The Epic of Gilgamesh
Translated by Maureen Gallery Kovacs
Electronic Edition by Wolf Carnahan, I998
The Epic of Gilgamesh is a Sumerian story of a great hero,
Gilgamesh, who went on great adventures and eventually became a
king. Although the story has some historical value, it is also
mixed together with Sumerian myth.
The Sumerians were the first people to write epic tales of
legendary heroes, the most famous of whom was Gilgamesh, ruler
of the city-state of Uruk about 2750 BC. Beginning as an unwritten
story told by singing musicians called minstrels, this folk epic
(local heroic story) is one of the earliest stories ever written
Tablet I (excerpt)
The story begins with an account
of the friction between Gilgamesh and the nobles of the
city of Uruk, who claim that their ruler is acting tyrannically.
The nobles ask the gods for help, and the mother goddess,
Aruru, is sent to watch Gilgamesh and to keep him from
being too arrogant.
He went on a distant journey, pushing himself to exhaustion,
but then was brought to peace.
He carved on a stone stela all of his toils,
Take and read out from the lapis lazuli tablet
how Gilgamesh went through every hardship.
Supreme over other kings, lordly in appearance,
he is the hero, born of Uruk, the goring wild bull.
He walks out in front, the leader,
and walks at the rear, trusted by his companions.
Mighty net, protector of his people,
raging flood-wave who destroys even walls of stone!
It was he who opened the mountain passes,
who dug wells on the flank of the mountain.
It was he who crossed the ocean, the vast seas, to the rising sun,
who explored the world regions, seeking life.
Who can compare with him in kingliness?
Who can say like Gilgamesh: "I am King!"?
Whose name, from the day of his birth, was called "Gilgamesh"?
Two-thirds of him is god, one-third of him is human.
The Great Goddess [Aruru] designed(?) the model for his body,
she prepared his form ...
... beautiful, handsomest of men,
He walks around in the enclosure of Uruk,
Like a wild bull he makes himself mighty, head raised (over others).
There is no rival who can raise his weapon against him.
Tablet VI (excerpt)
| Ishtar, the goddess of love and
war, falls in love with Gilgamesh and asks him to be her
lover. Gilgamesh rejects Ishtar’s advances, angering
the goddess. To punish him, Ishtar forces the gods to create
the mighty Bull of Heaven to destroy Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh
and his friends defeat the Bull, angering Ishtar.
When Gilgamesh placed his crown on his head,
a princess Ishtar raised her eyes to the beauty of Gilgamesh.
"Come along, Gilgamesh, be you my husband,
to me grant your lusciousness.'
Be you my husband, and I will be your wife.
Bowed down beneath you will be kings, lords, and princes.
Gilgamesh addressed Princess Ishtar saying:
"What would I have to give you if I married you!
Do you need oil or garments for your body! Do you lack
anything for food or drink!
I would gladly feed you food fit far a god,
I would gladly give you wine fit for a king,
See here now, I will recite the list of your lovers.
You loved the colorful 'Little Shepherd' bird
and then hit him, breaking his wing, so
now he stands in the forest crying 'My Wing'!
You loved the supremely mighty lion,
yet you dug for him seven and again seven pits.
You loved the Shepherd, the Master Herder,
who continually presented you with bread baked in embers,
and who daily slaughtered for you a kid.
Yet you struck him, and turned him into a wolf,
so his own shepherds now chase him
and his own dogs snap at his shins.
And now me! It is me you love, and you will ordain for
me as for them!"
When Ishtar heard this, in a fury she went up to the heavens,
going to Anu, her father, and crying,
going to Anrum, her mother, and weeping:
"Father, Gilgamesh has insulted me over and over,
Gilgamesh has recounted despicable deeds about me,
despicable deeds and curses!"
Anu addressed Princess Ishtar, saying: "What is the
Was it not you who provoked King Gilgamesh?
So Gilgamesh recounted despicable deeds about you,
despicable deeds and curses!"
Ishtar spoke to her father, Anu, saying:
"Father, give me the Bull of Heaven,
so he can kill Gilgamesh in his dwelling.
If you do not give me the Bull of Heaven,
I will knock down the Gates of the Netherworld,
I will smash the door posts, and leave the doors flat down,
and will let the dead go up to eat the living!
And the dead will outnumber the living!"
Tablet XI (excerpt)
| Archaeologists have discovered
evidence of great floods in the Tigris-Euphrates valley,
one of which left a deposit of sediment (silt) eight feet
deep. The flood found in the Epic of Gilgamesh is most
likely one of those great floods.
| Gilgamesh spoke to Utanapishtim, the Faraway:
"I have been looking at you,
but your appearance is not strange--you are like me!
You yourself are not different--you are like me!
My mind was resolved to fight with you,
(but instead?) my arm lies useless over you.
Tell me, how is it that you stand in the Assembly of the
Gods, and have found life!"
Utanapishtim spoke to Gilgamesh, saying:
"I will reveal to you, Gilgamesh, a thing that is
a secret of the gods I will tell you!
The hearts of the Great Gods moved them to inflict the
Abandon wealth and seek living beings!
Spurn possessions and keep alive living beings!
Make all living beings go up into the boat.
The boat was finished by sunset.
Whatever I had I loaded on it:
whatever silver I had I loaded on it,
whatever gold I had I loaded on it.
All the living beings that I had I loaded on it,
I had all my kith and kin go up into the boat,
all the beasts and animals of the field and the craftsmen
I had go up.
All day long the South Wind blew ...,
blowing fast, submerging the mountain in water,
overwhelming the people like an attack.
No one could see his fellow,
they could not recognize each other in the torrent.
The gods were frightened by the Flood,
and retreated, ascending to the heaven of Anu.
The gods were cowering like dogs, crouching by the outer
Six days and seven nights
came the wind and flood, the storm flattening the land.
When the seventh day arrived, the storm was pounding,
the flood was a war--struggling with itself like a woman
writhing (in labor).
The sea calmed, fell still, the whirlwind (and) flood stopped
I looked around all day long--quiet had set in
and all the human beings had turned to clay!
The terrain was as flat as a roof.
I opened a vent and fresh air (daylight!) fell upon the
side of my nose.
I fell to my knees and sat weeping,
tears streaming down the side of my nose.
I looked around for coastlines in the expanse of the sea,
and at twelve leagues there emerged a region (of land).
On Mt. Nimush the boat lodged firm,
Mt. Nimush held the boat, allowing no sway.