Epic of Gilgamesh – Sha naqba īmuru

Tablet 8

On the horizon there appeared
The first intimations of dawn (1)
And Gilgamesh said to his friend:
‘Enkidu, your mother, the gazelle,
Your father, the wild ass –
These together produced you.
They whose mark is their tails reared you (2)
As did the cattle of the steppes and of all pastures,
May the tracks of Enkidu in the Cedar Forest
Weep for you!
May they not be hushed
By night or by day
Uruk of the wide ramparts – may its elders
Weep for you!
May the finger which blesses what is behind us
Weep for you!
May the country echo with sorrow like a mother!
May […] weep for you!
In whose midst we […]
May the bear, the hyena, the panther,
May the tiger, the stag, the leopard, the lion,
May the ox, the deer, the ibex –
May all the wild of the steppe
Weep for you!
May the River Ulla – may it weep for you!
The river by whose banks
We strolled together – friends
May the pure Euphrates, where we drew water for the skins
May it weep for you!
May the warriors of Uruk of the wide ramparts
Weep for you!
[…] we slew the Bull of Heaven –
May […] weep for you!
Those in Eridu who sang your paeans –
May they weep now!
May all those who have praised you –
May they weep!
All those who provided you with grain –
May they weep for you!

(Here there is a considerable break, during which Enkidu finally dies. The text resumes with Gilgamesh lamenting his friend’s death:)

‘Hear me O elders!
It is for Enkidu, for Enkidu, my friend, that I weep.
I wail like a woman
So bitterly lamenting
The goodly axe in which my hand trusted
Hanging by my side
The dagger resting in my belt.
The shield which went before me.
My richest-trimmed robe for the festivities –
An evil force arose
Seized them all from me!
Oh, my friend, younger than myself,
You hunted the wild ass in the hills,
You chased the panther on the steppe!
Oh, Enkidu, my younger friend,
How you hunted the wild ass in the hills
Chased the panther on the steppe!
We two have conquered all, climbed all
We were the ones who seized and killed the Bull of Heaven
We were the ones who laid hold of (3) Humbaba
He who lived in the Cedar Forest (4)
What is this sleep that has now come over you?
You have gone dark and cannot hear me!’
But Enkidu did not raise his head
Gilgamesh felt for Enkidu’s heartbeat, but there was none.
Then he drew a veil across Enkidu’s face,
As if he were a bride.
He roared like a lioness who had her cubs taken away from her.
Backwards and forwards he went before his friend,
And tore his hair
Strewing it around
He tore off his beautiful clothes
Flung them down
As though they were filth.
And then on the horizon there appeared
The first intimations of dawn
Then Gilgamesh proclaimed unto the land
‘Come smith, come workman,
Come fashioner of copper,
Come worker in gold,
Come inscriber in metal!
Shape you the image of my friend!
My friend whose stature is beyond compare;
May his breast be lapis lazuli
May his body be of gold.

(From a strange document called the Letter of Gilgamesh which in many respects is fantastic and unreliable, a few more possible details of the statue may possibly be gleaned as they were known in the tradition:)

‘Let there be many large […] of red ochre
And lapis lazuli set in solid gold,
And let them be bound on the breast of my friend Enkidu
One block of solid gold – let its weight be 30 minas
I will fix on the breast of Enkidu, my friend.
Let there be many gaz-stones, much jasper, lapis-lazuli,
All the stones that there are in the high mountains.
Let them be sent on horses to the home-country.
May beautiful amulets be made out of them.
Fresh fruit out of season,
Anything precious and exotic
Which my eyes have never seen
For an offering let them be loaded with the silver and gold,
Let them drift down the River Euphrates
Carry them to the quay of Babylon
and my eyes shall see them and my heart shall be confident.’

(The above is what can be reconstructed of the text as it may have been before it became the object of a silly schoolboy exercise in which it was severely distorted, in the so-called ‘Letter’. Mow many lines of the Epic are lost. After the break, Gilgamesh is again speaking.)

‘I placed you on a beauteous couch.
You were in the throne of ease,
The throne at my left hand,
So that the rulers of the earth kissed your feet!
Lamentations and weepings from the people of Uruk
Shall I now cause for you;
Those with hearts full of joy shall I make mourn.
And after you have been laid to rest
I shall let my body become shaggy,
I will clothe myself in the skin of a dog
And I shall roam the steppe!’
On the horizon there appeared
The first intimations of dawn
Gilgamesh loosened his band […]

(Here many lines are lost, with only a few fragmentary matches mentioning ‘to my friend’, ‘your sword’, ‘likeness’, and ‘to the place of Mercury’ (5). The following brief passage has been preserved:)

[…] Jude of the Fifty Great Gods, the Anunnaki […]
When Gilgamesh heard this
He conceived in his heart the concept, or image of the river
On the horizon there appeared
The first intimations of dawn
Gilgamesh fashioned […]
Brought out a large table of elammaqu wood,
Took a carnelian bowl,
Filled it with honey
Took a lapis-lazuli bow
Filled it with milk curd
[…] he adorned and exposed to Shamash the Sun

(The rest of the Tablet, a very large portion, is lost. In the missing sections, the funeral and burial of Enkidu evidently took place.)


  1. These two lines are repeated at intervals throughout the tablet. Their inclusion is neither accidental nor for poetic purposes but rather reflects the obsession of the Babylonian astronomers/priests with what are known as heliacal risings of key stars and planets. A heliacal rising takes place when a star or planet rises over the horizon at the same moment as the first intimations of dawn. The Egyptians (much of whose astro-religious concepts passed over into Sumerian and hence Babylonian culture) based their main calendar on the heliacal rising of the the star Sirius, which was given far greater prominence than the mundane solar and lunar calendars.
  2. See note 4 below.
  3. The word that I have translated as ‘laid hold of’ is lapatu in the original text and I believe that it refers to the motion to the planet associated with Humbaba, Mercury. It has been a problematic word to translate.
  4. This is another reference to the planet Mercury (with which this tablet abounds), which also brings us again face to face with the enigma of the monster Huwawa. All scholars have expressed perplexity regarding the origins and meaning of this strange name. Huwawa is the original Sumerian form of the name, later called Humbaba or Hubaba. To anyone familiar with ancient Egyptian, it should seem obvious.

    Although the linguistic identify of cedar and Mercury could not pass through the language barrier, the transmission of another Egyptian term may.

  5. The Babylonian name for Mercury here – Bibbu- might perhaps be a borrowing from the Egyptian beb, ‘to go round’, ‘to revolve’, ‘to circulate’. Since Bibbu has been known to be applied to Mars and Saturn on occasion, and there are also several textual references for its use as a general planetary term of some sort, its real meaning may well have been something like circler, in the same manner in which the Greek word for planet really meant wanderer. Its use for Mercury could simply reflect that Mercury of all the planets is the great circler, with a rapid looping orbit (as seen from earth).

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