The Epic of Gilgamesh

Important Quotations Explained

5
And so they traveled until they reached Uruk.
There Gilgamesh the king said to the boatman:

“Study the brickwork, study the fortification;
climb the ancient staircase to the terrace;

study how it is made; from the terrace see
the planted and fallow fields, the ponds and orchards.

One league is the inner city, another league
is orchards; still another the fields beyond;

over there is the precinct of the temple. . . . ,
Three leagues and the temple precinct of Ishtar.”

Measure Uruk, the city of Gilgamesh
   —Tablet XI

These words mark one of the most astonishing transitions in literature. Only a few lines earlier, Gilgamesh was in despair because he lost his magical plant, his last opportunity for immortality, which he believes is a sign that he should abandon his quest. But this loss was also the moment of truth. Accompanied by Urshanabi the boatman, who has been forbidden to have any further commerce with the immortals, he approaches the vast, beautiful urban expanse of Uruk, with its cultivated fields and orchards and its towering ziggurat devoted to Ishtar, all of it enclosed by intricately wrought walls. Gilgamesh, seeing it anew, regards it with pride and awe. Offering up his realm for the boatman’s admiration, Gilgamesh repeats, word for word, the opening lines of the epic. This is my city, he says. My place. He has quested to the ends of the earth for the meaning of life and found it at last in his own home. Thus ends The Epic of Gilgamesh.