The Epic of Gilgamesh

The Epic of Gilgamesh Summary and Analysis of Tablet VIII and Tablet IX


Gilgamesh is crushed by Enkidu’s death. He rips his clothes and tears his hair. He circles Enkidu’s body restlessly and proclaims his sadness. He touches his friend’s heart and feels nothing. Gilgamesh calls on the animals, Shamhat, and the elders of the city to all mourn the loss of Enkidu. The rivers, the forests, and the farmers all mourn Enkidu’s death.

Gilgamesh then summons the artisans of Uruk together. He instructs them to build a statue of gold to commemorate Enkidu. He eulogizes Enkidu with kind words and remains by Enkidu’s body until he sees a worm crawls out of its nose. He tears off his royal garb garments with anger and dons filthy animal skins. He pours honey into a carnelian bowl, places some butter in a bowl of lapis lazuli, and makes an offering to Shamash.

Soon thereafter Gilgamesh journeys into the wilderness, just as Shamash had told Enkidu he would. He wanders alone aimlessly in anguish until he formulates a new plan. Gilgamesh decides to seek out Utnapishtim, a legendary figure who survived the flood that almost ended life on Earth. Utnapishtim was granted immortality by the gods. Gilgamesh wishes to learn this secret too. Utnapishtim lives a far-off place forbidden to mortal beings. Gilgamesh’s journey there will be dangerous.

On his way to find Utnapishtim, Gilgamesh enters a mountain pass at night. The moon lights the path, and Gilgamesh sees lions circling about. Afraid, he appeals to Sin, the Moon god, for protection. He descends on the lions and kills them with a violent passion. In some versions, he dreams of a vague battle with an enemy who stands over him. It is unclear who this figure is or who wins the battle.

Gilgamesh arrives at Mount Mashu, the twin-peaked mountain. One peak faces west, toward the setting of the sun, and the other faces east toward its rising point. Two monsters, a Scorpion-man and his wife, guard the gates to a passage that runs under Mashu. The male monster tells his wife that any person who dares to come here must be a god. His wife senses that Gilgamesh is two-thirds a god and one-third mortal. The male monster asks Gilgamesh to identify himself and explain why he has traveled to Mashu.

Gilgamesh tells the monsters his story and his desire to see Utnapishtim. The Scorpion-man informs him that Utnapishtim lives on the other side of the mountain. To get there, Gilgamesh must use a passage that runs through the mountain. Shamash uses this same passage each night to travel back to the point where the sun rises every morning. Gilgamesh must travel the entire length of the passage in complete darkness. It will take him an entire day to do (Twelve “double-hours”). The Scorpion-man warns Gilgamesh that the way is treacherous and that no mortal has ever attempted it. Gilgamesh will be the first. He tells Gilgamesh that he must endure the tests of this long passage and lets him pass.

Gilgamesh walks through the mountain in absolute darkness. He cannot see in front of him or behind him. He walks the first, second, and third double hour in total blackness and struggles to breathe in the hot darkness. He walks four, five, and six double hours with the north wind blowing in his face. As the eleventh double hour approaches, the darkness begins to fade. At the end of the twelfth double hour, Gilgamesh emerges from the tunnel into the sunlight, breathing fresh air. He sees a beautiful garden filled with flowers of all colors. Beyond the garden, he sees the sea.


As Gilgamesh mourns for Enkidu, he undergoes a physical transformation that makes his appearance similar to that of Enkidu’s. Gilgamesh tears his hair and clothes and eventually puts on filthy animal skins. Whereas Enkidu’s civilization made his appearance more like Gilgamesh’s, here the process is exactly the opposite. Gilgamesh reverts to a more savage state. His appearance suggests that he is trying to keep Enkidu alive in his own mind by becoming him.

Gilgamesh’s language while memorializing his friend also directly correlates to Enkidu’s wilderness roots. He deliberately invokes visions of the meadows and plains and the animals that inhabit them. These verses simultaneously speak to Enkidu’s innocence and his humanity. Enkidu was new to the ways of man when he met his demise but he was beloved by all that knew him in that short time. While he may have died a man, he is mourned by both the civilized and natural worlds.

Gilgamesh struggles to accept Enkidu’s death but is also in denial of death itself. When Gilgamesh sees a worm emerge from Enkidu’s nose, he can no longer deny what is happening: his friend is dead. He sees that one day he too will die. This drives him to seek a way out, to cheat death itself. Therefore, Gilgamesh decides to find Utnapishtim and makes his way to Mashu. On his way, he encounters lions, and asks Sin, the god of the moon, to protect him. In some translations, this occurs in a dream while in others it is an actual event. In some versions of the dream, Gilgamesh is frightened but it is unclear whom he faces.

Upon reaching Mashu and entering the mountain passage, he endures a suffocating darkness. This is a common archetypal feature in many hero myths or stories. Gilgamesh’s initial quest against Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven has proven his heroic abilities, but now he is truly tested in a terrifying experience. The hero generally must face this challenge alone, and Gilgamesh is no exception. He is surrounded by darkness, and he cannot see behind him or in front of him. His solitude is inescapable. There is literally nowhere else to go, or anyone else to turn to for aid. The darkness becomes a literal symbolization of his solitude.

Having endured this, Gilgamesh reaches the other side of the mountain passage and finds a beautiful garden filled with fruit and flowers of bright colors. Beyond it, he can see the sea. Gilgamesh has entered a new world. His passage through the dark passage mimics the birth process itself and his emergence on the other side is a symbolic rebirth. While Gilgamesh still mourns for Enkidu’s loss, he is ultimately seeking out his own salvation. He may believe that immortality is the answer to his problems but he will find that salvation takes on another form.