. You could finish the walls of Uruk to great fanfare and still be the mighty Gilgamesh who built the walls of Uruk.”
Gilgamesh gave Enkidu a snide look and did not dignify the statement with a response. Instead he turned to Dumuzi and said, “Dumuzi, my Shepherd, I want you to rule the city in my absence.” Dumuzi was shocked. He
did not consider himself worthy of such an honor and he certainly did not desire the responsibility it laid on his shoulders.
“I am just a shepherd, my King,” said Dumuzi.
“Yes,” replied Gilgamesh. “And you shall shepherd Uruk until I return.” Gilgamesh placed his arm strongly around Dumuzi with affection. “My friend, aside from Enkidu, you are the only one I trust in my absence to so rule.”
nni looked sour. He had secretly hoped that
would have been given such a privilege. He was after all, the ummanu, the scholar. More intelligent than anyone in the palace, and certainly more knowledgeable than this shepherd of low confidence. The volumes he knew were surely a well of wisdom that every ruler could only dream of.
is a strong leader, but he is not an intellectual genius. Not like me
, he thought.
When will the world recognize that knowledge is true power?
Enkidu smiled as he saw Sinleqiunni
Gilgamesh finished his charge to Dumuzi, “The wall is almost complete. I need you to strengthen the morale of the workers to finish the task before I return.
I am sure you see the benefit of me vanquishing the giant and arriving home to the completed mighty walls of Uruk.”
It is positively mythical,” butted in Sinleqiunninni. He was determined not to let himself be pushed out of the moment entirely. “The symbolism would be a powerful metaphor for advantageous propaganda in an epic cuneiform tale.”
Gilgamesh knew it was also to his advantage to avoid stifling the one who would pen his story with stylus to clay, so he just nodded and
did not respond to the flattery.
Dumuzi could not deny it. Everything Gilgamesh said was tru
e. He sighed and nodded to his lord and king, accepting the big responsibility before him. He would rise to the occasion. And he thought he would use his opportunity to stick Sinleqiunninni away on some scribal project to keep his annoying presence out of his hair.
They embraced and Gilgamesh turned to Enkidu, “Let us begin our journey.”
Enkidu turned to the warriors, atop their horse mounts, awaiting their command and shouted, “Ho, hurrah! Let us journey forth, warriors!”
Gilgamesh said to Enkidu, “I have been meaning to ask you, where on earth did you get that saying, ‘Ho, hurrah,’ you repeat with such annoying repetition?”
“From Dumuzi on the steppe, my lord,” smiled Enkidu.
Dumuzi looked away embarrassed.
Gilgamesh said sternly, “Dumuzi.”
Dumuzi looked up timidly at him.
Gilgamesh said, “Ho, hurrah,” and gave him a wink as they turned and left the city gates into the open land before them.