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An Introduction to Mythology

Page: 113

In the VIIth tablet the death of Eabani is foretold to him in a vision. The temple maiden Ukhut (cursed by him in his first bitterness at the loss of freedom, and now dead) appears[Pg 252] to him, and in a passage beginning, "Come, descend with me to the house of darkness, the abode of Irkalla," describes the gloomy and wretched aspect of the Netherworld. Soon afterward Eabani becomes ill, no doubt through the malignance of the goddess Ishtar. This tablet and the following, which recounts the death of Eabani, are in a very mutilated condition.

The IXth tablet opens with the lament of Gilgamesh for his deceased friend. "Must I die like Eabani?" asks the hero, and a great dread comes upon him, so that he resolves to go to the abode of his ancestor, Ut-Napishtim, the Babylonian Noah, who has been admitted into the pantheon, and, he trusts, will unveil for him the secret of immortality. It must be remembered that on this journey thitherward Gilgamesh, in his mythical character of sun-god, is travelling downward from the zenith. In due course he reaches the Mountain of the Sunset, lying on the western horizon, and when he has passed its portals, guarded by scorpion-men, he passes through a region of darkness which takes him twenty-four hours to traverse.

The Xth tablet brings him to the seashore, and here he meets with Sabitu, goddess of the sea, who directs him to Ut-Napishtim's ferryman, Arad-Ea. After some persuasion the ferryman consents to row him across the waters of death to the abode of his ancestor. Arrived at the farther shore, the hero (who has meanwhile contracted a sore disease) remains sitting in the boat till Ut-Napishtim comes down to the strand. The survivor of the flood is greatly surprised to see that a mortal man has crossed the dark sea in safety, and he demands to know his errand. Gilgamesh makes known the object of his quest (to learn the secret of perpetual life), whereupon the listener on the shore looks grave, and points out to him that death is the common lot of all men.

To explain how he himself obtained immortality and deification, Ut-Napishtim relates the Babylonian version of the ubiquitous flood-story, which occupies the first portion of the XIth tablet. The flood was decreed, according to this version, by the gods who dwelt in the ancient city of Shurip-pak. "Their hearts prompted the great gods to send a[Pg 253] deluge," says Ut-Napishtim naively, and no other cause is assigned for the disaster. Ut-Napishtim was evidently a favourite with Ea, lord of the deep; he instructed him in a vision how to build a ship in which he and his household might escape. To allay the suspicions of the populace he had to give as the reason for his preparations that he was hated by Bel and was therefore disposed to quit the realms of that deity and repair to the domains of Ea. The building, launching, and loading of the ship occupied seven days, and at eventide on the seventh Ut-Napishtim with his family and household entered the ship, and the torrential rains then commenced. For a season all was storm and chaos, so that even the gods were afraid. On the seventh day the tempest ceased, and finally the ship came to rest on Mount Nitsir. To discover whether the waters were abating this Babylonian Noah sent out a dove, then a swallow, but both returned to the ship; after a space he sent out a raven, and the raven drew near, "wading and croaking," but did not come back. Then Ut-Napishtim and all his household came out and offered a libation and burnt incense on the mountain-peak. The gods descended and hovered round him, and the lady of the gods swore by her necklace of lapis lazuli (an amulet) that she would not forget the days of the deluge. Bel, who seems to have been the prime mover in the destruction of mankind, was wroth when he discovered the survivors, but at length, on the intervention of the other gods, he decided to raise Ut-Napishtim and his wife to the status of divinities and admit them to the council of the gods. After this, the pair were taken away and made to dwell at 'the mouth of the rivers.'


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