The Epic of Gilgamesh

The Epic of Gilgamesh Quotes and Analysis

"For seven days Enkidu in his wonder

Lay with her in pleasure, and then at last
went to seek out the company of the creatures

whose hearts delight in feeding upon the grasslands,
and visiting the watering places, and

ranging the hills. But seeing him, they fled.
The creatures were gone, and everything was changed.

His body that loved to range the hills was now
unable to follow; but in the mind of the wild man

there was beginning a new understanding.
Bewildered, he turned, and sought out the company

of the temple prostitute.

Ferry, p. 8-9

Following his encounter with Shamhat, Enkidu is introduced to sexuality and this becomes a civilizing force. He is now a human being who has become self-aware. The animals who were his friends realize the change in him and abandon him. He is no longer able to roam the plains with the same energy he did before. Through sexuality Enkidu comes to gain a new self-understanding, which initially frightens him. He seeks assistance from Shamhat to reconcile these new thoughts.

"But Enkidu knew nothing about these things,
so he sat and stared at the cooked food and the beer

for a very long time, not knowing what to do.
Then Shamhat, the harlot, the temple prostitute,

said: 'Enkidu, this is the food and drink
men eat and drink. Eat and drink your fill.'

So Enkidu ate his fill of the cooked food,
and drank the beer. Seven jugs of the beer

and he was suddenly joyful, and sang aloud.
Then he washed his hairy body, anointed himself

with oil, and dressed his body in new clothes,
so that he looked as beautiful as a bridegroom.

He took up a weapon to guard the flocks and shepherds
against the wolves and lions that preyed upon them.

Therefore, at night, with Enkidu to guard them,
the shepherds could lie down in peaceful sleep."

Ferry, p. 12-13

This passage demonstrates Enkidu's initial innocence in the ways of humans, but ends with his transformation. Once again, Shamhat shepherds him through this transformation as Enkidu imbibes alcohol for the first time and then washes and dresses himself in fine clothing. Most notable is that Enkidu then takes up watch to protect the shepherds from the animals of the natural world of which he was once a member. This marks his transition from an animal to a man who now guards against the intrusion of nature.

"Where is the strength? It is Gilgamesh
who will venture first into the Cedar Forest,

and you can follow after, crying out:
'Go on, go forward, go on, embrace the danger!'

You who have fought with lions and with wolves,
you know what danger is. Where is your courage?

If I should fall, my name will be secure.
'It was Gilgamesh who fought against Huwawa!

It is Gilgamesh who will venture into the Forest
and cut down the Cedar down and win the glory.

My fame will be secure to all my sons.'"

Ferry, p. 17

Here, Gilgamesh admonishes Enkidu's fear prior to their battle with Humbaba/Huwawa. Gilgamesh boasts of how, regardless of how the battle goes, his fame is cemented. This passage demonstrates Gilgamesh's view of himself and life in general. To him, fame and a legacy are the most important aspects of life. While one can argue that Gilgamesh is only saying these things to encourage Enkidu, he is also clearly on a power trip. Contrast this with how Gilgamesh feels following Enkidu's death.

Gilgamesh answered and said : "What could I offer

the queen of love in return, who lacks nothing at all?
Balm for the body? The food and drink of the gods?

I have nothing to give to her who lacks nothing at all.
You are the door through which the cold gets in.

You are the fire that goes out. You are the pitch
that sticks to the hands of the one who carries the bucket.

You are the house that falls down. You are the shoe
that pinches the foot of the wearer. The ill-made wall

that buckles when time has gone by. The leaky
water skin soaking the water skin carrier."

Ferry, p. 30

Following his return to Uruk after defeating Humbaba with Enkidu, Gilgamesh bathes and adorns himself, drawing Ishtar's lustful eye. She asks him to become her lover and promises him riches. Gilgamesh spurns her advances and insults her using artful analogies to suggest that Ishtar is old and undesirable. In other words, Gilgamesh tells the goddess of love that there is nothing attractive or appealing about her, essentially calling her a fraud.

"After the Scorpion Dragon Being spoke,
Gilgamesh went to the entrance into the mountain

and entered the darkness alone, without a companion.
By the time he reached the end of the first league

the darkness was total, nothing behind or before.
He made his way, companionless, to the end

of the second league. Utterly lightless, black.
There was nothing behind or before, nothing at all.

Only, the blackness pressed in upon his body.
He felt his blind way through the mountain tunnel,

struggling for breath, through the third league, alone,
and companionless through the fourth, making his way,

and struggling for every breath, to the end of the fifth,
in the absolute dark, nothing behind or before,

the weight of the blackness pressing in upon him."

Ferry, p. 51

After entering into the mountain passage beneath Mount Mashu, Gilgamesh enters complete darkness and struggles to find his way. This ordeal tests him as he totally and completely alone and now has to face his loneliness and his inner thoughts. Darkness generally represents the unknown and we tend to project our fears onto the unknown. In this environment, there is no solace for Gilgamesh and no means of escape; once he enters the only way out is the way through. It is necessary for his transformation and for his salvation.

"Seven days and nights I sat beside the body,
weeping for Enkidu beside the body,

and then I saw a worm fall out of his nose.
Must I die too? Must Gilgamesh be like that?

It was then I felt the fear of it in my belly.
I roam the wilderness because of the fear.

Enkidu, the companion, whom I loved,
is dirt, nothing but clay is Enkidu.

Weeping as if I were a woman I roam
the paths and shores of unknown places saying:

'Must I die too? Must Gilgamesh be like that?'"

Ferry, p. 56

Here, Gilgamesh tells the story of his predicament to Siduri, the tavern-keeper. Having witnessed the death of his close friend, Gilgamesh is overcome with the fear of his own death and seeks desperately to escape his fate. The repetition of the line, "Must I die too? Must Gilgamesh be like that?" suggests that Gilgamesh perceives himself as somehow exempt from mortality. Given how he has lived his life up to this point, taking what he wants when he wants, the sudden realization that it will all end is more than he can bear. Despite all his fame and his accomplishments, he cannot take it with him.

"Who is the mortal who can live forever?
The life of man is short. Only the gods

can live forever. Therefore put on new clothes,
a clean robe and a cloak tied with a sash,

and wash the filth of the journey from your body.
Eat and drink your fill of the food and drink

men eat and drink. Let there be pleasure and dancing."

Ferry, p. 57

Siduri implores Gilgamesh to abandon his quest and partake in the joys of life instead, explaining that immortality was never designed for mortal men. She advises him to make the most of what he has, a life that is still in progress, and to enjoy each moment instead of pining for what he cannot have.

"Utnapishtim, son of Ubartutu,
abandon your house, abandon what you possess.

abandon your house and build a boat instead.
Seek life instead of riches, save yourself.

Take with you, on the boat you build, an instance
of each thing living so that they may be

safe from obliteration in the flood.
Perform the construction of the boat with care.

Let the length of the boat and the width of the boat be equal.
Roof over the boat as the abyss is roofed."

Ferry, p. 66

Here, Ea instructs Utnapishtim to build an ark in anticipation of the flood to come. Its similarity to the Bible story of Noah is apparent. Utnapishtim's instructions are nearly identical to those of Noah. Most important is Ea's emphasis of seeking life instead of riches. While Ea is speaking of saving all the life in Shuruppak, this line is also an important theme in the epic overall. Gilgamesh learns to seek a life of quality rather than quantity; a life of companionship and love, not a life of fame and fortune.

Gilgamesh said to Urshanabi the boatman:
"Urshanabi, this plant is a wonderful plant.

New life may be obtained by means of it.
I will carry the thorny plant back to my city.

I will give some of the plant to the elders there,
to share among them, telling them it is called

And I will take my share of the magic plant,

once more to become the one who is youngest and strongest."

Ferry, p. 80

Gilgamesh shares his plan with Urshanabi. He wishes to take the plant back to Uruk and test it on the elders to see if its powers hold true. If so, he too would partake and reclaim his youth, and his reputation, thereby remaining the strongest and youngest in Uruk. Gilgamesh's enthusiasm for the plan demonstrates the folly of youth and the regret of age. As we age, we tend to wish we still had our youth to put that energy to better use. This passage is reminiscent of the adage, "Youth is wasted on the young."

At twenty leagues they stopped only to eat.
At thirty leagues they stopped to rest for the night.

And so they traveled until they reached Uruk.
There Gilgamesh the king said to the boatman:

“Study the brickwork, study the fortification;
climb the ancient staircase to the terrace;

study how it is made; from the terrace see
the planted and fallow fields, the ponds and orchards.

One league is the inner city, another league
is orchards; still another the fields beyond;

over there is the precinct of the temple. . . ,
Three leagues and the temple precinct of Ishtar

Measure Uruk, the city of Gilgamesh."

Ferry, p. 81-82

This passage marks Gilgamesh's return to Uruk with Urshanabi, the boatman, at his side. It marks his acceptance of his mortality, as he now sees Uruk with new appreciation. Here, he details the city's features to Urshanabi, echoing the lines that mark the beginning of the story. This is of importance not only because it demonstrates that Gilgamesh has a new understanding of life, but that we too, as the readers, can understand Gilgamesh's state of mind simply by the repetition of these lines. Rather than telling us directly how Gilgamesh feels, this passage shows us that his transformation is complete.