Sit and I shall tell you a story. I shall tell you a story of a story that has
been corrupted and changed, but I shall tell it to you in a real voice. I
shall tell you the truth.
This is the story of Humbaba, guardian of the evergreen forest, and the beginnings of the
first recorded clear cut in history. Once the "fertile crescent" was a land of vast
forests, filled with cedar and pine, but now it is mostly desert.
This is a story that you may have heard before. But if you have, you do not know
this story by the name "Humbaba". You have heard it called "the Story of Gilgamesh."
Gilgamesh was 2 parts divine and 1 part mortal. He was the son of Ninsun the
wise and Lugalbanda. His body was strong and perfect. He would walk
with his head held high and all would follow his lead. And Gilgamesh
knew he was strong. He was strong and proud as a bull. He knew that if
he said "fight" all would fight with him. He knew that if he made trouble,
none would dare reproach him. He called himself the King of Uruk.
Gilgamesh would bother and bully young men, whether they wished for his
attention or not. Gilgamesh would push himself on young women, whether
they wished for his attention or not. It mattered not if they were the
daughters of warriors, or brides of young men. Gilgamesh knew no one
would fight him and so he took what he wanted and did as he pleased. And
because he was part God himself, he did not even fear the Gods.
Day and night the people appealed to the Gods: help us defend ourselves
against Gilgamesh, bind Gilgamesh, punish Gilgamesh; but the Gods did not
grant the wishes of the people. Gilgamesh was their own doing and they
did not know how to undo him.
Aruru, the Mother Goddess, the Goddess Who had first made people out of
clay, said "at least I can create another to occupy his time; someone who
would be his equal, except this one will know to heed the Gods and to be
kind to people. It will be the choice of Gilgamesh. Either this man will
render Gilgamesh harmless by fighting him or he will teach him some
regard for others."
She took a bit of clay and formed it in the image of Anu. She set him in
the open country. She covered him with hair and made him a fierce and
wild warrior. This is how Enkidu was born. He had beautiful long hair on
his head. He knew neither of people nor civilization. He ate alongside the
gazelles and he drank alongside the cattle. He was the champion of the
One day a trapper named Shaugashush went to examine his traps and he
found that his pits had been filled. His pits had been filled so that he
would not capture large animals. He made some more traps and decided to
watch them to see what had happened. Then he discovered Enkidu. The
trapper was so frightened and surprised that he ran home and told his
father about the wild man he had seen.
The trapper's father told his son that to stop the wild man from
destroying the traps, the trapper should find him a courtesan from the
Temple of Ishtar. After the wild man has spent time with her, he will
smell foreign to the animals and they will reject him. Then he will have
no choice but to become civilized.
On his way to find a courtesan, he stopped to see Gilgamesh and told him
of the wild man who was filling in his trap pits. Gilgamesh also thought
it was a good idea to bring a courtesan to the wild man. Together they
brought the courtesan, Shamhat, to the place where the trapper had seen
the wild man.
The three of them waited at the watering place. After one day, Enkidu,
the wild man, came to drink with the cattle. Shamhat approached him.
She bared her breast and she opened her skirt. To Enkidu, the wild man,
Shamhat made inviting gestures. Enkidu accepted the invitation. For six
days and seven nights, Enkidu was totally occupied with Shamhat. He
lavished upon her and he poured his water of love into her.
When Enkidu was finally satiated, he turned towards the wild beasts
again, but the gazelles ran away when they saw him. The cattle kept their
distance. He had bathed to please Shamhat and he smelled too clean. He
had exhausted himself with pleasure and he could no longer keep pace
with the cattle. And worse than that, he had started to reason like a
Not knowing what to do, he turned back to look at Shamhat. Shamhat said
to him "Enkidu, you have changed. You are no longer like an animal. You
have become much more like a God. Why should you live with the beasts?
Let me take you with me back to the Temples of Ishtar and Anu; to the
land where Gilgamesh, the man who sent me to you, is the strongest and
most powerful of all the people.
Enkidu said "I shall challenge this Gilgamesh and punish him for plotting
to change me. I shall defeat him."
But Shamhat protested. "No, Enkidu, do not challenge Gilgamesh, because
he is beloved of the Gods. They will protect him, Enkidu. Besides,
Gilgamesh had dreams about you before he met you. He had dreams that he
didn't understand so he told his Mother about them, and his Mother, the
Goddess Ninsun-the-Wise told Gilgamesh that his dreams meant that he
would meet a man, a man as strong as he, who would be his dear
companion. He would be like a brother to him. He would be like a wife to
him. And they would love and protect each other."
Shamhat gave Enkidu a piece of her clothing to cover his nakedness.
Enkidu followed Shamhat to the City of Uruk. All along the way people
stared and pointed and whispered. Enkidu was not accustomed to this
much attention. His impulse was to run. But where would he run to?
Enkidu noticed that all these people were dressed in clothes. Enkidu was
barely covered with part of Shamhat's skirt. A few of the people
approached him and pleaded "Oh Enkidu, save us from the tyrant
But when Shamhat and Enkidu arrived at Uruk, they found the people all
dressed in festive dress, celebrating in the streets. There was music and
dance, food and drink. Enkidu stared. He had never seen such activity as
this. Soon they heard the footsteps of a procession and all the other
activity stopped. The people parted at the road to make way for the
procession. There was a marching band of temple officials playing the
Ishtar Instruments: the double pipe, the drum, and the lyre. And who do
you suppose was riding in the Chariot of Glory in this procession?
Gilgamesh. He was dressed in a warrior's uniform. All his brass was
shiny. All his iron was gleaming.
When the procession reached Shamhat and Enkidu, Gilgamesh stood up in
the chariot and all was quiet and still. "Welcome to Uruk, Enkidu," says
Gilgamesh. "This is your welcoming party. You must be my guest at the
Temple of Anu. Climb aboard my chariot, Enkidu and Shamhat, and we will
Shamhat allowed Gilgamesh to lift her into the chariot. Enkidu climbed
into the chariot. Shamhat sat between Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Gilgamesh
put his hand on Shamhat's thigh.
The Procession continued and the Chariot rode all around the city of Uruk,
and all the people saw Gilgamesh and Enkidu and cheered. Finally they
stopped at the Temple of Anu. Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and Shamhat went into
the temple. In the temple a feast was set.
Gilgamesh said to Enkidu "It is our custom to honor guests with food and
drink. You have had a long journey. Please permit the temple personnel to
bath you and massage you. Then they shall cloth you and we shall sit at
the table and feast."
Enkidu does not want to leave Shamhat. He does not know these people
and he is in a strange place. Mulliltu, the priest of Anu, comes to get
Enkidu to take him to his bath. "You can come with me, Enkidu. I will
make sure Shamhat is safe. She will be here waiting for you after you are
Enkidu follows Mulliltu. Enkidu is bathed and massaged. Then Mulliltu
leads him to Shamhat. Shamhat and Gilgamesh are together. They are
laughing and teasing while they are choosing between two garments.
Which one should Enkidu wear? Enkidu is hurt and angry, but he does not
They select the second garment for him and he puts it on. See how strong
and sturdy he looks. See his arm muscles. The temple care-takers seat
him at the feast table with Gilgamesh and Shamhat. They put food before
him. They put drink before him. He does not eat nor drink. He narrows his
eyes and stares at Gilgamesh. Enkidu does not know how to drink from a
vessel. He does not know how to eat bread.
Gilgamesh challenges Enkidu to a drinking dual. He brings the largest
drinking vessels filled with beer. Gilgamesh drinks the first vessel
without stopping. Enkidu drinks seven. Gilgamesh eats some of the bread.
Enkidu eats some of the bread. Enkidu is feeling relaxed and joyful. He is
clothed like a warrior. He starts to feel more comfortable around people.
When Enkidu leaves the Temple of Anu, the people of Uruk gather around
him. They kiss his feet. They praise him. They ask him to protect them.
Enkidu takes a weapon and joins the sheepfold. He beats off wolves. He
drives off lions. Enkidu who was once the champion of all animals now
protects men against the animals.
So Enkidu guarded the sheepfold and grew comfortable with human
companionship. Because he protected the sheep so well, he was revered.
In gratitude the shepherds brought him fine food and drink. Enkidu
remained well groomed and the temple courtesan, Shamhat, visited him
frequently as his companion, his sexual partner, and his teacher of high
One day when Enkidu was merrily enjoying Shamhat's company, a young
man approached him. The young man was running fast. He was in a great
hurry. Enkidu consulted with Shamhat. "He must be running to see me to
tell me of some emergency. Let me speak with him. " Shamhat called the
man over to them. Then Enkidu asked him "Young man, why are you in such
a rush. What is your trouble? "
The young man explains. My time has come to choose a bride. Such are the
ways of our people. I am to go to the Grand Hall of Choosing, which our
people have named the House of the Father-in-Law. There I will set a
feast of fine foods. I have learned all the favorite foods of the family of
the bride I will choose.
Only, before I may have sexual relations with my
new bride, Gilgamesh will have sexual relations with her, right there, within the
Grand Hall of Choosing. He claims this as his right. It matters not that I
do not want this. It matters not that she does not want this. My dear
bride..." The young man's face was pale.
Enkidu turns to Shamhat, "I do not understand this custom, are these
words true? " Shamhat replies "Yes, the words are true. Gilgamesh has
always claimed this as his birthright. He says the Gods have ordained it
for him. It has caused much unhappiness with the people, but no one will
dare challenge Gilgamesh."
Enkidu says "Then the Gods have answered the people's prayers, for I will
challenge Gilgamesh and put a stop to this custom."
Enkidu and Shamhat both hurried from the open country into the City of
Uruk. As Enkidu heads towards the Grand Hall of Choosing the people
gather around him. They adore him with words. They say "look how strong
and sturdy he is. He has the strength of all the beasts of the open country.
He is strong as the mountains from which he was born. He is shorter than
Gilgamesh, but sturdier. At last we have found one who can challenge
Gilgamesh." They kiss his feet.
Gilgamesh approaches the Grand Hall of Choosing. Enkidu puts himself in
front of Gilgamesh and blocks his way. Enkidu bars Gilgamesh from
entering the door at the Grand Hall of Choosing. Gilgamesh and Enkidu
wrestle with each other at the door. They wrestle in the street. They
wrestle in the public square. They lock horns like bulls. Doorframes
shake and walls quake.
They fight and they fight. Gilgamesh fights with the strength of a man
who is 2/3 God and Enkidu fights like a fierce lion. Like a lion Enkidu
tears at Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh lunges at Enkidu with the strength of 40
men. The ground shakes, their shouts are as loud as thunder. They smash
carts and wagons. They frighten horses and dogs. The people all watch
from a distance.
They fight for hours. Finally, Gilgamesh is exhausted. He can no longer
swing at Enkidu, nor wrestle with him because his strength has failed
him. Enkidu is also tired, but not as tired as Gilgamesh. Enkidu could kill
Gilgamesh calls to his mother, the Goddess Ninsun the wise. "Mother how
could I have been so foolish. You gave me life and I have squandered it. I
am only 2/3 God and I know that I must die. I could die now if Enkidu
chooses to kill me. I have done nothing important with my life and I will
be soon forgotten. Look at him. He was born in the open country. His hair
is wild and loose. He knows the ways of the animals. How could I have
expected to beat him in combat? "
Enkidu hears Gilgamesh. Then Enkidu's eyes filled with tears.
Gilgamesh looked at Enkidu. "Why are you crying? " he asks.
|Restored: November 15, 1997
Posted: March 20, 2005
Updated: January 10, 2009