The Epic of Gilgamesh

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The Epic of Gilgamesh
“Fame haunts the man who visits the underworld, who lives to tell my entire tale identically. So like a sage, a trickster or saint, Gilgamesh was a hero who knew secrets and saw forbidden places, who could even speak of the time before the Flood because he lived so long, learned much, and spoke his life to those who first cut into clay his bird-like words. He commanded walls for Unug and for E’Anna, our holy ground, walls that you can see still; walls where weep the weary widows of dead soldiers. Go to them and touch their immovable presence with gentle fingers to find yourself. No one else ever built such walls. Climb Uruk’s Tower and walk about on a windy night. Look. Touch. Taste. Sense. What force created such mass?

“Open up the special box that’s hidden in the wall and read aloud the story of Gilgamesh’s life. Learn what sorrow taught him; learn of those he overcame by wit or force or fear as he, a town’s best child, acted nobly in the way one should lead and acted wisely too as one who sought no fame. Child of Lugalbanda’s wife and some great force, Gilgamesh is a fate alive, the finest babe of Ninsun, she who never let a man touch her, indeed so sure and heavenly, so without fault. He knew the secret paths that reached the eagle’s nest above the mountain and and knew too how just to drop a well into the chilly earth. He sailed the sea to where Shamash [the sun god] comes, explored the world, sought life, and came at last to Utnapishtim far away who did bring back to life the flooded earth. Is there anywhere a greater king who can say, as Gilgamesh may, ‘I am supreme’?” –Prologue to the Epic of Gilgamesh

Chapter 1: The First Hero

Southern Iraq, 2625 B.C.

The dungeon walls were caked with the grit of a hundred years of black smoke filtering from the pits below. Tortured, inhuman wails echoed through the tunnels as a large, heavily bearded man held a flaming torch from underneath the prisoner’s feet. The tortured man cried out in agony, pleading for his tormentor to show him mercy. The huge figure brought the flame back and stared at the dirty prisoner, writhing in agony, a sea of blood, sweat, tears, and mucus running down his body. Like a Sumerian Job, he had watched as his wife and children slain before him before being dragged down to the smoked pits of hell, smoten by the lord of evil that stood before him for no better reason than to see how he would react to it.

“You sought to undermine my clan. You spread your vile lies throughout my city, a city the gods have given me to protect! Who are you are you to speak against me?!?”

“Nobody, my lord...”, cried the man in abject pain, “I admit it. I admit everything you want, please... just tell me what to say and I will say it. Only stop.... please, my master, by the mercy of the gods, spare me the fire! If you will it, slay me with your axe, but don’t burn my body and leave my spirit to wander!”

“And waste my axe’s shine on a pitiful dog like yourself? No. Your eternal spirit is not worth a notch on my kingly weapon. Now, admit your crime!”

“I questioned your divine heritage, my lord...”, sobbed the man, “But I know now, that you truly are the son of Lugalbanda! You truly are a god. A god amongst gods.... Please, my lord, give me mercy!”

“Who else opposes me?”

“I don’t oppose you, my lord. I swear-”


“No one, my lord. There are no others.”

The large man picked up his torch and very slowly walked back towards the man. A wild animal in crazed fear stared back at him, his mouth agape. When the torch was being lowered towards his foot, the man began whimpering out, “No... no..... no.....” The disheveled man screamed for mercy as loud as his could, but it did not stop the smell of his burnt flesh from filling his nostrils.

The large hairy man shut the door behind him, stifling the screams of the prisoner burning to death in one of several torture rooms that made up dungeons beneath Gilgamesh’s castle. He was a veritable giant of a man, towering over all the other Saggiga in the city. His skin was pale white, his shoulders broad, and his physique was phenomenal; his highly-toned body utilized every pound of his massive body weight. His hair was thick and curly, with massive locks of hair curled in a spiral down his back. His thick, black beard was arranged in a maze of locks that hung down to his chest. But the most distinctive about him was his wide, pale blue eyes that peered out from the mass of hair around his face. Around his body he wore the skin of a lion he killed himself.

One of Gilgamesh’s companions came up to give him a report.

“All the prisoners are locked up and we’re already getting some names out of some of them.”

“Good work,” replied the large man, “You can take care of the rest.”

Gilgamesh climbed the stairs up to the main level of his castle, the stench of burning flesh still permeating his body. He burst through the ornamented doors into his harem. The women trapped there looked up at him in silent fear. Each of them had gotten married in the last few weeks. Gilgamesh had claimed the traditional right of lords to sleep with the bride on her wedding night, and had taken each of the women to his castle for that purpose. But he then failed to return them the next day, instead hording the women in his castle to serve his own lusts. With primordeal passion, he descended upon his choice prey, one he had not touched in a while. The woman cried out in pain to the gods at the same time her husband, several miles away, gave prayer to heaven.

“Who created this great beast with unmatchable strength and a command that fosters all of Uruk’s youth to fight beside him! Is this the shepherd of Uruk’s flocks? Is this the light of reason the father of the gods has chosen to rule over his city? A man who hordes the women for his own pleasure?” The husband prayed this aloud from the window of his house. His voice reached out through the window and caught the wind to be combined with the prayers of every other husband whose wife had been wickedly taken into bondage by Lord Gilgamesh. The voices reached up into the clouds, where the great father of the gods, the Bull of Heaven, reigned, and from where the gods would hold their council.

The gods who heard these prayers asked where this human Gilgamesh had gotten all of his strength and power. They repeated the human cries to the father of the gods, An. Upon hearing the outcry, the heavenly father called the gods to a council in his sky kingdom. The members of the heavenly council came from the far reaches of the earth and beyond to meet with their lord and father. There were seven gods who made up the council of the Anunnaki. One pair of gods ruled over the earth. One pair of gods ruled over the spirit world. One pair of gods ruled over the sun and the moon. And the head of the council, An, ruled over heaven.

An, whose name was Heaven, walked into the great council chambers of the gods, seeing that his children had already seated themselves at the discussion table.

Enlil, which means ‘Lord-Air’, occupied the seat to the throne of heaven’s right. He wore a brimless tiara atop his ten pairs of horns. Enlil’s face was clean shaven except for a large goatee cut off at chest level. His hindquarters were that of a bull, complete with tail. Master of the wind and all that is invisible, he was also called Ba’el, the Cloudrider. His domain was the spirit world which existed in the airspace between heaven and earth. His temple on earth resided in the Semitic city of Nippur, which resided on the Euphrates River, at the very heart of the upperlands and lowerlands.

Ninlil, or ‘Lady-Air’, sat next to her husband. Her name had been Sud when she lived on the earth below in the Garden of Dilmun, before she married Enlil and received the titular name, ‘Lady of Air’. She wore a simplistic white dress which covered her entire body, and like goddesses and cows, lacked horns. Her tiara was wide-brimmed tiara, but shorter than Enlil’s.

Enki, so-named ‘Lord-Earth’, known for his great wisdom, sat at the left of his father An. His tiara was wide-brimmed, with one pair of horns coming out from beneath the brim and the other eight pairs poking through various holes in the dome-shaped headgear. His clothes were made of reeds, with the top half tied over on one shoulder similar to the mortals from his domain. His beard was long and white, coming to waist-level. His domain was the earth. Although he ruled over the earth, he lived on a much lower plane, the deep watery domain which fell even further below the dark netherworld, to the deep freshwater plane called Abzu, better known as the Abyss. Enki’s temple resided in the southern-most city of Eridu, the first city ever built.

Aruru, the celestial midwife, sat next to Enki. She wore a one-piece tiered skirt with an earth tone, and a tiara with the dome much shorter than the others. She was also known as Ninmah, ‘Lady-Exalted’, and acted as Mother Goddess.

Nanna, god of the moon, sat beside his father Enlil. Also known as Suen, Nanna’s mother was a goddess known as Sud when she lived in the Garden of Dilmun, before she married Enlil and received the titular name of Ninlil, ‘Lady-Air’. Nanna wore a glowing white robe with a black cloak and a small tiara above five pairs of horns. His temple was in the ancient city of Ur, situated in the southwest of the lower lands, just north of Eridu.

Ningal, or ‘Lady-Greatness’, goddess of the sun, sat beside her husband Nanna. Her temple resided in Ur along with her husband’s.

The gods spoke to him of all the prayers coming to them asking for relief from Gilgamesh’s tyranny.

The Bull of Heaven turned to Aruru and said, “Since it was your fingers that fashioned mankind out of clay, I ask you to fashion a nemesis for Gilgamesh, an imitation as quick in heart and as strong in arm as he is. The two equal forces will collide and then break away, and the children of Uruk will find their accord.”

Through conflict would come peace.

Aruru bowed to the King of Heaven and left the chambers to prepare her art.

The great earth mother wet her creative fingers and fashioned a creature that was like a man but not man. His strength was like that of An’s. His frame was like that of Enlil’s son Ninurta, the god of war. His legs and his stomach were those of the animals, so that he could live off the foliage of the land. His body was covered with hair and the hair on his head was as long and as curly as any woman’s hair.

The creator goddess then took the clay figurine in her hands, admiring her work.

“Your name will be En’ki’du.”, meaning “Lord Earth-Made.”

Then, pulling back, she threw her creation as hard as she could. That night a falling star could be seen in the sky. It dropped like a rock into a wooded area a good distance away from the city of Unug.

When Enkidu woke up, he began to search his new surroundings. He found that the animals who lived in the woods were not scared of him. Enkidu began to live in the forest as a shepherd, only instead of sheep, he herded the animals of the forest. He wore the clothes of the shepherd and raced along with the animals, for they did not fear him.

One night, Enkidu had brought his animals to an oasis they had not been to before. The lake made for the perfect place to settle down for the winter.

A young man who lived in a hunter’s lodge not far away came running up to see where the herd of animals had come from. Looking across the lake, the young hunter saw the forest shepherd. His eyes darkened and fear leapt into his heart, for he knew that Enkidu was not going to be leaving any time soon.
Gilgamesh’s clan was very similar to the other clans operating around the city-states based off the tributaries of the Tigris and the Euphrates, but it was the strongest, at least for the time being. Not just Gilgamesh, but each of his competing neighbors, such as Ur or Eridu, also held on to divine genealogies stretching back to the time when the gods walked the earth, and although the gods did meet at the divine council, each of the gods were also obligated to their cities and to their temples, just as their worshippers took oaths to them. Like most clans, Gilgamesh’s was hierarchal, based heavily on favor and rewards for loyalty within the clan, and enjoyed the benefits of extortion through its ability to inspire fear and respect from other clans and gangs within the city. Taking vengeance upon perceived insults was a matter of course in keeping peace on the streets, and just like every other king, Gilgamesh knew that maintaining the image of strength and power was almost as important as having it.

Gilgamesh entered his throne room, where on other days people whose matters were deemed of the highest importance lined up to have discourse with the lord and his company, but on this day, his men had brought forward to him a young hunter’s boy. The young man bowed before his lord and presented him with some salted meat, a tribute from his father. Gilgamesh then recognized him. He often sported at the hunter’s lodge during the summer and had seen the boy tanning hides there.

“Your father wishes to use one of Inanna’s consorts for a trap, is that right?” Gilgamesh asked the boy.

The hunter’s son spoke with a thick country accent. “Yes, my lord. The creature I saw, it’s... not all human. It looks like a man, but part of him is some kind of animal. I’ve never seen anything like him. He’s a menace to all us hunters. He looks to be able to talk to the animals, warning them whenever we try to take game. He destroys our traps. He’s too fast to shoot and too strong to even try to ambush. Some of us hunters have seen him lift fallen trees off the ground! He runs with the stamina of An’s star. My father thinks we can use one of the temple girls to lure him away from the forest. He thinks when he’s out of the forest, the animals he brought will go their own way and we’ll be able to hunt them again.”

At that, Gilgamesh had a hearty laugh. “Very well. I know just the priestess to send.”
The hunter’s son stood before the gigantic sandstone temple, E’Anna, the “House of Heaven”. It was more a mountain than a temple; it had a pyramid shape but was set in layers. The mountain served as home to the goddess Inanna, a stay for her priestesses and priests, a storage facility, a distribution center, a brothel, and a house of worship all rolled into one. The temples themselves were not built in the cities, but rather, the cities were built around the temples, long ago by the Igigi, the servants of the gods who had also dug out the rivers for the water to flow through. However, the ziggurat had not always been so large. Gilgamesh and all the kings before him had added onto the temple, each contribution making it all the grander a sight. This entire district of the city was referred to as E’Anna, but this was the main temple, the great ziggurat reaching up to heaven’s gate.

The city of Uruk was made of two districts, separated by the river Euphrates: Gilgamesh ruled over Kulaba, the more powerful and war-like of the two. E’Anna was the older district, and the one that had brought all the secrets of civilization from Eridu, the first city the gods had built. The daily affairs of E’Anna were decided over by the manifestation of Inanna herself, who took residence at the very top of her ziggurat. But the land surrounding Uruk, stretching from the Mediterranean to the Zubi Mountains, belonged to Gilgamesh.

Following Gilgamesh, the young man walked into the temple, taking note the door’s archway as he stepped upon sacred ground. They found the entry room empty and unguarded. The hunter’s son eyes went wide and his steps grew slack, as he marveled at the size of the place. While the young man’s pacing slowed to observe the smoking incense and candled altars thath adorned the house of worship, Gilgamesh’s speed only increased.

Upstairs, they came upon a sparsely furnished room occupied by a lone priestess meditating upon a straw mat in the middle. Before her was an altar with lit candles. Beside her was a wooden snake cage, presently occupied. She, like all the priestesses, wore a simple white dress that went over one shoulder. Her hair was long and black, curling around her shoulders. Her cheeks was adorned with blush, her lips blood red, and her eyelids painted blue with khal, with extra long lashes.

Shamhat made no motion to acknowledge their entrance into the room, but when she opened her brown eyes, she looked up as if expecting them.

“My lady, child of holy An, adorned with beauty, and servant to the cherished lady of the gods.” said Gilgamesh.

The young hunter’s son could hardly come up with a competing compliment on the spot.

“Greetings,” said the young man, “My name is-”

“I know who you are.” she said, “This is no stray wolf that has made off with a couple of ewes! The hands of the gods are at work here.”

“Behind the beast-man, you mean?” stammered the hunter’s son, “Are you saying there’s nothing we can do to stop him?”

“On the contrary, the gods have bid us to go to him and bring him back here, a call that must be heeded.”

The young man was greatly disturbed, but looking over, he saw Gilgamesh only grinning, as if the supernatural had become commonplace to him.

“Take my friend here back to the lodge and send me word when you are coming back with the beast-man,” he told Shamhat.

“You mean, you’re not coming with us?” asked the young man, shocked and fearful, “What if he resists? His strength is that of many men and she is only a woman.”

“When she finds this beast-man, you will see what force a woman has,” replied Gilgamesh.

The young man turned back to face the priestess, her eyes narrow.

“Great priestess,” stuttered the hunter’s son, attempting to mimic Gilgamesh’s confidence, “If you know everything about that beast man already, could you- or, would you, tell me what it is, he is.... my lady?”

“He is the answer to Uruk’s prayers,” she answered.

Shamhat waited with the hunter’s son at the drinking pond for two days. The young man had tried to talk to her about how bad the animal herds had hurt their pelt and meat business that season. He talked of how the forests seemed to come alive with the warning chatters of a hundred animals the moment he even neared the trees. But as distressing as he attempted to make it, the priestess did not respond, but only kept her gaze straight. He took her to the spot where he had first seen the beast-man, and the two camped out and waited for him.

The next morning, the boy finally appeared, walking in long strident steps, as if he could walk across mountains. He had just woken up, and a herd of his animal guardians were following him as he sheepishly headed towards the pond. The hunter’s son looked on in awe. His frame was even larger than that of Gilgamesh. His hair was so long that from afar he looked like a woman. While the hunter’s son remained hidden, Shamhat strode boldly over to Enkidu, loosened her garments, and threw off her clothing. Enkidu only stared at first. Then, feeling a new sensation within himself, he lumbered over to her, naked and excited. As she began to walk over to her, his body froze up, his breathing became heavy, and with a mere touch of her hand to his cheek, the giant fell backwards to the ground with such a noise that it scared the animals away.

With stamina given to her by the goddess Inanna, the priestess kept the beast-man within her grasp for a full week. Finally, Enkidu tried to push her away and return to his place with the animals. But as he walked, he could tell that that week of carnal pleasure had sapped all the strength from his body. When he came towards the herd, he was accompanied by a vast array of new smells that frightened them away. Enkidu tried to follow, but found that he could no longer race along side them. He was quickly winded and had to stop to catch his breath. In that moment, he had realized that his immediate gratification had produced consequences, yet the memories he now had stopped him from feeling any regret. He returned to his lover and fell to his knees before her. Shamhat put her hand on his thick, unkept hair. She placed her hand upon his cheek and pulled his face up to look into her eyes.

“Enkidu, you are like a god now. You have no more need for dumb beasts of the wilderness. I shall take you to Uruk, the Immaculate Homestead, where An and Inanna dwell. There you will see Gilgamesh the powerful, who rides a herd of men just as you rode those animals.”

“Men…” Enkidu was still new to the Saggiga language and had a hard time following her. “Men like me?”

“Yes, other men to talk to and a place you can call your home. You will learn what it’s like to be with other people, to have friends and lovers.”

For the first time Enkidu felt as if something was missing within him, that he longed for something though he knew not what.

Friends,” he said, trying to conceptualize the word he had heard her his lover say before. “I will go see Gilgamesh, who rides a herd of men. I will talk to him, and… I will make a friend.”

“Come,” she said. She led Enkidu back to her camp and told the hunter’s son to return to his father and let him know that Enkidu would bother them no longer.

After the young man left, Shamhat changed into some ritual robes before giving Enkidu his own to wear. Then she led him to a shepherd’s hut and arranged for them to stay the night. The shepherds began to gather around to take the sight of him. After Shamhat had finished preparing the sacramental feast, she stepped out of the hut and found Enkidu in the sheep-pen, sucking milk directly from the sheep’s teat as he did with the wild animals. Shamhat took him inside and presented him with the sacramental bread and beer of her goddess. Enkidu’s eyes narrowed and he simply stared at the bread for a long time.

“Now, take this beer and drink. This beer marks the destiny of the land.” Enkidu drank, cautiously at first. But after a few moments, he realized that he felt better. He then drank another jar, and then a few more after that. After seven jars of beer, he felt very relaxed and joyful. Shamhat then anointed Enkidu with oil, pouring it over his head.

“You are reborn this day, Enkidu,” said Shamhat, “Today you have left your life as an animal and have become a man.”

After bidding farewell to the shepherds, Enkidu and Shamhat started heading back to the city. Enkidu had spent two weeks at the shepherd’s hut, learning more and more about the ways of man. Using a sword the shepherds had given him, Enkidu had repaid them for their hospitality by going out and driving away the lions and wolves that plagued them. The shepherds had been amazed when he had returned with the carcass of a lion over his shoulder after the first day of hunting. Shamhat had showed him how to skin the lion and use it’s pelt for a coat, but Enkidu preferred being shirtless most of the time.

Shamhat continued to explain to Enkidu what Uruk was like, how different it was from the taverns and villas that they were staying in. “In Uruk, there is always a party somewhere in the city. Music plays all day and all night and merrymakers dress in costumes to amuse the crowds. Young women have their pick between toys, boys and men. Jesters perform in the streets in the day and revelers do their best to rule the night. The strongest man is given the power of kingship, and it is to him that all the people look up to, and his queen is the envy of every woman.”

Enkidu liked the sound of that. “Then when I arrive, I will proclaim myself king. I will tell them that I alone can do whatever I want, and you will march with me, so all will see you and know you as well.”

“When you see Gilgamesh, you should take note of his strength. Look at the power in his arms, toned from a hundred battles, and the robustness of his legs, his stance rooted in the ground like the immovable cedars of Lebanon,” she said, taking note of his scowl, “I wonder… might he be stronger than you?”

“No!” shouted Enkidu, suddenly enraged at the idea, “No one can beat me! The power of the mountains flows in my blood! No one can take anything from me, and you will stay with me from now on.”

“Calm yourself, Enkidu! Let not your passions take control of you! Fear your anger, for it is your weakness. The gods have blessed Gilgamesh with incredible strength. When you see him, you’ll wonder if you’re not looking at your other self. His face, his broad shoulders, his rock-hard fists, his fair sword…”

“We shall see whose fist is harder,” Enkidu said, his face now getting red.

“Gilgamesh has many men by his side who will fight for him. Will you fight them all?”

Enkidu looked to her face. Wouldn’t she like to be queen of Uruk? He could not read her, and so he answered, “Yes, if you ask it.”

“I will ask of you no such thing. Gilgamesh and his clan are friends and allies of the House of Inanna. But tomorrow we will head for the village of Kuara and I will introduce you to some people who can teach you more about him. Then you will know whether you wish to face him as your friend of your foe.”

Gilgamesh was brought into one of the inner rooms of the temple E’Galmah, the “Exalted Palace” of the great cow-mother, Ninsun. The lounge was decorated with paintings of esoteric symbols. Gilgamesh’s mother came through the door shortly after. It was the middle of the night, but she did not look as if she had been woken up. She was dressed in the prestigious dress allowed only to the high priestess, the incarnation of Ninsun. Her tiara, earrings, and hand bracelet were adorned with shining blue lapus lazuli.

“What ails you, my son?”

“I had a dream. It is a message from the gods -- of that I am sure. Of any other significance, I can not seem to interpret.”

His mother sat on the plush couch and bid him to sit next to her. When he sat she asked him to her the dream.

“I dreamed that one of An’s stars fell from heaven and landed in Uruk. The men of the city surrounded the star and started to praise its power. Men clenched their fists and women danced around it. Then I also embraced the star, the way a man embraces the woman he loves. I then took the newcomer to you so you could see us together.”

Ninsun looked into his eyes for a few moments before answering. “This bright, new star is your true friend, my son. He fell from heaven for your sake. Your friend is of supreme might, one of the strongest men in the world. Like a falling star, his power is real, so that he draws you into himself just like a spouse. But he is sure to race away, like that most distant star, with the secrets of your origin, and your sleep will dissolve.”

Gilgamesh was not sure what to make of her interpretation, but the mention of sleep reminded him of another part of his dream. “Also, I saw some men with axes, and they attacked the herds of Uruk while I was asleep.”

“Worry not. Enkidu will help. He will guard you and rescue you from danger. He will be the most faithful of friends. Let him shepherd you and both of you will walk the true path.”

“If it is fate that he will be my ally, then I pray fate sends me someone who is kind and patient, like a brother,” said Gilgamesh.

He bowed towards his mother and thanked her for her wisdom before he left. His mother always looked to be at peace, never showing any emotion. Even on that day years ago, when he rescued her when she had been locked in the top of the temple E’Galmah, where she had been imprisoned ever since she was a girl. He had never seen her face until that day, except as a babe, and when he finally burst through the door into the room that had been her prison for much of her life, she had just been standing there, waiting for him, with that same look of transcendence she had now. That was the event that first sparked his citywide fame and gave him the title ‘hero.’ From that day on he was not known as Gil’Ga, meaning ‘Old wise man,’ but Gil’Ga’Mesh, Gilga the hero.

Shamhat looked down upon the smiling Enkidu asleep on the mat in the corner of the tavern they had found before nightfall. The smell from the oil he had anointed himself with still hung around him. Shamhat knelt beside him, raised her hands over his body, and began an enchantment.
Troubled by more dreams, Gilgamesh once again paid a visit to the temple E’Galmah, this time in the early morning.

“Another set of visions filled my head last night. Please, you must interpret them for me,” he asked of her. After they settled into the inner sanctuary, Gilgamesh closed his eyes and recounted the dream as best he could remember. “I looked around me and saw a multitude of stars. One of them shot down and fell from the sky, coming with incredible speed, directly at me. There was a flash and then I saw a smoldering boulder in the ground. I knew it was a sign, so I tried to pick it up, but the star would not move, so I called on all the people of the city to help to help me. With everyone’s help I was able to bring it to you. Then, in another dream, there was an axe, it was so beautiful, like a young woman. A throng of people surrounded it, all of them admiring the weapon from afar. I walked up to it and embraced it, as if it were one of my wives!”

“You made the correct choice in both dreams, and rightly so for one as well-reared as you. Both the star and the axe represent the same thing: your friend who will soon arrive in the city. By asking for the help from the people of Uruk, others will be able to acclaim the god-sent gift that was sent to you, and by embracing the axe, you will be able to use that gift for Uruk’s greater glory. Remember, my son, take heed to follow the same path when you meet him as you did in your dream, and I promise that the gods will bless you with the truest friend a man could have.”
Wearing a woman’s dress, Enkidu knelt before the bearded man in a giant fish costume as the golden crown, it’s shape that of a snake eating its tail with an emerald eyeball in its crest, was placed on the dusty, thick mane of his head.

“I, Asarluhi, bestow upon you the divine rights of kingship over the Kulaba district of Uruk.” said the scale-dressed priest with a fish-head for a miter. A second fish-priest stood on Enkidu’s other side, and a minister raising up his arms and chanting. Enkidu then stood up and looked over the precipice of the temple to the band of warriors below.

“Brothers, before you I make this oath: I will crush Gilgamesh with my bare hands!” Enkidu cried out to them with a raised fist. The band of thirty men raised their swords up and swore to follow Enkidu’s commands, followed by a cheer from an audience of onlookers.

The king-priest of Kuara village, Asarluhi, was only one of many who had angered Enkidu with stories of Gilgamesh’s debauchery. When Enkidu told him his plan to fight Gilgamesh and become king himself, Asarluhi said that he believed he could help him. Asarluhi explained that Gilgamesh’s half-brother, Dumuzi, was the one who first defeated king Enmearagesi of Kish and won Uruk independence from the Akkadian king. So it was Dumuzi, not Gilgamesh, who had made Uruk famous, and as Dumuzi’s half-brother, Asarluhi would offer recognition and some soldiers to help Enkidu usurp the throne in Dumuzi’s name. Because Gilgamesh was so hated, all Enkidu would have to do is bring a small regiment of men within the walls of Uruk, and rebels within Gilgamesh’s city would quickly come to compliment the force. Everyone knew that Gilgamesh wandered the city streets at night, so it would not be too hard to ambush him.

Asarluhi later asked Enkidu why he was wearing a woman’s one-strap dress, and Enkidu told him that he had given away his lion’s pelt and was only wearing a loincloth when he and Shamhat had approached the village. Shamhat’s dress was double-layered, so she separated it and gave half of it for Enkidu to wear. Asarluhi asked if he had worn any clothes before then and Enkidu told him that he used to walk around naked without even thinking about it.

“Who told you that you were naked?” Asarluhi asked him.

“The woman, Shamhat, she was the one who taught me,” answered Enkidu.

When Enkidu told Shamhat of Asarluhi’s plan, she had tried to talk him out of it. She had brought some other people in the village who praised Gilgamesh’s name, but when Enkidu told them what he did to those brides who got married there, they defended him, saying it was a king’s right to spread his seed throughout the kingdom.

Shamhat, too, kept predicting that they would become friends, saying, “When we arrive in Uruk, you will see a rare power in him, and I tell you, you will learn to love him like yourself.”

But Enkidu was more certain than ever that he could never have any respect for someone like Gilgamesh, and so he would often say, “Everyone hates this man, the one you say rides the herds of men! He steals men’s wives away from them and rapes them in holy sanctuaries! He rules harshly and drafts women’s sons into his army against their will! This is the man you want as my friend?”

After the coronation, Enkidu and Shamhat bid farewell to Asarluhi and set off for Uruk. Asarluhi had wanted them to visit Enki’s city of Eridu, which was just a little further down the river, but Enkidu wanted to fight Gilgamesh as quickly as possible. So Enkidu led his new contingent northward, through the southern marshlands, towards Uruk. Along the way, the men taught him how to use different weapons, as well as how to wrestle. They often camped in farmhouses, where farmers would teach Enkidu how to track down sheep. Shamhat also taught him how to eat with utensils, although he at first sliced his tongue while attempting to eat meat off a knife.

While staying at an inn, Shamhat was showing him how to cut an apple when Enkidu asked her, “Where did all these things come from? Weapons, tools, clothes, perfume, why are these things not in the forest?”

“They were once the secrets of the clever god, Enki. But one night Inanna came to Enki’s temple in Eridu and got him drunk. She then loaded all these secret arts and placed them on the Boat of Heaven and sailed it up the Euphrates for Uruk. When Enki woke up, he realized what he had done, and sent his servant Isimud and 50 giants to stop her. Seven times the giants took hold of the ship, and seven times the queen of heaven cast a spell on them, forcing them to release it.”

Shamhat fed Enkidu a slice of the apple and continued her story. “Inanna showed the people Enki’s secrets and the people of Uruk rejoiced. Now they could kindle a fire to keep warm, write in bricks of mud, forge weapons, work wood and stone to build houses, play music, use different modes of rhetoric, learn the arts of lovemaking, and separate themselves into different legal and priestly professions. When Enki saw how much happier the people of Uruk were, he relented and declared the day a festival, and the dock where Inanna’s ship came in became known as the ‘White Quay.’ And although the secret arts did bring much happiness to the people, the same tools also brought falsehood, enmity, and city-wide destruction; so her decision wrought both good and bad consequences.”

Shamhat fed him another piece of the apple and Enkidu sucked on her finger as she put it in her mouth. The sudden sound of broken glass from the kitchen adjacent to the dining quarters caused him to bite down on her finger in surprise. Enkidu grew angry at having been interrupted and said, “Shamhat, have that man go away! Why has he come down here so late?”

Shamhat left the table and walked into the messy kitchen to see it filled with food.

The cook had quickly swept the glass aside and was now working on a feast without noticing she had entered.

“Young man, why are you hurrying? Why are you working at such an arduous pace?” she asked him, and then motioned for him to come out into the dining area.

The young man came out into the dining area and told them, “I’ve been invited to a wedding in Kulaba. I have to heap up a king’s share of tasty delights for the wedding’s ceremonial platter, so the king of the food markets can have his own tasty delights with the bridegroom’s ceremonial platter. The king first, the husband second, so the counsel of An ordained ever since the severing of the umbilical cord.”

Enkidu’s face went red with fury and he bent his fork in half.

Enkidu and Shamhat moved on, and every night the men of Kuara shared new horror stories about Gilgamesh, and every day Enkidu boasted to everyone he met along the way that he was going to bring Gilgamesh down and they could be a part of it if they joined him. This quickly turned into a snowball effect and there were soon over a hundred followers. Enkidu felt elated with pride at being the head of so many people.

But as soon as he saw the gigantic wall that surrounded the city of Uruk, his pride sank into the pit of his stomach. He had never seen a manmade construction so large, and he remembered hearing that it was Gilgamesh who had had the wall built. How could one man accomplish such a massive construction? Some men from his new clan told him that Gilgamesh only expanded on it, though the king often took credit for building it from scratch. The guards were suspicious of his motley followers, but Shamhat showed him Gilgamesh’s seal and so all the men, their weapons successfully concealed, were allowed in.

Enkidu stopped and stared at the streets in awe. He never knew there were this many people in the world. The streets were filled with houses and buildings of different colors and styles. Men, women, children, dogs, cats, and birds scampered all around as he strolled through the city. Bald-headed priests, well-clothed noblemen, gangs of youths, merchant vendors, half-naked slaves, and prostitutes with kohl-painted eyes all walked around, not even acknowledging each other as they made their way to individual destinations. So much skill. So much time and effort. So much bustle in the people who lived there.

“How long did it take to build all of this?”

“They were all built at different times, and they all need a constant upkeep.”

“How long has all this been here?”

“The Kulaba district is recent, but E’Anna has been here since the gods walked the earth.”

Many of Enkidu’s men ran off to get men they knew in Uruk to join them. Others went to confirm where they already suspected Gilgamesh to be. Meanwhile, Enkidu wandered into the marketplace, many people taking notice of his giant stature. Most of the men were bare-chested and wore sheep wool skirts tied at the waist while the majority of the women wore single-shoulder gowns that went down their ankles and hair that was extensively braided and wrapped around their heads, some complete with headdresses.

So much food! So much that no one would think to fight over it! Instead, they handed over round bits of silver and gold in exchange. Shamhat hold told him about money. These shiny metal pieces were not useful in themselves, but they could be melted down to create jewelry, and in coin form, they acted as a point system that allowed everyone to assign the things they made value. That way you always had something to trade with.

The sun was setting when one of the many tagalongs that went looking for Gilgamesh returned with news.

“He’s at Lovers’ Alley, near the Western Gate! Come, this way!!”

Enkidu followed the scout with Shamhat right behind him and the mob followed. They went towards the western end of the city. More people who had been alerted to his mission came along the streets and joined him.

Lover’s Alley was a public area that many newlyweds went to on their honeymoon, including an inn called the Bridal Chamber. Gilgamesh had taken the two women at his side along the giant wall of the city and was taking them to the inn when he noticed a giant figure barring the entrance in the shadows.

“Hey! Who the hell are you?!” he asked as he came closer.

“You’re not bedding any women tonight,” the figure said matter-of-factly.

Men with weapons started to come out of their hiding places and took positions around Gilgamesh. He called out for his personal guard, and some nearby men pulled out their weapons and got in front of him. When Gilgamesh first saw Enkidu, he knew immediately that this was the man that his mother had foretold. Being a large, muscular man with a full beard, and who was a head taller than everyone else, Enkidu reminded Gilgamesh a lot of himself. Enkidu too was unnerved that the man he had directed so much hate and jealousy towards looked like the face he would see in the lake.

“My brother, welcome to Kulaba,” said Gilgamesh, “I have been waiting for you.”

“Why?” he asked. “Why would you want to wait for me?”

“The gods sent me messages of your arrival in dreams. They have foretold that you will join with me and act as my brother in combat.”

“Did the gods also tell you to steal your women, lock them up to be your slaves, and kill those who complain about it?”

Now Gilgamesh was confused. “Who tells you these things? These men? They know nothing but the vain jealousies whispered in their ears. They hope to gain money and prestige by filling your head with lies and then steal from your victory. They pretend to guard your back, but I’ve fought these kinds of men all my life and they always break and run. Stand down and I will not seek any retaliation against you. You have nothing to fear; your presence here was foretold. Come with me and I will show you what the gods have in store for us.”

“Did the gods make you a shepherd to oppress your sheep? If the gods sent me here, it is to defeat you and become king myself! Fight me, Gilgamesh, one on one. No weapons; just you and me.”

Enkidu took off his snake crown and threw down his club.

Gilgamesh did not want it to come to this, but he had never backed down from a fight in his life. He couldn’t risk losing that boast and let his fame be tarnished. Ninsun had promised him a friend, but Enkidu was dead set at being his enemy. Any attempt to turn him around at this point would immediately be interpreted as cowardice. Where was Shamhat?

Gilgamesh threw down his axe and stepped forward.

The two walked towards each other, and as the men on each side began to cheer them on, they picked up speed and then began running with full force at one another, like two streaking comets colliding into one another. When the two men struck, the doors along the street trembled and it seemed as if the walls themselves shook. Enkidu wrapped his arms around Gilgamseh’s chest and lifted him up and then picked up speed in order to knock his head against a wall, but Gilgamesh pushed Enkidu’s head back, causing them both to crash to the ground. Gilgamesh waylayed Enkidu with punches, but the forester blocked them with his arms. Enkidu squirmed out of the king’s grasp and elbowed him in the face.

The two fought for hours they fought in the town square, long after the sun had fallen, and yet neither refused to tire out. Finally, Enkidu laid a blow to the face that dazed him. He grabbed Gilgamesh’s hair and pushed his head downwards, bringing his knee into Gilgamesh’s hairy face. Blood shot out of his mouth unto Enkidu’s knee, before the king fell face down on the ground. At first Gilgamesh felt as if all his teeth had all been bent backwards out of his gums, but as soon as he got his bearings, he realized that it was only one tooth that been knocked out, and it was still rolling around along his tongue. A young man then ran up and kicked Gilgamesh in the gut before running back into the crowd, thrilled that he would forever be able to say he had kicked Gilgamesh and had lived to tell the tale. Gilgamesh picked himself up on his elbows, his eyes blinded by sweat, and spat out the bloody tooth.

“Will you yield now…. or do I have to kill you?” Enkidu asked between heaves.

Someone hurled a rock that hit Enkidu on the shoulder, and while he was distracted, Gilgamesh picked himself up and tried to make a run for it. Some of his guards ushered him through the gate, and Gilgamesh immediately started pulling himself up the staircase leading up to the top of the wall in order to get some distance from Enkidu. The guards blocked Enkidu at first, but both knocked down easily as Enkidu followed Gilgamesh up the stairs. Gilgamesh met some more guards at the top of the wall, and he asked them for a canteen. The guard poured some water over Gilgamesh’s face and then gave him a handkerchief to stem the blood flow in his mouth. It was windy up here, and the sensation helped cool off the immense heat radiating from his body, reinvigorating him.

Enkidu then got to the top of the stairs and two more guards blocked him off. A stone slung at him from below hit one of the guards in the head, knocking him out. Enkidu pushed the other out of his way and charged into Gilgamesh, throwing him to wall so hard it cracked. As the two fought, more and more onlookers came through the gate and up the stairs to watch them fight. They fought all night along the walls, chipping and wrecking parts of it as they threw each other around. The fight was never completely one-on-one, there was always a rock or a follower who would interrupt the fight, especially when it looked as if someone was about to lose, but the cheating more or less evened out.

The first few rays of dawn were lighting the sky when Enkidu finally tired out, unable to remove himself from one of Gilgamesh’s throttleholds. Enraged, Gilgamesh kept choking Enkidu even after he stopped struggling. Then the sun’s rays hit Gilgamesh’s eyes, and he remembered what Ninsun had told him. Suddenlly, all his rage was swept out of him, replaced with exhaustion. He released his hold on Enkidu and placed him gently on the ground and after a few moments, Enkidu began to cough and gasp for breath.

Enkidu picked himself up and addressed Gilgamesh, “That Wild Cow Ninsun…. she bore quite a unique son…. one whose head was fated to be elevated above others…. Enlil has destined you for kingship…. I see now that I am here to match some fate with you, not destroy you.”

Gilgamesh offered Enkidu a hand. Enkidu took it and was helped to his feet.

“Enkidu,” Gilgamesh said aloud so all those who stood around could hear, “you say that I have broken faith with my kingly rights. I ask that you be my conscience and serve as my advisor, and my first man. Your strength is like none I’ve ever faced before, and I would like to see you fight by my side.”

Enkidu accepted and they kissed each other on the cheek. Both sides got what they wanted, and each of them erupted in cheers. Enkidu tried to walk but then fell over. Gilgamesh called on the people around them to help carry Enkidu to E’Galmah temple.

The two fighters, now heavily bandaged, entered the inner sanctuary of the temple and Gilgamesh introduced Enkidu to his mother.

“This is the man that I dreamed of,” he told her, “His strength is like that of Anu’s fallen star, and his loyalty is like that of my axe.”

“Enkidu, where did you come from? Who are your parents?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” he said, “I ran along side the animals as long as I can remember.”

“Stay here. I will go ask the sun god Utu, and maybe he can locate your parents.”

At this Enkidu became very hopeful, but when Ninsun returned, she told him, “I am sorry, Enkidu, but the truth is you have no father or mother. You were born alone in the forest. No one raised you or cut your shaggy hair.”

At this Enkidu broke down and wept. Gilgamesh took his hand and said, “Worry not, Enkidu. You may not have a mother or a father, but now you have a brother.”

Enkidu looked up and smiled, squeezing his hand.

“Now, tell me, brother, where did you get these men that you brought into Uruk? Did Shamhat put you up to this?”

Enkidu began to dry his eyes. “Shamhat? No, she tried to stop me. She knew we would end up as friends all along, but I wouldn’t listen to her. I was the one who rallied the men against you.”

“Then where did you get that crown?”

“Asarluhi crowned me king of Kulaba and gave me 30 men.”

“Asarluhi… of Kuara? How did you get down there?”

“Shamhat said there was some people there I should talk to.”

“To help you fight me?”

“No, I had already decided to fight you before that. She knew some people there who spoke good of you, to change my mind, but then Asarluhi came to meet me, and after I told him my plans, he agreed to help me.”

Gilgamesh paused in thought. If Shamhat did help Enkidu, then it would have given Gilgamesh the right to break his alliance with the E’Anna district, but if Enkidu came up with the idea by himself, he wouldn’t have any reason to blame her in the event that Enkidu lost. Shamhat would not need to bring Enkidu all the way to Kuara to find someone to speak well of him, but it was the ideal place to crown him king since that was the same village the former king, his half-brother Dumuzi, was from. The people of Eridu would have supported the ouster and sought to legitimize Enkidu, knowing that it would bring respect and influence to the southern villages.

“Tell me all about your journey here, brother. I want to hear every detail.”

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