Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 95

Gilgamesh was a heroic form of the god Tammuz, the slayer of the demons of winter and storm, who passed one part of the year in the world and another in Hades (Chapter VI).

Like Hercules, Gilgamesh figured chiefly in legendary narrative as a mighty hero. He was apparently of great antiquity, so that it is impossible to identify him with any forerunner of Sargon of Akkad, or Alexander the Great. His exploits were depicted on cylinder seals of the Sumerian period, and he is shown wrestling with a lion as Hercules wrestled with the monstrous lion in the valley of Nemea. The story of his adventures was narrated on twelve clay tablets, which were preserved in the library of Ashur-banipal, the Assyrian emperor. In the first tablet, which is badly mutilated, Gilgamesh is referred to as the man who beheld the world, and had great wisdom because he peered into the mysteries. He travelled to distant places, and was informed regarding the flood and the primitive race which the gods destroyed; he also obtained the plant of life, which his enemy, the earth-lion, in the form of a serpent or well demon, afterwards carried away.

Gilgamesh was associated with Erech, where he reigned as "the lord". There Ishtar had a great temple, but her worldly wealth had decreased. The fortifications of the city were crumbling, and for three years the Elamites besieged it. The gods had turned to flies and the winged bulls had become like mice. Men wailed like wild beasts and maidens moaned like doves. Ultimately the people prayed to the goddess Aruru to create a liberator. Bel, Shamash, and Ishtar also came to their aid.

Aruru heard the cries of her worshippers. She dipped her hands in water and then formed a warrior with clay. He was named Ea-bani, which signifies "Ea is my creator". It is possible, therefore, that an ancient myth of Eridu forms the basis of the narrative.

Ea-bani is depicted on the cylinder seals as a hairy man-monster resembling the god Pan. He ate grass with the gazelles and drank water with wild beasts, and he is compared to the corn god, which suggests that he was an early form of Tammuz, and of character somewhat resembling the Egyptian Bast, the half-bestial god of fertility. A hunter was sent out from Erech to search for the man-monster, and found him beside a stream in a savage place drinking with his associates, the wild animals. The description of Ea-bani recalls that of Nebuchadnezzar when he was stricken with madness. "He was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles' feathers, and his nails like birds' claws."[207]

The hunter had no desire to combat with Ea-bani, so he had him lured from the wilds by a beautiful woman. Love broke the spell which kept Ea-bani in his savage state, and the wild beasts fled from him. Then the temptress pleaded with him to go with her to Erech, where Anu and Ishtar had their temples, and the mighty Gilgamesh lived in his palace. Ea-bani, deserted by his bestial companions, felt lonely and desired human friendship. So he consented to accompany his bride. Having heard of Gilgamesh from the hunter, he proposed to test his strength in single combat, but Shamash, god of the sun, warned Ea-bani that he was the protector of Gilgamesh, who had been endowed with great knowledge by Bel and Anu and Ea. Gilgamesh was also counselled in a vision of night to receive Ea-bani as an ally.

Ea-bani was not attracted by city life and desired to return to the wilds, but Shamash prevailed upon him to remain as the friend of Gilgamesh, promising that he would be greatly honoured and exalted to high rank.

The two heroes became close friends, and when the narrative becomes clear again, they are found to be setting forth to wage war against Chumbaba,[208] the King of Elam. Their journey was long and perilous. In time they entered a thick forest, and wondered greatly at the numerous and lofty cedars. They saw the great road which the king had caused to be made, the high mountain, and the temple of the god. Beautiful were the trees about the mountain, and there were many shady retreats that were fragrant and alluring.