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As for you, Gilgamesh, let your belly
Make merry day and night.
Of each day make a feast of rejoicing.
Day and night dance and play!
Let your garments be sparkling fresh,
Your head be washed; bathe in water.
Pay heed to a little one that holds on to your
Let a spouse delight in your bosom.
See Important Quotations Explained
Siduri, the veiled barmaid, keeps a tavern by the edge
of the sea. Gazing along the shore, she sees a man coming toward
her. He is wearing animal skins, and his face is wind-bitten and
battered. He looks like he has been traveling for a long time. Concerned
that he might be dangerous, Siduri closes and bars her door against
him. The traveler pounds on the door and threatens to smash it down.
He says he is Gilgamesh, and Siduri asks him why he looks like a
tramp and a criminal. Gilgamesh says that he is grieving for his
companion who helped to fight the lions and the wolves and slay
the demon Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven. He says that Enkidu has
been overtaken by the fate that awaits all humankind—he’s turned
to clay. Gilgamesh asks Siduri if that is what will happen to him.
Siduri unlocks her door and tells Gilgamesh that only
the gods live forever. She invites him into her tavern to clean
himself up, change his clothes, and eat and drink his fill. But
Gilgamesh no longer cares for earthly pleasures and refuses to be
distracted from his mission. He asks her how to find Utnapishtim.
Siduri tells Gilgamesh that Shamash the sun god crosses
the sea every day, but from the beginning of time, no mortal has
ever been able to follow him, because the sea is too stormy and
treacherous. Siduri says that even if he miraculously survived the
crossing, he would then face the poisonous Waters of Death, which
only Urshanabi, Utnapishtim’s boatman, knows how to navigate. She
tells him that Urshanabi lives deep in the forest, where he guards
the Urnu-snakes and the Stone Things. When Siduri sees that she
cannot sway Gilgamesh from his purpose, she gives him directions
to Urshanabi’s house and tells him to ask Urshanabi to take him
to Utnapishtim. She instructs Gilgamesh to return to her if Urshanabi
Gilgamesh sets off to find Urshanabi. When he arrives
near the place where the Urnu-snakes and the Stone Things reside,
he attacks them with his axe and dagger. Then he introduces himself
to Urshanabi. Urshanabi studies Gilgamesh’s face and asks him why
he looks like a tramp. He observes that Gilgamesh’s face is worn
and weathered and that sorrow rests in his belly. Gilgamesh tells
him about Enkidu, his grief, his fear, and his implacable determination
to go to Utnapishtim.
Urshanabi says he will take Gilgamesh to Utnapishtim,
but that Gilgamesh has made the journey immeasurably more difficult because
he smashed the Stone Things and the Urnu-snakes, which propelled
and protected his boat. Urshanabi orders Gilgamesh to go back into
the forest and cut sixty poles, and then another sixty poles. (In some
versions of the story, Gilgamesh must cut as many as 300 poles.) Each
pole must be exactly sixty cubits in length (approximately ninety feet).
Urshanabi instructs him to fit the poles with rings and cover them with
pitch, and then they will attempt the voyage.
Gilgamesh cuts the poles, and they sail off together across
the perilous sea. In three days they sail as far as an ordinary
boat would have sailed in two months. When they arrive at the Waters
of Death, the boatman tells Gilgamesh to use the punting poles but
to be sure his hands don’t touch the water. Gilgamesh poles the
boat through the Waters of Death. His great strength causes him
to break all one hundred and twenty poles. When the last pole is
ruined, he takes off the skin he wears and holds it up as a sail.
An old man stands on the shore, watching the boat approach. The
old man wonders what happened to the Stone Things and who the stranger
is standing next to Urshanabi. When they get out of the boat, the
old man asks Gilgamesh to identify himself. Gilgamesh tells him
what he told Siduri and Urshanabi—about his grief for Enkidu, his
fear that the same fate awaits him, and his desperation to avoid
it if possible. The old man asks Gilgamesh why he grieves about
mortality—nothing lives forever. The old man says the gods established
that men would suffer death, and that when the gods give life, they
also decide the day of death. He says that death is our certain
destiny, even if we don’t know when it will happen.
Siduri the veiled barmaid is a traditional figure in Mesopotamian mythology
and poetry, and in the Hurrian language her name means “young woman.”
The goddess of wine-making and beer brewing, she is usually considered
a manifestation of Ishtar. Her warmth and kindness to Gilgamesh
throughout this episode are notable, since he treated Ishtar with
such contempt in Uruk.
Scholars have failed to explain what the Stone Things
or the Urnu-snakes are or why Gilgamesh destroys them. A fragmentary verse
suggests that Gilgamesh also attacked a winged creature, who might
have been Urshanabi himself. A later fragment of verse suggests
that those Stone Things were magical images of some sort, and some
scholars have speculated that they were lodestones, a type of mineral
that possesses polarity. The tablets are frustratingly incomplete
on this matter, and no other versions to flesh them out have been
found yet. Thousands of clay tablets recovered from Mesopotamian
digs over the years are still awaiting translation, and thousands
more remain beneath the ground. The Italian Assyriologist Giovanni
Pettinato recently discovered and translated a never-before-seen
account of Gilgamesh’s death. Perhaps someone will discover a solution
to the mystery of the Urnu-snakes and the Stone Things too.
None of the three characters Gilgamesh meets in this tablet
recognize him when they see him, and they all give him the same
advice, which emphasizes that he should stop his quest for immortality. Each
of them takes note of Gilgamesh’s unkempt appearance, listens patiently
as he describes his terror of death, and reminds him that death
is certain and life is all we have. Even Utnapishtim, who is himself
immortal, advises Gilgamesh against pursuing his search for immortality,
which suggests that Utnapishtim, in all his knowledge, has an idea
about the value of life that Gilgamesh has not yet discovered. Utnapishtim
has foiled death, but he will not help Gilgamesh to do the same.
Utnapishtim says that Gilgamesh inherited his father’s mortality
and, like everything else in the mortal world, he is subject to
death. Gilgamesh must continue to live as a mortal and accept death
as part of life’s natural and inevitable cycle.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Epic of Gilgamesh!