Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 72

[Pg 171]

At length he came to a mountain higher than the rest, the entrance to which was guarded by scorpion-men. This was Mashu, the Mountain of the Sunset, which lies on the western horizon, between the earth and the underworld. "Then he came to the mountain of Mashu, the portals of which are guarded every day by monsters; their backs mount up to the ramparts of heaven, and their foreparts reach down beneath Aralu. Scorpion-men guard the gate (of Mashu); they strike terror into men, and it is death to behold them. Their splendour is great, for it overwhelms the mountains; from sunrise to sunset they guard the sun. Gilgamesh beheld them, and his face grew dark with fear and terror, and the wildness of their aspect robbed him of his senses." On approaching the entrance to the mountain Gilgamesh found his way barred by these scorpion-men, who, perceiving the strain of divinity in him, did not blast him with their glance, but questioned him regarding his purpose in drawing near the mountain of Mashu. When Gilgamesh had replied to their queries, telling them how he wished to reach the abode of his ancestor, Ut-Napishtim, and there learn the secret of perpetual life and youthfulness, the scorpion-men advised him to turn back. Before him, they said, lay the region of thick darkness; for twelve kasbu (twenty-four hours) he would have to journey through the thick darkness ere he again emerged into the light of day. And so they refused to let him pass. But Gilgamesh implored, "with tears," says the narrative, and at length the monsters consented to admit him. Having passed the gate of the Mountain of the Sunset (by virtue of his character as a solar deity) Gilgamesh traversed the region of thick darkness during the space of twelve[Pg 172] kasbu. Toward the end of that period the darkness became ever less pronounced; finally it was broad day, and Gilgamesh found himself in a beautiful garden or park studded with trees, among which was the tree of the gods, thus charmingly depicted in the text—"Precious stones it bore as fruit, branches hung from it which were beautiful to behold. The top of the tree was lapis-lazuli, and it was laden with fruit which dazzled the eye of him that beheld." Having paused to admire the beauty of the scene, Gilgamesh bent his steps shoreward.

The Xth tablet describes the hero's encounter with the sea-goddess Sabitu, who, on the approach of one "who had the appearance of a god, in whose body was grief, and who looked as though he had made a long journey," retired into her palace and fastened the door. But Gilgamesh, knowing that her help was necessary to bring him to the dwelling of Ut-Napishtim, told her of his quest, and in despair threatened to break down the door unless she opened to him. At last Sabitu consented to listen to him whilst he asked the way to Ut-Napishtim. Like the scorpion-men, the sea-goddess perceived that Gilgamesh was not to be turned aside from his quest, so at last she bade him go to Adad-Ea, Ut-Napishtim's ferryman, without whose aid, she said, it would be futile to persist further in his mission. Adad-Ea, likewise, being consulted by Gilgamesh, advised him to desist, but the hero, pursuing his plan of intimidation, began to smash the ferryman's boat with his axe, whereupon Adad-Ea was obliged to yield. He sent his would-be passenger into the forest for a new rudder, and after that the two sailed away.

[Pg 173]

Gilgamesh and Ut-Napishtim

Ut-Napishtim was indeed surprised when he beheld Gilgamesh approaching the strand. The hero had meanwhile contracted a grievous illness, so that he was unable to leave the boat; but he addressed his queries concerning perpetual life to the deified Ut-Napishtim, who stood on the shore. The hero of the flood was exceeding sorrowful, and explained that death is the common lot of mankind, "nor is it given to man to know the hour when the hand of death will fall upon him—the Annunaki, the great gods, decree fate, and with them Mammetum, the maker of destiny, and they determine death and life, but the days of death are not known."

The narrative is continued without interruption into the XIth tablet. Gilgamesh listened with pardonable scepticism to the platitudes of his ancestor. "'I behold thee, Ut-Napishtim, thy appearance differs not from mine, thou art like unto me, thou art not otherwise than I am; thou art like unto me, thy heart is stout for the battle ... how hast thou entered the assembly of the gods; how hast thou found life?'"

The Deluge Myth

In reply Ut-Napishtim introduces the story of the Babylonian deluge, which, told as it is without interruption, forms a separate and complete narrative, and is in itself a myth of exceptional interest. Presumably the warning of the deluge came to Ut-Napishtim in a vision. The voice of the god said: 'Thou man of Shurippak, son of Ubara-Tutu, pull down thy house, build a ship, forsake thy possessions, take heed for thy life! Abandon thy goods, save thy life, and bring up living seed of every kind into[Pg 174] the ship.' The ship itself was to be carefully planned and built according to Ea's instructions. When the god had spoken Ut-Napishtim promised obedience to the divine command. But he was still perplexed as to how he should answer the people when they asked the reason for his preparations. Ea therefore instructed him how he should make reply, 'Bel hath cast me forth, for he hateth me.' The purpose of this reply seems clear, though the remaining few lines of it are rather broken. Ea intends that Ut-Napishtim shall disarm the suspicions of the people by declaring that the object of his shipbuilding and his subsequent departure is to escape the wrath of Bel, which he is to depict as falling on him alone. He must prophesy the coming of the rain, but must represent it, not as a devastating flood, but rather as a mark of the prosperity which Bel will grant to the people of Shurippak, perhaps by reason of his (Ut-Napishtim's) departure therefrom.

The Babylonian Ark

Ut-Napishtim employed many people in the construction of the ship. During four days he gathered the material and built the ship; on the fifth he laid it down; on the sixth he loaded it; and by the seventh day it was finished. On a hull 120 cubits wide was constructed a great deck-house 120 cubits high, divided into six stories, each of which was divided in turn into nine rooms. The outside of the ship was made water-tight with bitumen, and the inside with pitch. To signalise the completion of his vessel, Ut-Napishtim gave a great feast, like that which was wont to be held on New Year's Day; oxen were slaughtered and great quantities of wine[Pg 175] and oil provided. According to the command of Ea, Ut-Napishtim brought into the ship all his possessions, his silver and his gold,[3] living seed of every kind, all his family and household, the cattle and beasts of the field, the handicraftsmen, all that was his.