The Epic of Gilgamesh

Important Quotations Explained

3
Enkidu, . . . your mother is a gazelle,
and . . . your father who created you, a wild ass.
[You were] raised by creatures with tails,
and by the animals of the wilderness, with all its breadth.

The paths going up to and down from the forest of cedars
All mourn you: the weeping does not end day or night
   —Tablet VIII

After Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh pours out his grief in this impassioned lamentation. He projects his grief onto a rural landscape so that it seems the entire natural world mourns for Enkidu, even the animals and the paths in the forest. His lamentation poignantly evokes Enkidu’s wild origins and also reveals the extent of Gilgamesh’s grief. This kind of projection will appear again centuries later in the pastoral elegies of the ancient Greeks and later European writers. Pastoral literature gives an idealized picture of the simple, natural life of shepherds, and an elegy is a poem that expresses sorrow for the dead. Pastoral elegies present the natural world as mourning the deceased as well. They include long descriptions of the deceased, those who mourn them, the unfairness of death, and the possibility of a next life. The simple diction and the animal imagery in these lines evoke the biblical “Song of Songs” as well. The austere lyricism of Gilgamesh’s ancient poetry, though present throughout the epic, stands out in this passage.