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The Story of Humbaba

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 beasts.


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 civilized man.

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 Gilgamesh."

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 go together."

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 bathed."

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 speak.

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 culture.

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.

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
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