What could I offer
the queen of love in return, who lacks nothing at all?
Balm for the body? The food and drink of the gods?
I have nothing to give to her who lacks nothing at all.
You are the door through which the cold gets in.
You are the fire that goes out. You are the pitch
that sticks to the hands of the one who carries the bucket.
You are the house that falls down. You are the shoe
that pinches the foot of the wearer. The ill-made wall
that buckles when time has gone by. The leaky
water skin soaking the water skin carrier.
On Tablet VI, when Gilgamesh returns from the Cedar Forest with the head of Humbaba, the goddess Ishtar is overcome with lust. Gilgamesh rejects her proposition scornfully. The poetry of Gilgamesh often requires scholarly explication to fill in the blanks of the story, explain the complex origins of Mesopotamian gods, and reconcile the inconsistencies in a narrative that stitches together two millennia’s worth of stories. When Gilgamesh spurns Ishtar, however, his insults are clear, pointed, and hilarious. The setup is familiar—the proud, handsome young man, and the rich, jaded, older woman who wants to make him her plaything. As obscure as Gilgamesh might be in its details, its broad outlines are timeless and universal. The epic contains a lot of angst and brooding about death, but it also evinces a tremendous relish for the sensuous pleasures of life.