The Epic of Gilgamesh

The Epic of Gilgamesh Summary and Analysis of Tablet IV and Tablet V


The two men, now heavily armed, step outside the seven-bolt gate of Uruk and set off for the Cedar Forest. They do not stop to eat until they have walked twenty leagues. In three days, they cover a distance it would take an ordinary man three weeks to cover. They dig a well and make an offering to the god Shamash, then continue on their journey. As they walk, they encourage one another to offset the fear that begins to grow in them. Each doubts their ability to defeat Humbaba, and in each case, the other reassures them that they will be victorious.

The two heroes stand before the forest’s gate, and they see that Humbaba’s footsteps have cut clear paths through the woods, indicating his size and might. That night Gilgamesh makes another offering to Shamash the sun god. He prays that Shamash will visit him in a dream and grant him a favorable omen. Gilgamesh and Enkidu construct a shelter against the wind and, huddling together for warmth, lie down, and sleep. At midnight, Gilgamesh wakes from a dream and asks if Enkidu called out to him.

Gilgamesh details the dream to Enkidu: They were walking through a valley when a huge mountain fell on top of them. Enkidu interprets the dream and says that the mountain is Humbaba, and that he and Gilgamesh will topple Humbaba and his dead body will lie like a mountain. The two companions continue their journey through the forest.

After a few days, Gilgamesh makes another offering to Shamash. After falling asleep together, Gilgamesh wakes up again from another dream. He is frightened and asks Enkidu if he touched him. Then he tells Enkidu about this latest dream. In it, Gilgamesh is attacked by a wild bull and pinned to the ground. He is completely trapped when suddenly someone offers him water. Again, Enkidu interprets the dream as fortunate. He says that the bull is not Humbaba, but Shamash, who has blessed Gilgamesh by fighting with him. The one who brought water, Enkidu says, is Gilgamesh’s father, Lugulbanda.

As they continue their travels, Gilgamesh makes yet another offering to Shamash and has a third dream. This time he dreams that the earth is shaking and fire and ashes fall from the sky. Gilgamesh tells Enkidu they should reconsider this quest. Once again, Enkidu says the dream is fortunate. Even so, Gilgamesh is filled with fear and doubt. He prays to Shamash again, asking for his protection. Shamash answers and explains that Humbaba has seven garments, each of which spreads terror. Shamash tells Gilgamesh that Humbaba is wearing only one of them now, but warns him that if Humbaba wears all seven, Gilgamesh will be unable to defeat him. The heroes must hurry.

The companions reach the Cedar Forest and begin to chop down trees. Upon doing so they can hear Humbaba roaring. The noise of weapons clashing surrounds them, and Gilgamesh and Enkidu are terrified. They call to each other, reminding each other to be strong and to remember that they can prevail against any odds because of their companionship.

In the heat of the battle, Gilgamesh pleads for help from Shamash. Shamash hears him and unleashes thirteen storms against Humbaba. Humbaba is subdued by this divine onslaught, and Gilgamesh is able to overtake him. Humbaba pleads for mercy and says he knows Gilgamesh is Ninsun’s son. He pledges to become his servant if Gilgamesh will only spare his life. Gilgamesh considers this, but Enkidu shouts out and tells Gilgamesh to kill Humbaba quickly.

Humbaba curses Enkidu for this. He suggests that Enkidu is jealous and fearful that Humbaba will supplant him in Gilgamesh’s affections. Humbaba reminds them that he is the servant of Enlil, the god of earth, wind, and air—a greater divinity by far than Shamash. If Gilgamesh kills him, he will bring a curse down upon himself. Enkidu ignores these warnings and tells Gilgamesh to hurry up and kill Humbaba before Enlil finds out what they are up to and tries to stop them. Only by killing Humbaba and stealing his cedars can they guarantee their fame. Thus, Humbaba dies.

Gilgamesh cuts down the tallest tree in the forest and uses it to build a new gate for Uruk as a testament to their great adventure. The companions cut down more trees and make a raft, which they use to return to Uruk. On the raft, they carry the gate and the head of Humbaba.


The extent of Shamash’s importance and influence is a major factor in this tablet. Shamash is the sun god, associated with light and wisdom. Humbaba is associated with darkness and evil. Gilgamesh and Enkidu do not seek only to glorify their own names. In seeking to kill Humbaba, Gilgamesh and Enkidu are doing a god’s work, even if it will anger another god.

It is remarkable that little detail is provided regarding Gilgamesh and Enkidu’s battle with Humbaba. The heroes arrive with weapons forged by artisans in Uruk, but there is little mention of how they are used in the fight. Instead, the narrative focuses more on the fear and terror both characters feel in the face of Humbaba. This may be because little of tablets IV and V exist in the Sin-Leqi-Unnini edition.

Besides evil and darkness, Humbaba also seems to embody fear and the unknown. Enkidu tells Gilgamesh about Humbaba before they arrive at the gate to the Cedar Forest, offering up a truly monstrous description. Before they engage him in battle, Humbaba can be heard roaring in the forest. Huge paths of forest have been cleared by his presence. There is evidence of his size and strength all around them. This is reminiscent of a seldom-seen monster in a horror film. Gilgamesh and Enkidu are like the audience, projecting their fear onto this currently unknown adversary. Shamash even tells Enkidu and Gilgamesh that once Humbaba has adorned his seven 'terrors' he is unbeatable. Humbaba's very essence is fear.

Once they do come face to face with Humbaba, Gilgamesh again appeals to Shamash for assistance. Gilgamesh’s plea for help undercuts his heroic bravado and boasting prior to arriving at the Cedar Forest, suggesting a possible naiveté on his part. However, Gilgamesh also knows that Humbaba is no friend of Shamash, and this insight allows him to appeal to Shamash with more gravitas. He essentially is performing a divine job or favor for Shamash. While Gilgamesh and Enkidu are ultimately held responsible for Humbaba’s death, it benefits Shamash as well.

Finally, with Humbaba subdued with Shamash’s help, Gilgamesh is prepared to dispatch the monster. Humbaba pleads for his life, promising to become Gilgamesh’s servant. Enkidu sees this and tells Gilgamesh not to listen, to kill Humbaba. Humbaba accuses Enkidu of jealousy, perhaps seeking to divide the two heroes by attacking their relationship. Gilgamesh then kills Humbaba, although it is not clear in some translations how he does this. Some versions have him beheading Humbaba, while some focus on other methods. In other versions of the story, Enkidu kills Humbaba himself.

Companionship and cooperation are important themes in this tablet. Enkidu and Gilgamesh steel themselves for the task by reminding each other that together, they can accomplish anything. This concept, that no one who has a friend is truly alone, is mirrored cruelly in later tablets when Gilgamesh finds himself alone without Enkidu. With him at his side, fear and doubt can be pushed to the farthest reaches of his mind.

This confidence becomes arrogance at times, too. Gilgamesh and Enkidu decide to enter a sacred forest, forbidden to mortals, to begin cutting down trees. They wish to build monuments out of these trees, monuments to memorialize themselves and their adventures. This hubris does not go unpunished, as Enkidu soon will learn. Humbaba, facing death, curses Enkidu and warns both heroes that their transgressions will not go unnoticed by the gods.