Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 99

over him. From the surviving fragments of the narrative it would appear that Gilgamesh resolved to undertake a journey, for he had been stricken by disease. He wept and cried out, "Oh! let me not die like Ea-bani, for death is fearful. I will seek the aid of mine ancestor, Pir-napishtim"--the Babylonian Noah, who was believed to be dwelling on an island which corresponds to the Greek "Island of the Blessed". The Babylonian island lay in the ocean of the Nether World.

It seems that Gilgamesh not only hoped to obtain the Water of Life and the Plant of Life to cure his own disease, but also to restore to life his dead friend, Ea-bani, whom he loved.

Gilgamesh set out on his journey and in time reached a mountain chasm. Gazing on the rugged heights, he beheld fierce lions and his heart trembled. Then he cried upon the moon god, who took pity upon him, and under divine protection the hero pressed onward. He crossed the rocky range and then found himself confronted by the tremendous mountain of Mashi--"Sunset hill", which divided the land of the living from the western land of the dead. The mountain peak rose to heaven, and its foundations were in Aralu, the Underworld.[210] A dark tunnel pierced it and could be entered through a door, but the door was shut and on either side were two monsters of horrible aspect--the gigantic "scorpion man" and his wife, whose heads reached to the clouds. When Gilgamesh beheld them he swooned with terror. But they did him no harm, perceiving that he was a son of a god and had a body like a god.

When Gilgamesh revived, he realized that the monsters regarded him with eyes of sympathy. Addressing the scorpion giant, he told that he desired to visit his ancestor, Pir-napishtim, who sat in the council of the gods and had divine attributes. The giant warned him of the dangers which he would encounter, saying that the mountain passage was twelve miles long and beamless and black. Gilgamesh, however, resolved to encounter any peril, for he was no longer afraid, and he was allowed to go forward. So he entered through the monster-guarded mountain door and plunged into thick unbroken darkness. For twice twelve hours he groped blindly onward, until he saw a ray of light. Quickening his steps, he then escaped from the dreadful tunnel and once more rejoiced in the rays of the sun. He found himself in an enchanted garden, and in the midst of it he saw a divine and beautiful tree towards which he hastened. On its gleaming branches hung clusters of precious stones and its leaves were of lapis lazuli. His eyes were dazzled, but he did not linger there. Passing many other wonderful trees, he came to a shoreland, and he knew that he was drawing nigh to the Sea of Death. The country which he entered was ruled over by the sea lady whose name was Sabitu. When she saw the pilgrim drawing nigh, she entered her palace and shut the door.

Gilgamesh called out requesting that he should be allowed to enter, and mingled his entreaties with threats to break open the door. In the end Sabitu appeared and spoke, saying:

Gilgamesh, whither hurriest thou?
The life that thou seekest thou wilt not find.
When the gods created man
They fixed death for mankind.
Life they took in their own hand.
Thou, O Gilgamesh, let thy belly be filled!
Day and night be merry,
Daily celebrate a feast,
Day and night dance and make merry!
Clean be thy clothes,
Thy head be washed, bathe in water!
Look joyfully on the child that grasps thy hand,
Be happy with the wife in thine arms![211]

This is the philosophy of the Egyptian "Lay of the Harper". The following quotations are from two separate versions:--

How rests this just prince!
The goodly destiny befalls,
The bodies pass away
Since the time of the god,
And generations come into their places.
* * * * *
(Make) it pleasant for thee to follow thy desire
While thou livest.
Put myrrh upon thy head,
And garments on thee of fine linen....
Celebrate the glad day,
Be not weary therein....
Thy sister (wife) who dwells in thy heart.
She sits at thy side.
Put song and music before thee,
Behind thee all evil things,
And remember thou (only) joy.[212]

Jastrow contrasts the Babylonian poem with the following quotation from Ecclesiastes:--

Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with
a merry heart.... Let thy garments be always white; and
let thy head lack no ointment. Live joyfully with the wife whom
thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he [God]
hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that
is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest
under the sun.[213]

"The pious Hebrew mind", Jastrow adds, "found the corrective to this view of life in the conception of a stern but just God, acting according to self-imposed standards of right and wrong, whose rule extends beyond the grave." The final words of the Preacher are, "Fear God and keep his commandments".[214]

Gilgamesh did not accept the counsel of the fatalistic sea lady. He asked her how he could reach Pir-napishtim, his ancestor, saying he was prepared to cross the Sea of Death: if he could not cross it he would die of grief.

Sabitu answered him, saying: "O Gilgamesh, no mortal is ferried over this great sea. Who can pass over it save Shamash alone? The way is full of peril. O Gilgamesh, how canst thou battle against the billows of death?"

At length, however, the sea lady revealed to the pilgrim that he might obtain the aid of the sailor, Arad Ea, who served his ancestor Pir-napishtim.

Gilgamesh soon found where Arad Ea dwelt, and after a time prevailed upon him to act as ferryman. Arad Ea required a helm for his boat, and Gilgamesh hastened to fashion one from a tree. When it was fixed on, the boat was launched and the voyage began. Terrible experiences were passed through as they crossed the Sea of Death, but at length they drew nigh to the "Island of the Blessed" on which dwelt Pir-napishtim and his wife. Wearied by his exertions and wasted by disease, Gilgamesh sat resting in the boat. He did not go ashore.

Pir-napishtim had perceived the vessel crossing the Sea of Death and marvelled greatly.

The story is unfortunately interrupted again, but it appears that Gilgamesh poured into the ears of his ancestor the tale of his sufferings, adding that he feared death and desired to escape his fate.

Pir-napishtim made answer, reminding the pilgrim that all men must die. Men built houses, sealed contracts, disputed one with another, and sowed seeds in the earth, but as long as they did so and the rivers rose in flood, so long would their fate endure. Nor could any man tell when his hour would come. The god of destiny measured out the span of life: he fixed the day of death, but never revealed his secrets.

Gilgamesh then asked Pir-napishtim how it chanced that he was still alive. "Thou hast suffered no change," he said, "thou art even as I am. Harden not thy heart against me, but reveal how thou hast obtained divine life in the company of the gods."

Pir-napishtim thereupon related to his descendant the story of the deluge, which is dealt with fully in the next chapter. The gods had resolved to destroy the world, and Ea in a dream revealed unto Pir-napishtim how he could escape. He built a ship which was tossed about on the waters, and when the world had been destroyed, Bel discovered him and transported him to that island in the midst of the Sea of Death.

Gilgamesh sat in the boat listening to the words of his ancestor. When the narrative was ended, Pir-napishtim spoke sympathetically and said: "Who among the gods will restore thee to health, O Gilgamesh? Thou hast knowledge of my life, and thou shalt be given the life thou dost strive after. Take heed, therefore, to what I say unto thee. For six days and seven nights thou shalt not lie down, but remain sitting like one in the midst of grief."[215]

Gilgamesh sat in the ship, and sleep enveloped him like to a black storm cloud.

Pir-napishtim spoke to his wife and said: "Behold the hero who desireth to have life. Sleep envelops him like to a black storm cloud."

To that lone man his wife made answer: "Lay thine hand upon him so that he may have perfect health and be enabled to return to his own land. Give him power to pass through the mighty door by which he entered."

Then Pir-napishtim addressed his wife, saying: "His sufferings make me sad. Prepare thou for him the magic food, and place it near his head."

On the day when Gilgamesh lay down, the food was prepared by seven magic processes, and the woman administered it while yet he slept. Then Pir-napishtim touched him, and he awoke full of life.

Gilgamesh spake unto Pir-napishtim and said: "I was suddenly overcome by sleep.... But thou didst awaken me by touching me, even thou.... Lo! I am bewitched. What hast thou done unto thy servant?"

Then Pir-napishtim told Gilgamesh that he had been given to eat of the magic food. Afterwards he caused Arad Ea to carry Gilgamesh to a fountain of healing, where his disease-stricken body was cleansed. The blemished skin fell from him, and he was made whole.