Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria
Page: 74The god Bel was very wroth when he discovered that a mortal man had survived the deluge, and vowed that Ut-Napishtim should perish. But Ea defended his action in having saved his favourite from destruction, pointing out that Bel had refused[Pg 177] to take counsel when he planned a universal disaster, and advising him in future to visit the sin on the sinner and not to punish the entire human race. Finally Bel was mollified. He approached the ship (into which it would appear that the remnants of the human race had retired during the altercation) and led Ut-Napishtim and his wife into the open, where he bestowed on them his blessing. "Then they took me," says Ut-Napishtim, "and afar off, at the mouth of the rivers, they made me to dwell."
Such is the story of the deluge which Ut-Napishtim told to Gilgamesh. No cause is assigned for the destruction of the human race other than the enmity which seems to have existed between man and the gods—particularly the warrior-god Bel. But it appears from the latter part of the narrative that in the assembly of the gods the majority contemplated only the destruction of the city of Shurippak, and not that of the entire human family. It has been suggested, indeed, that the story as it is here given is compounded of two separate myths, one relating to a universal catastrophe, perhaps a mythological type of a periodic inundation, and the other dealing with a local disaster such as might have been occasioned by a phenomenal overflow of the Euphrates.
The antiquity of the legend and its original character are clearly shown by comparison with another version of the myth, inscribed on a tablet found at Abu-Habbah (the ancient site of Sippar) and dated in the twenty-first century before our era. Notwithstanding the imperfect preservation of this text it is possible to perceive in it many points of resemblance to the Gilgamesh variant. Berossus also quotes a version of the deluge myth in his history, substituting Chronos for Ea, King Xisuthros for[Pg 178] Ut-Napishtim, and the city of Sippar for that of Shurippak. In this version immortality is bestowed not only on the hero and his wife, but also on his daughter and his pilot. One writer ingeniously identifies these latter with Sabitu and Adad-Ea respectively.
To return to the epic: The recital of Ut-Napishtim served its primary purpose in the narrative by proving to Gilgamesh that his case was not that of his deified ancestor. Meanwhile the hero had remained in the boat, too ill to come ashore; now Ut-Napishtim took pity on him and promised to restore him to health, first of all bidding him sleep during six days and seven nights. Gilgamesh listened to his ancestor's advice, and by and by "sleep, like a tempest, breathed upon him." Ut-Napishtim's wife, beholding the sleeping hero, was likewise moved with compassion, and asked her husband to send the traveller safely home. He in turn bade his wife compound a magic preparation, containing seven ingredients, and administer it to Gilgamesh while he slept. This was done, and an enchantment thus put upon the hero. When he awoke (on the seventh day) he renewed his importunate request for the secret of perpetual life. His host sent him to a spring of water where he might bathe his sores and be healed; and having tested the efficacy of the magic waters Gilgamesh returned once more to his ancestor's dwelling, doubtless to persist in his quest for life. Notwithstanding that Ut-Napishtim had already declared it impossible for Gilgamesh to attain immortality, he now directed him (apparently at the instance of his wife) to the place where he would find the plant of life, and instructed Adad-Ea to conduct him thither. The magic plant, which bestowed immortality and eternal[Pg 179] youth on him who ate of it, appears to have been a weed, a creeping plant, with thorns which pricked the hands of the gatherer; and, curiously enough, Gilgamesh seems to have sought it at the bottom of the sea. At length the plant was found, and the hero declared his intention of carrying it with him to Erech. And so he set out on the return journey, accompanied by the faithful ferryman not only on the first, and watery, stage of his travels, but also overland to the city of Erech itself. When they had journeyed twenty