Epic of Gilgamesh – Sha naqba īmuru

Tablet 7

‘[…] then twilight came.’
And Enkidu answered Gilgamesh:
‘My friend, hear a dream I had last night
An, the Sky God,
Enlil, his son,
Enki, son of Enlil,
And Shamash the Sun,
All held council together,
And An said to Enlil:
‘Because they have slain the Bull of Heaven
And have slain Humbaba,
He who watched over the mountains,
Watched them from Cedar Tree – one among of them
Must die!’ – So said An.
But Great Enlil said:
‘Enkidu must die!
Gilgamesh, however, shall not die!’
Then heavenly Shamash the Sun answered great Enlil:
‘Was it not at your very own command
That these necessities took place –
The slaying of the Bull of Heaven and Humbaba?
And now you say,
Innocent Enkidu should die?’
But at this Enlil became enraged.
He turned in anger to heavenly Shamash:
‘Just because you used to go down to them
Everyday as if you yourself were his comrade!’ (1)
Enkidu lay down before Gilgamesh, very ill.
Gilgamesh, his tears running down, said to him:
‘My brother, my dear brother!
They wish to let me go but to take you as the price for this!’
Also he said:
‘Must I sit down by the spirit of the dead,
By the door of the spirit of the dead?
And never again to see my dear brother with my eyes?

(Here there is a considerable break. As can be seen from what follows, Enkidu curses the fates and the stages that have led him to leave the wild steppe and coming to a civilized life. We can assume that in the lost portion he gave further vent to his frustration and dejection and that Gilgamesh too made complaint against Enkidu’s unfortunate fate and the decision of the gods that Enkidu must die and be taken from him.)

Enkidu […] lifted up his eyes, spoke as if to the door,
As though the door were human:
‘O door! Door to the forest! Insensible thing!
Possessed of no understanding!
From a distance of 20 intervals
I thought your timber fine!
Then I beheld the lofty cedar!
Nowhere in the land is there
Any semblance, any compare with your wood!
Six dozen are the cubits to your height,
Two dozen are the cubits to your width…
Your pole, your pole ferrule and your pole-knob….
Truly a craftsman of Nippur made you […] (2)
But, o door, had I known that this beauty of yours
Would bring to pass such disaster,
I would have taken the axe and would have….
I would have made a reed frame to [encompass?] you (3)

(Here several lines are lost. When Enkidu’s speech resumes, he makes clear that he constructed the door himself, evidently from the felled cedar tree he so admired. A recurring theme of Sumerian and Babylonian literature is the felling of a sacred tree and making some special or sacred object from it.)

‘O door, I made you, set you in place
[…] you
When I am gone, may a king […] you
Or perhaps a god […] you.
He may place his name on you, eradicating mine.’
He ripped out […] he tore down.
As Gilgamesh listened, hurriedly his […]
As Gilgamesh heard his friend Enkidu speak thus, his tears were flowing.
Gilgamesh opened his mouth, said to Enkidu:
‘[…] illustrious
Strange things may be spoken by the wise.
Why does your heart say such strange things, my friend?
Precious was your dream, but the terror is great.
Your limbs are paralyzed like […]
But despite the terror, precious is the dream:
Misery was released for the healthy;
Woe befell the healthy from this dream.
[…] and I will pray to the Great Gods.’
[Here eleven lines are missing.]
With daybreak Enkidu looked up,
Tears streaming from him to radiant Shamash the Sun:
‘I pray, o Shamash, that the hunter, that rogue,
He who hunted not
Who stopped my getting as much game as my friend –
Let him not get as much game as his friend.
Take what he owns, lessen his power.
May his way offend you.
May all the game escape from him.
May his heart be never full.’
And he bitterly cursed the priestess:
‘O you, priestess, I pronounce your fate –
A fate which shall be yours for all eternity!
Hearken, for I curse you now with a great curse
And may my curses attack you on the instant:
You shall not build a house in which to offer your charms.
You shall never enter the tavern where the young girls are.
Your lovely breasts […]
May the drunkard defile your trysting place with vomit,
May you be violated by all the troops.
[…] shall cast into your house.
Your home shall be the road […]
The dust of the crossroads is where you shall dwell.
The desert shall be your bed.
The shadow of the wall is where you shall linger,
Your feet torn by thorns and brambles.
And men crazed by lust panting for drink shall strike your cheeks!
Because you have […] me
And because you have brought death upon me’
When these words were heard by Shamash the Sun,
Straight away he called down from heaven to Enkidu:
‘Enkidu, why do you curse the priestess
Who introduced you to food fit for the gods,
To drink fit for kings?
She who clothed you nobly!
She who gave you Gilgamesh as friend,
And now Gilgamesh is a brother to you.
Has he not placed you on a beauteous couch?
You are on the throne of ease,
The throne at his left hand
So that the rulers of the earth kiss your feet!
Lamentations and weepings from the people of Uruk shall he cause for you;
Those with hearts full of joy he shall make mourn
When you have turned back (4).
He will let his body become long-haired,
He will clothe himself with the skin of the dog (5),
And he will roam the steppe.’
These words of Shamash quieted Enkidu, calmed his angry heart.

(Here two lines are missing. Enkidu retracts his cursing of the priestess and blesses her instead.)

‘O you priestess, I pronounce your fate –
The mouth has cursed you
It turns and blesses you.
Lords and governors shall love you
He who is one league away shall smite his thigh in admiration of you
He who is two leagues away shall shake his hair in desire of you
May all the young men will loosen their clothes for you
May you be laden with carnelian, lapis lazuli and gold.
And he who defiled you – may he be paid back!
May his home be stripped,
His full storehouse emptied.
May the priest lead you into the presence of the gods.
And for you the wife be abandoned,
Though she be the mother of seven.’
Enkidu, cast down in sorrow,
Drifts into a sad and lonely sleep.
Then in the night to his friend
He pours out the heaviness of his heart:
‘My friend, this night I dreamed.
The whole cosmos was roaring
And an echo resounded from the earth:
This is an omen of death,
As I was standing there between the heavens and earth,
I saw a young man whose face was dark.
His face was like Zu, bird god from the Underworld.
[…] with claws like an eagle’s talons.
He overcame me […]
[…] he climbs […]
[…] submerged me.

(Here seven lines are missing)

He transformed me into a double of his body
So that my arms were now clad in feathers like those of a bird.
Fixing his gaze on me, he led me to the House of Darkness
There where Irkalla lives, He, the God of the Dead.
No one who enters that house comes forth again.
It is the one-way road from which there is no return;
Those residing there are bereft of the light for ever,
Where dust is their food and mud their sustenance.
They are dressed as birds, with garments of wing feathers.
They see no light but crouch in darkness,
There in the House of Dust, into which I came,
I saw kings, their crowns set aside –
Those who had once ruled on earth through the ages, humbled,
No longer were they born to the crown.
And the twins of An and Enlil were there (6),
Serving the roast meat,
The fried and baked food,
Pouring cold water out from the skins.
In the house of Dust where I came
Sit the high priest and the acolyte,
Sit the cantor and the shaman,
Sit the attendants of the sacred ablutions,
There sat Etana, once king of Kish,
There sat Sumugan, he, the god of the Cattle,
And also Ereshkigal, who is the Queen of the Underworld.
Belit-Seri, her scribe, kneels before here.
And she reads out from a tablet to her.
She, the scribe, lifts her head, sees me and says:
‘Who brought this one?’

(Here 50 lines are missing. But the following fragment where Gilgamesh is speaking is believed to come from the lost remainder of this tablet.)

‘Remember all my travels with him!
My friend saw a dream of unfavorable omen
The day the dream was ended.
Enkidu lay stricken one day, two days,
Enkidu’s suffering on his bed worsened:
A third day, a fourth day […]
A 5th day, a 6th day, a 7th,
An 8th, a 9th and a tenth day.
Enkidu’s suffering on his bed increases;
An 11th day, a 12th day […]
Enkidu lay stricken on his bed of agony.
Finally he called Gilgamesh and spoke to him:
‘My friend […] has cursed me!
Not like one who falls in battle shall I die,
For I feared the battle […]
My friend, one who dies in battle is blessed.
But as for me […]’


  1. A few words of explanation would be helpful with reference to these squabbling gods. Since the Gilgamesh tales are, at origin, accounts of cosmic happenings in the heavens, what is going on behind the scenes in these tales is generally of a cosmic nature. The gods An, Enlil and Enki are not merely grandfather, father and son in the sense familiar from Greek religion of Uranus, Chronos (Saturn), Jupiter. They actually represent three separate bands of the sky. Hence it is that a dispute or quarrel between them may represent conflicts between those regions of the sky.

    Different star constellations lie in different regions or bands of sky, so that the gods of the bands have affinities with different mythological figures identified with those constellations. For instance, Enki’s band of sky is the Southern Sky. The star Canopus was therefore especially sacred to him, lying as it does within the constellation of Argo deep in the Southern sky. Enki’s special city of Eridu was the southernmost city of Sumer, near the Persian Gulf, and its southern position in Sumer corresponded to the southern position of Enki’s sky band. In Tablet 9 we encounter Enki’s direct intervention in advising the construction of an ark to survive the Great Flood (the prototype of the story of Noah). This ark corresponds to Enki’s constellation of Argo.

    It follows therefore that the gods representing different bands of sky will champion those mythological beings who have been assigned constellations in their own bands and oppose mythological beings whose celestial homes are in other bands. As for Shamash/Utu, as the sun he moves through all the bands and is not identified with any of them. Therefore, it is not surprising that he does not take part in these favoritisms, and defends both Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Furthermore, he is able to be like a comrade to them because he is not remote and associated with a sky band, but is actually a moving cosmic body, as indeed was Humbaba, with whom he had direct associations, since Humbaba was identified with the planet Mercury (the planet nearest to the Sun). (See also Tablet 9, note 13).

  2. Enkidu’s statement that the pole, pole-knob and pole-ferrule were made by a master craftsman of the city of Nippur does not refer to himself (since Enkidu was not from Nippur), and it is possible that he merely wishes to praise the handiwork by saying by saying they are as good as if a master craftsman of Nippur had made them. The master-craftsman of a major city was generally one of the Seven Sages, the mysterious ‘fish-men’ who before the time of the Flood were supposed to have founded the Sumerian culture, and who were known as apkallus, or in much later time were called by the name of Oannes (see Introduction). These aquatic culture heroes tended to be referred to as ‘master craftsmen’ in a manner that is somewhat reminiscent of Masonic lore. Nippur, which has been mentioned twice before the Epic in connection with the door to the Cedar Forest, was one of the seven original cities of Sumer founded by the Seven Sages. Nippur’s master-craftsman was therefore its fish-man culture hero, or apkallu.
  3. The whole business of Humbaba, the cedar and the door may concern the motions of the planet Mercury. As we have seen, Humbaba was identified with the planet and the monster face of Humbaba, which is represented on some ancient terra cotta pieces as a mass of convoluted intestines, symbolized the convoluted motions of Mercury as plotted in the skies by the ancient astronomers. (These plottings do yield a mass of convoluted loops, half of which are invisible because they are below the horizon.) Cutting off the head of Humbaba could thus mean cutting off the visible portion of these loops, or terminating the planet’s year. In which case the planet would have to start a new year. This may indeed be what the Epic is telling us in code.

    The word babu for door in modern Arabic as bab or gate also had the meaning of origin or commencement of a motion. Thus the expression cedar door is symbolic for the commencement of the motion of the planet Mercury. Contemporary with the Gilgamesh Epic in Egypt, the word seb had the dual meaning of cedar and planet Mercury, which can hardly be a coincidence. The Akkadian word babu also means vagina, which was not only a door, but also led to a birth or commencement. Similar multiple symbolisms applied to the words used for pillars, gateposts, bolts and so forth, always with cosmic myths implied.

  4. Since several scholarly translators have given no indication of this meaning to this line, explanations seems warranted. Campbell Thompson simply left untranslated the word arkika; Speiser, Gordon and Heidei all translated it simply as ‘after’ and then inserted various speculative words referring to going or dying which do not appear in the text, implying that the line meant ‘After you have died’ or something similar. This does accord with the apparent context, but nevertheless too many glosses appear in translations of the Epic which conceal the deeper meanings which occasionally glint above the surface. It is my opinion that in this line we have a possible reference to a retrograde orbital motion in accordance with the cosmic mythology underlying the Gilgamesh literature.
  5. All other translators have lamely suggested, without real justification, that kalbi means lion, and that this passage says Gilgamesh would don a lion skin. Perhaps they were thinking of Heracles, for as one translator, Cyrus Gordon, rightly points out in commenting on this passage, Heracles did indeed derive from Gilgamesh and did wear a lion skin. But the fact is that the word ‘kalbi’ means dog here just as certainly all translators agree it does in line 115 of the original text on Tablet 11, where the gods are described as cowering like dogs. However awkward it may be, therefore, there is no doubt that the skin which Gilgamesh is described as about to put on is the skin of a dog, not the skin of a lion. This has possible cosmic references, in particular to the Dog Star, Sirius.
  6. It is interesting that the Great Gods An and Enlil are thought to have had doubles living in the Underworld, and engaged in the sort of mental activity that one would expect of a zombie. Behind this must lie the astronomical awareness that the sky bands of An and Enlil continued under the Earth, and that the Great Gods were present in the Underworld as well as in the sky overhead. In his 1986 article, ‘The Sun at Night and the Doors of Heaven in Babylonian Texts’, Wolfgang Heimpel discusses the enigmatic references to the Sun God passing through the Underworld every night. These are best understood by reference to the elaborate study of Maja Pellikaan-Engel on Hesiod and Parmenides. Having accepted the tradition of the Great Gods having counterparts below the earth, the poet has here represented An and Enlil in the character almost of automatons, as meaningless shades of the actual gods.

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