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Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 75

kasbu they left an offering (presumably for the dead), and when they had journeyed thirty kasbu, they repeated a funeral chant. The narrative goes on: "Gilgamesh saw a well of fresh water, he went down to it and offered a libation. A serpent smelled the odour of the plant, advanced ... and carried off the plant. Gilgamesh sat down and wept, the tears ran down his cheeks." He lamented bitterly the loss of the precious plant, seemingly predicted to him when he made his offering at the end of twenty kasbu. At length they reached Erech, when Gilgamesh sent Adad-Ea to enquire concerning the building of the city walls, a proceeding which has possibly some mythological significance.

The XIIth tablet opens with the lament of Gilgamesh for his friend Eabani, whose loss he has not ceased to deplore. "Thou canst no longer stretch thy bow upon the earth; and those who were slain with the bow are round about thee. Thou canst no longer bear a sceptre in thy hand; and the spirits of the dead have taken thee captive. Thou canst no longer wear shoes upon thy feet; thou canst no longer raise thy war-cry on the earth. No more dost thou kiss thy wife whom thou didst love; no more dost thou smite thy wife whom thou didst hate. No more dost[Pg 180] thou kiss thy daughter whom thou didst love; no more dost thou smite thy daughter whom thou didst hate. The sorrow of the underworld hath taken hold upon thee."[4] Gilgamesh went from temple to temple, making offerings and desiring the gods to restore Eabani to him; to Ninsum he went, to Bel, and to Sin, the moon-god, but they heeded him not. At length he cried to Ea, who took compassion on him and persuaded Nergal to bring the shade of Eabani from the underworld. A hole was opened in the earth and the spirit of the dead man issued therefrom like a breath of wind. Gilgamesh addressed Eabani thus: "Tell me, my friend, tell me, my friend; the law of the earth which thou hast seen, tell me." Eabani answered him: "I cannot tell thee, my friend, I cannot tell thee." But afterwards, having bidden Gilgamesh "sit down and weep," he proceeded to tell him of the conditions which prevailed in the underworld, contrasting the lot of the warrior duly buried with that of a person whose corpse is cast uncared for into the fields. "On a couch he lieth, and drinketh pure water, the man who was slain in battle—thou and I have oft seen such an one—his father and his mother (support) his head, and his wife (kneeleth) at his side. But the man whose corpse is cast upon the field—thou and I have oft seen such an one—his spirit resteth not in the earth. The man whose spirit has none to care for it—thou and I have oft seen such an one—the dregs of the vessel, the leavings of the feast, and that which is cast out upon the streets, are his food." Upon this solemn note the epic closes.

[Pg 181]

The doctrine of the necessity for ministering to the dead is here enunciated in no uncertain fashion. Unless their bodies are decently buried and offerings of food and drink made at their graves, their lives in the otherworld must be abjectly miserable. The manner in which they meet their end is likewise taken into account, and warriors who have fallen on the field of battle are pre-eminently fortunate. Eabani is evidently one of the 'happy' spirits; his ghost is designated utukku, a name applied not only to the fortunate dead, but likewise to a class of beneficent supernatural beings. The term edimmu, on the other hand, designates a species of malevolent being as well as the errant and even vampirish spirits of the unhappy dead. The due observance of funeral and commemorative rites is thus a matter which touches the interests not only of the deceased but also of his relatives and friends.

We have seen from the foregoing that the epic of Gilgamesh is partly historical, partly mythological. Around the figure of a great national hero myths have grown and twined with the passing of the generations, and these have in time become woven into a connected narrative, setting forth a myth which corresponds to the daily or annual course of the sun. Within this may be discerned other myths and fragments of myths—solar, seasonal, and diluvian.


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