Invitation to World Literature
The Epic of Gilgamesh The Epic of Gilgamesh – Read the Excerpt
The Epic of Gilgamesh
Translated by Andrew George
Penguin Classics, 1999
Tablet I. The Coming of Enkidu
He who saw the Deep, the country’s foundation
[who] knew…, was wise in all manners!
[Gilgamesh, who] saw the Deep, the country’s foundation,
[who] knew…, was wise in all matters!
[He] … everywhere…
and [learnt] of everything the sum of wisdom.
He saw what was secret, discovered what was hidden,
he brought back a tale of before the Deluge.
He came a far road, was weary, found peace,
and set all his labors on a tablet of stone.
He built the rampart of Uruk-the-Sheepfold,
of holy Eanna, the sacred storehouse.
See its wall like a strand of wool,
view its parapet that none could copy!
Take the stairway of a bygone era,
draw near to Eanna, seat of Ishtar the goddess,
that no later king could ever copy!
Climb Uruk’s wall and walk back and forth!
Survey its foundations, examine the brickwork!
Were its bricks not fired in an oven?
Did the Seven Sages not lay its foundation?
[A square mile is] city, [a square mile [date-grove, a square mile is
clay-pit, half a quarter mile the temple of Ishtar:
[three square miles] and a half is Uruk’s expanse.
[See] the tablet-box of cedar,
[release] its clasp of bronze!
[Lift] the lid of its secret,
[pick] up the tablet of lapis lazuli and read out
the travels of Gilgamesh, all that he went through.
Surpassing all other kings, heroic in stature,
brave scion of Uruk, wild bull on the rampage!
Going at the force he was the vanguard,
going at the rear, one his comrades could trust!
A mighty bank, protecting his warriors,
a violent flood-wave, smashing a stone wall!
Wild bull of Lugalbanda, Gilgamesh, the perfect in strength,
suckling of the august Wild Cow, the goddess Ninsun!
Gilgamesh the tall, magnificent and terrible,
who opened passes in the mountains,
who dug wells on the slopes of the uplands,
and crossed the ocean, the wide sea to the sunrise;
who scoured the world ever searching for life,
and reached through sheer force Uta-napishti the Distant;
who restored the cult-centers destroyed by the Deluge,
and set in place for the people the rites of the cosmos.
Who is there can rival his kingly standing,
and say like Gilgamesh, ‘It is I am the king’?
Gilgamesh was his name from the day he was born,
two-thirds of him god and one third human.
It was the Lady of the Gods drew the form of his figure,
While his build was perfected by divine Nudimmud.
* * *
A triple cubit was his foot, half a rod his leg.
Six cubits was his stride,
… cubits the front part of his …
His cheeks were bearded like those of …,
the hair of his head grew thickly [as barley.]
When he grew tall his beauty was consummate,
by earthly standards he was most handsome.
In Uruk-the-Sheepfold he walks [back and forth,]
like a wild bull lording it, head held aloft.
He has no equal when his weapons are brandished,
his companions are kept on their feet by his contests.
The young men of Uruk he harries without warrant,
Gilgamesh lets no son go free to his father.
By day and by night his tyranny grows harsher,
Gilgamesh, [the guide of the teeming people!]
It is he who is shepherd of Uruk-the-Sheepfold,
[but Gilgamesh] lets no [daughter go free to her] mother.
[The women voiced] their [troubles to the goddesses,]
[they brought their] complaint before [them:]
‘[Though powerful, pre-eminent,] expert [and mighty,]
[Gilgamesh] lets [no] girl go free to [her bridegroom.]’
The warrior’s daughter, the young man’s bride,
to their complaint the goddess paid heed.
The gods of haven, the lords of initiative,
[to the god Anu they spoke] …:
‘A savage wild bull you have bred in Uruk-the-Sheepfold,
he has no equal when his weapons are brandished.
‘His companions are kept on their feet by his contests,
[the young men of Uruk] he harries without warrant.
Gilgamesh lets no son go free to his father,
by day and by [night his tyranny grows] harsher.
‘Yet he is the shepherd of Uruk-the-Sheepfold,
Gilgamesh, [the guide of the] teeming [people]
Though he their shepherd and their [protector,]
powerful, pre-eminent, expert [and mighty,]
Gilgamesh lets no girl go free to her bride[groom.]’
The warrior’s daughter, the young man’s bride:
To their complaint the [Anu] paid heed.
The stanza which gives Anu’s reaction has been dropped in the late edition of the epic, but by good fortune it is preserved as a short extract from an older version of the text, which was written by a student on an exercise tablet found in the city of Nippur:
‘[Let] them summon [Aruru,] the great one,
[she it was created them,] mankind so numerous:
[let her create the equal of Gilgamesh,] one mighty in strength,
[and let] him vie [with him,] so Uruk may be rested!’
The text of Tablet I resumes:
They summoned Aruru, the great one:
‘You, Aruru, created [mankind:]
now fashion what Anu has thought of!
‘Let him be a match for the storm of his heart,
let them vie with each other, so Uruk may be rested’
The goddess Aruru heard these words,
What Anu had thought of she fashioned within her.
The goddess Aruru, she washed her hands,
took a pinch of clay, threw it down in the wild.
In the wild she created Enkidu, the hero,
offspring of silence, knit strong by Ninurta.
All his body is matted with hair,
he bears long tresses like those of a woman:
the hair of his head grows thickly as barley,
he knows not a people, nor even a country.
Coated in hair like the god of animals,
with the gazelles he grazes on grasses,
joining the throng with the game at the water-hole,
his heart delighting with the beasts in the water.
A hunter, a trapper-man,
did come upon him by the water-hole.
One day, a second and then a third,
he came upon him by the water-hole.
When the hunter saw him, his expression froze,
but he with his herds — he went back to his lair.
[The hunter was] troubled, subdued and silent,
his mood [was despondent,] his features gloomy.
In his heart there was sorrow,
his face resembled [one come from] afar.
The hunter opened [his mouth] to speak, saying [to his father:]
‘My father, there was a man came [by the water-hole.]
Mightiest in the land, strength [he possesses,]
[his strength] is as mighty [as a rock] from the sky.
‘Over the hills he [roams all day,]
[always] with the herd [he grazes on grasses,]
[always] his tracks [are found] by the water-hole,
[I am afraid and] I dare not approach him.
‘[He fills in the] pits that I [myself] dig,
[he pulls up] the snares that I lay.
[He sets free from my grasp] all the beasts of the field,
[he stops] me doing the work of the wild.’
[His father opened his mouth to] speak, saying to the hunter:
‘[My son, in the city of] Uruk [go seek out] Gilgamesh!
……… in his presence,
his strength is as mighty [as a rock from the sky.]
‘[Take the road,] set your face [toward Uruk,]
[do not rely on] the strength of a man!
[Go, my son, and] fetch [Shamhat the harlot,]
[her allure is a match] for even the mighty!
‘[When the herd comes] down [to] the water-hole,
[she should strip off] her [raiment to reveal] her charms.
[He will] see her, and he will approach her,
his herd will spurn him, [though he grew up ] amongst it.’
[Paying heed] to the advice of his father,
the hunter went off, [set out on the journey.]
He took the road, set [his face] toward Uruk,
Before Gilgamesh the king [he spoke these words:]
‘There was a man [came by the water-hole,]
mightiest in the land, strength [he possesses,]
[his strength] is as mighty as a rock from the sky.
‘Over the hills he roams all [day,]
always with the herd [he grazes on grasses,]
always his tracks [are found] by the water-[hole,]
I am afraid and I dare not approach [him.]
‘He fills in the pits that I [myself] dig,
he pulls up the snares [that I lay.]
He sets free from my grasp all the beasts of the field,
he stops me doing the work of the wild.’
Said Gilgamesh to him, to the hunter:
‘Go, hunter, take with you Shamhat the harlot!
‘When the herd comes down to the water-hole,
she should strip off her raiment to reveal her charms.
He will see her, and will approach her,
His herd will spurn him, though he grew up amongst it.’
Off went the hunter, taking Shamhat the harlot,
they set out on the road, they started the journey.
On the third day they came to their destination,
hunter and harlot sat down there to wait.
One day and a second they waited by the water-hole.
then the herd came down to drink the water.
The game arrived, their hearts delighted in water,
and Enkidu also, born in the uplands.
With the gazelles he grazed on grasses,
joining the throng with the game at the water-hole,
his heart delighting with the beasts in the water:
then Shamhat saw him, the child of nature,
the savage man from the midst of the wild.
‘This is he, Shamhat! Uncradle your bosom,
bare your sex, let him take in your charms!
Do not recoil, but take in his scent:
he will see you, and will approach you.
‘Spread your clothing so he may lie on you,
do for the man the work of a woman!
Let his passion caress and embrace you,
his herd will spurn him, though he grew up amongst in.’
Shamhat unfastened the cloth of her loins,
she bared her sex and he took in her charms.
She did not recoil, she took in his scent:
she spread her clothing and he lay upon her.
She did for the man the work of a woman,
his passion caressed and embraced her.
For six days and seven nights
Enkidu was erect, as he coupled with Shamhat.
When with her delights he was fully sated,
he turned his gaze to his herd.
The gazelles saw Enkidu, they started to run,
the beasts of the field shied away from his presence.
Enkidu had defiled his body so pure,
his legs stood still, though his herd was in motion.
Enkidu was weakened, could not run as before,
but now he had reason, and wide understanding.
He came back and sat at the feet of the harlot,
watching the harlot, observing her features.
Then to the harlot’s words he listened intently,
[as Shamhat] talked to him, to Enkidu:
‘You are handsome, Enkidu, you are just like a god!
Why with the beasts do you wander the wild?
Come, I will take you Uruk-the-Sheepfold,
to the sacred temple, home of Anu and Ishtar,
‘where Gilgamesh is perfect in strength,
like a wild bull lording it over the menfolk.’
So she spoke to him and her word found favour,
he knew by instinct, he should seek a friend.
Said Enkidu to her, to the harlot:
‘Come, Shamhat, take me along
to the sacred temple, holy home of Anu and Ishtar,
where Gilgamesh is perfect in strength,
like a wild bull lording it over the menfolk.
‘I will challenge him, for [my strength] is mighty,
I will vaunt myself in Uruk, saying “I am the mightiest!”
[There] I shall change the way things are ordered:
[one] born in the wild is mighty, strength he possesses.’
‘Let [the people] see your face,
…… that exists I know indeed.
Go, Enkidu, to Uruk-the-Sheepfold,
where young men are girt with waistbands!
‘Every day [in Uruk] there is a festival,
the drums there rap out the beat.
And there are harlots, most comely in figure,
graced with charm and full of delights.
‘Even the aged they rouse from their beds!
O Enkidu, [as yet so] ignorant of life,
I will show you Gilgamesh, a man happy and carefree,
look at him, regard his features!
‘He is fair in manhood, dignified in bearing,
graced with charm his whole person.
He has a strength more mighty than yours,
unsleeping he is by day and by night.
‘O Enkidu, cast aside your sinful thoughts!
Gilgamesh it is whom divine Shamash loves.
The gods Anu, Enlil, and Ea have broadened his wisdom.
‘Before you even came from the uplands,
Gilgamesh in Uruk was seeing you in dreams:
Gilgamesh rose to relate a dream, saying to his mothers:
“O mother, this is the dream I had in the night —
‘” The stars of heaven appeared above me,
like a rock from the sky one fell down before me.
I lifted it up, but it weighed too much for me,
I tried to roll it, but could not dislodge it.
‘” The land of Uruk was standing around it,
[the land was gathered] about it.
A crowd [was milling about] before it.
[the menfolk were] thronging around it.
‘”[Like a babe-in]-arms they were kissing its feet,
like a wife [I loved it,] caressed and embraced it.
[I lifted it up,] set it down at your feet,
[and you, O mother, you] made it my equal.”
‘[The mother of Gilgamesh] was clever and wise,
well-versed in everything, she said to her son —
[Wild-Cow] Ninsun was clever and wise,
well-versed in everything, she said to Gilgamesh:
‘” The stars of heaven [appeared] above you,
[like a] rock from the sky one fell down before you.
You lifted it up, but it weighed too much for you,
you tried to roll it, but you could not dislodge it.
‘” You lifted it up, set it own at my feet,
and I, Ninsun, I made it your equal.
Like a wife you loved it, caressed and embraced it:
a mighty comrade will come to you, and be his friend’s saviour.
‘” Mightiest in the land, strength he possesses,
his strength is as mighty as a rock from the sky.
Like a wife you’ll love him, caress and embrace him,
he will be mighty, and often save you.”
‘Having had a second dream,
he rose and entered before the goddess, his mother.
Said Gilgamesh to her, to his mother,
“Once more, O mother, have I had a dream —
‘”[In a street] of Uruk-the-Town-Square,
an axe was lying with a crowed gathered round.
The land [of Uruk] was standing around it.
[the country was] gathered around it.
‘” A crowd was milling about before it,
[the menfolk were] thronging around it.
I lifted it up and set it down at your feet,
like a wife [I loved] it, caressed and embraced it.
[and you, O mother,] you made it my equal.”
‘The mother of Gilgamesh was clever and wise,
well versed in everything, she said to her son —
Wild-Cow Ninsun was clever and wise,
well versed in everything, she said to Gilgamesh:
‘”My son, the axe you saw is a friend,
like a wife you’ll love him, caress and embrace him,
and I, Ninsun, I shall make him your equal.
A mighty comrade will come to you, and be his friend’s saviour,
mightiest in the land, strength he possesses,
his strength is as mighty as a rock from the sky.”
‘Said Gilgamesh to her, to his mother,
“May it befall me, O mother, by Counsellor Enlil’s
Let me acquire a friend to counsel me,
a friend to counsel me I will acquire!”
‘[So did Gilgamesh] see his dreams.’
[After] Shamhat had told Enkidu the dreams of Gilgamesh,
the two of them together [began making] love.
Unit 1 The Epic of Gilgamesh
The first known human story is that of Gilgamesh, king of Uruk. Images of artifacts from ancient Iraq mix with beautiful illustrations, dance, and costume to tell of the relations between gods and mortals, the search for friendship, love, and immortality. Featured cast members include Assyriologist Ben Foster, comic book illustrator Jim Starlin, and poet and playwright Yusef Komunyakaa.
Unit 2 My Name Is Red
Both an historical novel and a graphic murder mystery set among the miniaturists of the Ottoman court. With its focus on Istambul, a major crossroads of the world, it tells of the artistic/cultural contest between Europe and the East. Cast members include the book's Nobel-prize winning author, Orhan Pamuk, and its English translator, Erdağ Göknar.
Unit 3 The Odyssey
Odysseus must travel the known and unknown world before he can return home to his beloved island kingdom of Ithaca. What does this ancient story say to readers today? In this program, Odysseus's story is given ancient and modern historical and philosophical context, and illustrated with centuries of art. Featured are theater director Mary Zimmerman, actor-director Tim Blake-Nelson, and psychologist/author Jonathan Shay.
Unit 4 The Bacchae
The city of Thebes is torn apart by the conflicting demands of reason and religion, as the disguised god Dionysus returns to his home town demanding to be worshipped. Opposing him is the young king Pentheus, who is doomed to suffer the ultimate punishment for his disbelief. Featured speakers include world-renowned playwright/author Wole Soyinka, actor Alan Cumming, and Daniel Mendelsohn of Bard College.
Unit 5 The Bhagavad Gita
This epic tale of the warrior-prince Arjuna confronting a life-or-death dilemma during civil war presents a unique and powerful philosophy of duty, discipline, and serving a higher purpose. Beautiful illustrations connect the story with its rich history and culture. Featured speakers include Sheldon Pollock, Professor of Sanskrit Studies and acclaimed composer Philip Glass.
Unit 6 The Tale of Genji
This portrait of court life in medieval Japan follows the life and exploits of the great Genji. Written by Murasaki Shikibu, a lady of the Japanese court, it provides an insider's view of Japanese court life, the official and behind the screen. Art, clothing, music from the time of the novel illustrate the obserations of authors Jane Smiley and Chiori Miyagawa, among others.
Unit 7 Journey to the West
The powerful and mischievous Stone Monkey King brings chaos to heaven and earth. Freed from a mountain prison in order to guard a Chinese monk on his journey to retrieve the Buddhist scriptures from India, Monkey seeks his own spiritual transformation. Modern performance, contemporary art, and Buddhist philosophers provide a rich context to the ancient tale. Featured cast members include playwright David Henry Huang, storyteller Diane Wolkstein, and translator Professor Anthony Yu.
Unit 8 Popol Vuh
The Mayan book of creation, the dawn of life, and the glories of gods and kings. This magnificent epic was saved from destruction at the hands of the Spanish by Quiché chroniclers. Once repressed, the story is now interwoven with the history of today's Mayan people. Featured speakers include archaeologist Richard Hanson, humorist Mo Rocca, and Guatemalan artist Shuni Giron.
Unit 9 Candide
A satirical novel following the travails of Candide, a hopeless optimist whose faith in his tutor's mantra that his is "the best of all possible worlds" is tested beyond all limits. Voltaire's challenge to the aristocracy of his day proves refreshingly amusing and biting today. Original illustrations, songs, and comic book figures plumb the depths of this satire. Featured speakers include director Harold Ramis, actress Kristin Chenoweth, and cartoonist Chris Ware.
Unit 10 Things Fall Apart
In this foundational modern African novel, Chinua Achebe's story follows the lives of people trying to understand which belief systems deserve their loyalty. The protagonist, Okonkwo is a tribal leader who battles neighboring villages, the English, and his own demons in early colonial Nigeria. The perspectives of readers from around the world reveal the novel's universal themes. Cast members include playwright and professor Tess Onwueme and theater director Chuck Mike.
Unit 11 One Hundred Years of Solitude
Gabriel García Márquez's multigenerational saga of the Buendía family in the isolated town of Macondo inaugurated the boom in Latin American literature in the 1970s and marked the beginning of magical realism. Writer Sandra Cisneros and scholar of Latin American literature, Ilan Stavans lend their thoughts and voices to the discussion of this epic novel.
Unit 12 The God of Small Things
Fraternal twins Rahel and Estha struggle to reclaim their lives after their childhood is destroyed by tragic circumstances. As past and present merge in this narrative of Indian society and politics, the many layers of the caste system are mirrored in the poetic and inventive language of the author. Featured speakers include Simon Gikandi of Princeton University, author Evelyn Ch'ien.
Unit 13 The Thousand and One Nights
Shahrazad must hold the interest of her despotic husband the sultan with nightly tales, lest she lose her life in the morning. This wellspring of storytelling, circulating from medieval Persia to Egypt to Iraq, like its wily raconteur lives on in many modern adaptations. Art, performance, and film images are employed to show the collection's broad span of influence. Featured speakers include Marin Alsop, musical director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Aly Jetha and Shabnam Rezai, co-producers of the 1001 Nights animated series.