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An Introduction to Mythology

Page: 112

The people of Erech at length rebel against his cruel treatment, calling on the gods to create a hero to subdue him. The divine beings hearkened, and the goddess Aruru made Eabani, the wild man, from a piece of clay. Eabani haunts the mountains and desolate places, herding with the gazelles as one of them, and it is in this condition that Tsaidu, the hunter, finds him, whether by accident or design is not clear. Tsaidu, after trying in vain to capture him, returns with news of him to Gilgamesh, who, evidently guessing that the wild man was intended by the gods for his downfall, dispatches Tsaidu once more in search of him. This time the huntsman is accompanied by the temple-woman Ukhut, whose snares Gilgamesh trusts will be more effective than those of Tsaidu. Like Adam in the Garden of Eden, the wild man falls before the wiles of a woman, and is led in triumph to Erech, with whose monarch he establishes a close friendship, thus in a measure thwarting the designs of the gods.

In the IInd tablet we find Eabani somewhat dissatisfied with his position at Erech, and lamenting his lost freedom; but the god Shamash appears to him in a dream and induces him to remain. The two heroes, Gilgamesh and Eabani, project an expedition against Khumbaba, the monster who guards the forest of cedars, and in the IIIrd tablet they obtain the patronage of Shamash for their undertaking, through the good offices of Rimat-belit.

The fearsome aspect of Khumbaba (identified by some writers with an Elamite dynasty which flourished more than[Pg 251] two thousand years before our era) is portrayed in the IVth tablet, while the Vth relates the episode of the heroes' approach to the forest of cedars. The portion of the text dealing with the combat is no longer extant, but we gather that the monster is overcome and slain. The encounter with Khumbaba appears to be symbolical of the conflict between light and darkness.

The VIth tablet embodies a myth of different character, representing, perhaps, the wooing of the sun-god, the god of the spring-time, by Ishtar, the patron deity of fertility and of the renewal of vegetation on the earth. Returning from his expedition to the forest of cedars, Gilgamesh lays aside his armour and stained garments and robes himself with becoming state. The goddess Ishtar, beholding him, loves him, and desires him for her bridegroom. "Come, Gilgamesh," she says, "and be thou my bridegroom! I am thy vine, thou art its bond; be thou my husband, and I will be thy wife," and so on, with many fair promises and inducements. But Gilgamesh will have none of her proffered favours. In a speech replete with mythic allusions he taunts her with her treatment of former lovers—of Tammuz the bridegroom of her youth, of Alala the eagle, of a "lion perfect in might" and a "horse glorious in battle," of the shepherd Tabulu and the gardener Isullanu. To all these has she meted out cruel tortures; "and yet," says Gilgamesh, "thou lovest me that thou mayest make me as they are." Ishtar in mingled rage and shame appeals to her father Anu to send a great bull against the hero, and Anu at length consents to do so. However, Gilgamesh and Eabani succeed in slaying the divine animal, while Eabani still further incenses the goddess by his contemptuous treatment of her. After the overthrow of the celestial bull the heroes return to Erech. Up to this point their victorious career has not received a single check; but just as the sun when he reaches the zenith begins to decline in strength, so the might of the two heroes begins to wane after the middle of the epic.


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