Cultures

Sumerian Tablets: Gilgamesh and his hairy friend Enkidu journey to the sky abode of the gods


Sumerian Tablets: Gilgamesh and his hairy friend Enkidu journey to the sky abode of the gods

Excerpts from ‘Chariots of the Gods’, by Erich Von Daniken, 1968

It is an established fact that the original version of the Epic of Gilgamesh stems from the Sumerians, that mysterious people whose origin we do not know, but who left behind the astonishing fifteen-digit number and a very advanced astronomy. It is also clear that the main thread of the Epic of Gilgamesh runs parallel to the biblical Book of Genesis.

The first clay tablet of the Kuyunjik finds relates that the victorious hero Gilgamesh built the wall around Uruk. We read that the “god of heaven” lived in a stately home which contained granaries, and that guards stood on the town walls. We learn that Gilgamesh was a mixture of “god” and man –two-thirds “god,” one third man. Pilgrims who came to Uruk gazed up at him in fear and trembling because they had never seen his like for beauty and strength. In other words, the beginning of the narrative contains the idea of interbreeding between “god” and man yet again.

The second tablet tells us that another figure, Enkidu, was created by the goddess of heaven, Aruru. Erkidu is described in great detail. His whole body was covered with hair; he wore skins, ate grass in the fields, and drank at the same watering place as the cattle. He also disported himself in the tumbling waters.

When Gilgamesh, the king of the town of Uruk, heard about this unattractive creature, he suggested that he should be given a lovely woman so that he would become estranged from the cattle. Enkidu, innocent fellow, was taken in by the king’s trick and spent six days and six nights with a semi-divine beauty. This little bit of royal pandering leads us to think that the idea of cross-breeding between a demigod and a half-animal was not taken quite as a matter of course in this barbaric world.

The third tablet goes on to tell us about a cloud of dust which came from the distance. The heavens roared, the earth quaked, and finally the “sun god” came and seized Enkidu with mighty wings and claws. We read in astonishment that he lay like lead on Enkidu’s body and that the weight of his body seemed to him like the weight of a boulder.

The fifth tablet narrates how Gilgamesh and Enkidu set out to visit the abode of the “gods” together. The tower in which the goddess Irninis lived could be seen gleaming in the distance long before they reached it. The arrows and missiles which the cautious wanderers rained on the guards rebounded harmlessly. And as they reached the precinct of the “gods,” a voice roared at them: “Turn back! No mortal comes to the holy mountain where the gods dwell; he who looks the gods in the face must die.”

On the seventh tablet is the first eyewitness account of a space trip, told by Enkidu. He flew for four hours held in the brazen talons of an eagle. This is how his story goes literally:

“He said to me: ‘Look down at the land. What does it look like? Look at the sea. How does it seem to you?’ And the land was like a mountain and the sea was like a lake. And again he flew for four hours and said to me: ‘Look down at the land. What does it look like? Look at the sea. How does it seem to you?’ And the earth was like a garden and the sea like the water channel of a gardener. And he flew higher yet another four hours and spake: ‘Look down at the land. What does it look like? Look at the sea. How does it seem to you?’ And the land looked like porridge and the sea like a water trough.”

And on the eighth tablet this same Enkidu, who must have seen the earth from a considerable height, dies of a mysterious disease, so mysterious that Gilgamesh asks whether he may not have been smitten by the poisonous breath of a heavenly beast.

The ninth tablet describes how Gilgamesh mourns for the death of his friend Enkidu and decides to undertake a long journey to the gods, because he is obsessed by the idea that he might die of the same disease as Enkidu. The narrative says that Gilgamesh came to two mountains which supported the heavens and that these two mountains arched the gate of the sun. At the gate of the sun he met two giants, and after a lengthy discussion they let him pass because he was two-thirds god himself. Finally Gilgamesh found the garden of the gods, beyond which stretched the endless sea.

While Gilgamesh was on his way, the gods warned him twice: “Gilgamesh, whither art thou hurrying? Thou shalt not find the life that thou seekest. When the gods created man, they allotted him to death, but life they retained in their own keeping.”

Gilgamesh would not be warned; he wanted to reach Utnapishtim, the father of men, no matter what the dangers. But Utnapishtim lived on the far side of the great sea; no road led to him and no ship flew across it except the sun god’s. Braving all kinds of perils Gilgamesh crossed the sea. Then follows his encounter with Utnapishtim, which is described in the eleventh tablet.

Gilgamesh found the figure of the father of men neither bigger nor broader than his own, and he said that they resembled each other like father and son. Then Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh about his past, strangely enough in the first person.

To our amazement we are given a detailed description of the Flood. He recounts that the “gods” warned him of the great flood to come and gave him the task of building a boat on which he was to shelter women and children, his relatives, and craftsmen of every kind. The description of the violent storm, the darkness, the rising flood, and the despair of the people he could not take with him has tremendous narrative power even today. We also hear, just as in Noah’s account in the Bible, the story of the raven and the dove that were released and how finally, as the waters went down, the boat grounded on a mountain.

The parallel between the stories of the Flood in the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Bible is beyond doubt, and there is not a single scholar who contests it. The fascinating thing about this parallelism is that we are dealing with different omens and different “gods” in this case… If the account of the Flood in the Bible is a second-hand one, the first-person form of Utnapishtim’s narrative shows that a survivor, an eyewitness, was speaking in the Epic of Gilgamesh.

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