Epic of Gilgamesh – Sha naqba īmuru

Tablet 3

‘Your strength surpasses my own,
For why do you lord like a wild bull
Over the people of ramparted Uruk?
Are you not the king,
Shepherd of the people?
Gilgamesh answered, spoke to Enkidu:
‘No one before opposed my strength
Now I have found a worthy companion.
Together we could go to the Cedar Forest.’
Enkidu puzzled said to Gilgamesh:
‘Why do you wish to do such a thing?
It is a very long journey
To do what you say,
To go down to the Cedar Forest.
I will take a message for you.’
They kissed one another
And formed a friendship.
Gilgamesh spoke to Enkidu, said to him:
‘Oh my friend, I have always wanted
To climb Cedar mountain (1).
There dwells fierce Humbaba
Who is evil and fearsome to look upon.
I wish to slay him
And banish what is evil from the land.
But he lives in the Cedar Forest
And I know not the way.’

(Here a large portion is lost)

The mother of Gilgamesh, who knows all,
Raises her hands to Shamash the Sun

(Here ten more lines are lost)

Enkidu’s eyes brim tears, sick to the heart
Bitter sighs,
Yes, his eyes brim tears
Sick to heart and bitter sighs.
Gilgamesh, understanding, says to Enkidu:
‘My friend, why eyes brimming tears? Sick to heart? Such bitter sighs?’
Enkidu said to Gilgamesh, told him:
‘My friend, a cry chokes me, constricts my neck veins,
My arms are limp,
My strength gone into weakness’.
Gilgamesh spoke to Enkidu, said to him:

(Here four or five lines are lost)

‘In the forest terrible Humbaba lives
Let us, you and I, slay him,
And banish all that is evil from the land!’

(Here four lines are lost)

Enkidu spoke, said to Gilgamesh:
‘My friend, I found it out
When I was ranging forth over the steppe,
Running with the wild beasts,
For ten thousand double-hours the forest stretches,
Extending in every direction.
Who could there possibly be
To go down into this place?
And Humbaba – his roaring is the Great Flood,
His mouth is fire,
His breath is death!
Why do you wish to do such a thing?
We are no match to fight fierce Humbaba!’
Gilgamesh spoke, saying to Enkidu:
‘I will climb the Cedar Mountain!’

(Here seven lines are lost)

Enkidu spoke to Gilgamesh, said to him:
‘But how can we go to the Cedar Forest?
Dread Wer is its guardian, who sleeps not at all and is strong.
Humbaba-Wer is his […]
Adad the storm is his voice,
He has the breath of death.
He was appointed guardian of the Cedar Forest
By Enlil, son of An, the Great God,
To terrify all mortals.
Humbaba – his roaring is the Great Flood.
His mouth is fire,
His breath is death!
At sixty double-hours he hears
Every wild cow in the forest.
Who can go down into his forest?
Enlil appointed him to be guard,
To watch the cedars, terrify mortals,
Weakness grips one who goes down into the Cedar Forest.’
Gilgamesh spoke to Enkidu, said to him:
‘Who can climb into heaven, my friend?
Immortal under the Sun are the gods alone,
As for mortals their days must end –
What they achieve is but the wind!
Even now you fear death.
Where is your hero’s strength?
I will lead you, then.
You may call to me: ‘Advance, fear not!’
If I fall, I shall have made my name:
“Gilgamesh”, they will say, “against fierce Humbaba
Has fallen!” and long after,
My descendants born in my house
Shall honor my name
As one who struggled against fierce Humbaba
And fell in fighting on Cedar Mountain.
Speaking as you have, you have grieved me.
I will ready my hand,
I will fell the cedar trees,
I will make my name a name that endures!
I will commission the smith
To cast weapons for us.’
And they commissioned the smith;
The artisans sat down to discuss it.
They cast mighty adzes, they cast axes of three talents each –
And a talent contains sixty minas!
They cast mighty swords –
The blades were two talents each,
The knobs on their sheaths thirty minas each,
The handles of the swords
Thirty minas of gold each
Gilgamesh and Enkidu were both laden with ten talents apiece.

(A fragment from Uruk published in 1972 by von Weiher gives a slightly different account:)

They sit and take counsel together with the smiths:
‘We will cast the axe […]
The axe – it shall weigh one talent
Your sword – it shall weigh one talent
Your belt – it shall weigh one talent
Your belt […]

(The main account now resumes:)

At the great gate of Uruk
With its seven bolts
Gathered all of the people.
There in the street and market of ramparted Uruk
Stood mighty Gilgamesh
King of Uruk of the ramparts,
The people all sat down before him.
Gilgamesh spoke to them, saying:
‘O thou people of ramparted Uruk,
I am going on a journey to the Forest of Cedars,
Him of whom they speak,
At whose name all lands tremble,
I, Gilgamesh, will see.
I will conquer him in the Cedar Forest!
I will spread abroad among all lands
How strong are the progeny of Uruk!
I will raise my hand and cut down the cedars!
I will make my name a name that endures!’

(The 1972 fragment of von Weiher, just cited, preserves a different version, which highlights the astronomical references more clearly:)

‘The men of Uruk who know […]
There would I be strong, I travel the wheel-rim […]
I commence the struggle which I know not, the motion
Blesses me! […] the path […] before
I will enter the city gate of Uruk […]
I will turn towards, and the Akitu Festival in […] (2)
I will celebrate the Akitu Festival in […]
The Akitu Festival shall be arranged and joyful singing shall be heard.
One shall ever cry out and cry out again against magnificent garments in….
Enkidu – to the elders he said:
‘What the men of Uruk […]
He spoke to him; he should not enter the forest […]
The wheel-rim should not be journeyed upon; a man […] (3)
The guardian of the forest […]

(This is the end of the fragment In the main text, no speech by Enkidu is recorded at all. A fragment of about 1400 BCE published by Gernot Wilhelm gives a few lines of yet another version of these events. Gilgamesh explains why he wishes to go on the expedition against Humbaba and the elders of Uruk ask him to reconsider:)

‘I wish to set up a name, a name which will endure perpetually in their mouths.
Of my deeds I wish the land to listen!
I wish my name to be a name which endures!
Such a name I wish to establish for myself!
The elders of Uruk replied to Gilgamesh:
‘But Gilgamesh, why do you wish to do this?
The struggle at the abode of Humbaba is not to […]?’

(Here the short fragment breaks off. We return once more to the main text:)

The elders of ramparted Uruk replied to Gilgamesh, said to him:
‘You are very young, Gilgamesh,
Your heart has swept away your reason.
You have no knowledge of what is involved
We are told that Humbaba is strange to see and terrifying.
Who can possibly withstand his weapons?
For ten thousand double-hours in every direction
Extends his great forest.
Who would go down into such a place?
Humbaba – his roaring is the Great Flood.
His mouth is fire,
His breath is death!
Why do you wish to do such a thing?’
No one is a match to struggle with Humbaba.’
When Gilgamesh heard these words of his advisers,
He looked round, smiling to his friend:
‘Now, my friend, thus do they tremble
And fear even to speak of fierce Humbaba.
O Enkidu, together we can face him
In his great forest of cedars, and gain renown.
O elders of Uruk, I go with my friend Enkidu,
He of the steppe who has strength.
Together we will face fierce Humbaba.’
The elders answered Gilgamesh and said:
‘May they own god protect thee
May he lead thee back safely along the road
May he bring thee back to the quay of Uruk.’
Gilgamesh then fell down before Shamash the Sun and spoke these words:
‘I go, o Shamash, my hands raised in prayer;
Bless the future well-being of my soul.
Bring me back safely tot he quay of Uruk, and
Cause thy protection to be established over me.’
Gilgamesh called his friend
And inspected his omen.

(Here seven lines are lost. The omen, which would have been read from the liver, gall bladder and intestines of a sacrificial lamb must have been unfavorable.)

Tears ran down the face of Gilgamesh.
‘I must travel a road I have never traveled,
I must follow a way I know not.
But I know I should fare well,
And I depart with a joyful heart.
May the blessings of the Great Gods be upon me!
They who are on their celestial thrones.’
And then were brought to him his weapons,
Those mighty swords,
Quiver and bow,
All placed in his hands,
He took the adzes,
And, with his quiver,
The bow of Anshan
Into his girdle he put his sword
That they might depart.
The people pressed around Gilgamesh:
‘By the will of God may you return to the city!’
The elders paid homage
And counseled Gilgamesh concerning his journey:
‘Trust not your strength alone!
Be wary and alert, on guard.
Let Enkidu walk before you.
He has seen the way, has traveled the road.
He who leads the way saves his companion,
He who knows the path protects his friend.
Enkidu has seen combat, knows it,
Knows the way to the Cedar Forest.
Over the obstacles and ditches will he carry you.
Let him penetrate and slip through
All the passes of the forest of Humbaba.
May Shamash grant your wish,
May he show you of what you speak.
May he open the unopened path for you,
Unbar the road for your coming,
Unclose for you the foot of the mountain!
May your nights bring you delights,
And may Lugulbanda stand by you,
May he stand by your wish!
May you attain your wish as does a child!
After slaying Humbaba, which you are attempting,
Wash then your feet.
When time to rest at night, dig a well –
May the water of your water-skin be ever pure! –
And offer cool water to Shamash.
And be ever mindful of Lugulbanda!
Enkidu, we the Assembly
Entrust our king to you.
Do you deliver him back to us!’
Gilgamesh spoke to Enkidu, said to him:
‘Up, my friend, let us go to the Great Palace
To see Ninsun, the Great Queen
Ninsun the Wise, who has knowledge of everything,
Will make wise our feet in their course.’
Gilgamesh and Enkidu, to the Great Palace,
To see Ninsun, the Great Queen.
Gilgamesh stepped forward on entering the palace:
‘O Ninsun, I make bold to depart
On a great journey to the place of Humbaba,
I must face battle strange to me,
Travel a road unknown to me.
Until I can return, until I come to the Cedar Forest,
And banish all that is evil from the land,
All that is hateful to Shamash,
Do pray to Shamash on my behalf.’

(Here several lines are lost)

Ninsun entered her chamber

(Here one line is lost)

She donned a garment suitable to her body
Also an ornament appropriate for her breast
Placed her tiara on her head,
Went out into the grounds,
Climbed the stairs, ascended the parapet
Attained the roof and there did offer up
To Shamash the Sun much incense
With this smoke-offering in progress
She raised her hands to Shamash:
‘Having granted me as my son Gilgamesh,
Why have then have you given my him such a restless heart?
Why have you made him wish to go on a Great Journey to the place of Humbaba?
To face a battle strange to him?
To travel a road unknown to him?
Until the day he can return, until he reaches the Cedar Forest ,
Slays the fierce Humbaba
And banishes from the land all that is evil which you hate,
In the day hours when you shine forth,
May Aya your bride fear you not and keep you mindful
And may she also commend him
To those who watch over the hours of the night!

(Here many lines are lost)

She put out incense, chanting a spell.
Then she summoned Enkidu
To impart him this message:
‘Mighty Enkidu, you who came not from my womb,
I have now adopted you,
As have the devotees of Gilgamesh,
The priestess, the votaries, the cult women!’
And around the neck of Enkidu she placed….

(The remainder of this line and several others are completely lost. In all probability Ninsun placed an amulet around Enkidu’s neck. When the text resumes again, Gilgamesh and Enkidu are with the elders and about to depart.)

‘Let Enkidu protect the friend, safeguard the companion,
Let him carry him through the pitfalls!
We, the Assembly, entrust to you our king:
Do you deliver him back to us!’
Enkidu then spoke to Gilgamesh, said to him:
‘Since you are determined upon the struggle,
Then come away.
Let your heart not be troubled and follow me.
My friend, turn not away from the journey.
A way not known to you
Need hold no fears when I shall lead you.
In the Cedar Forest I know the dwelling place
And also the road which Humbaba travels.’

(Here seven lines are lost)

When the elders had heard this speech of his
They sent the hero on his way
‘Go, Gilgamesh – may Shamash grant your wish,
And may your God be at your side.’


  1. Cedar mountain and Cedar Forest are a mixture of the mythical and real. Their geographical location is a subject of hot dispute among scholars; one strong possibility is Lebanon, though not everyone agrees on this.
  2. The Akitu Festival was a celebration of the New Year, at the Spring Equinox, and its repeated mention is in keeping with the more overt astronomical terminology of this fragment.
  3. (For an explanation of the cosmic wheel and traveling its rim, see the footnotes to Tablet 9.) The word used here for ‘wheel-rim’, allak, is inevitably mistranslated as ‘road’ or ‘way’ by others because its true meaning has not been understood by previous scholars in its astronomical context of the cosmic wheel of the sky, which, seen from earth, appears to turn.

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