Authors born before 1000 BCE
Click Up For A Summary Of Each Author
Must I Die Too?
Suddenly There Is Nothing
Sin-leqe-unnini was a master scribe of the Kassite period in Mesopotamia, living perhaps some time around 1600 BCE. We know very little about him other than that he was probably an incantation priest of the temple and also the author of what is accepted as the Standard Babylonian Version of the story of Gilgamesh. As parts of this version are still missing, it is usually supplemented by earlier or later versions. The epic appeared in the Sumerian oral tradition of the third millennium BCE. The earliest written copies in Akkadian date from about 2,000 BC.
The epic involves two heroes. One, Gilgamesh, may have been a king of that name recorded in the Sumerian King List as the fifth in line of the First Dynasty of the kingship of Uruk, following the great flood that devastated the area of the Tigris and Euphrates. This would put him somewhere in the time between 2800 and 2500 BCE. The other, Enkidu, enters the story as a strong man born in the wild, drinking and sleeping with animals, and freeing them from traps.
A temple priestess from the city of Uruk is sent to seduce Enkidu and persuade him to come to the city. There the people are impressed by his physical stature and prowess. This leads to a violent fight with the king, which ends in mutual respect and love. Gilgamesh, in search of fame and sure they can brave any danger, prevails on Enkidu to join him in a perilous journey and battle to seize trees in a foreign land from their guardian, Humbaba. After they succeed in this they fight and slay the Bull of Heaven, in what sounds like a ritual bull fight.
Enkidu dies shortly afterwards. This may have resulted from the fight with Humbaba, but the symptoms also suggest a disease, which is very often the fate of hunter-gatherers who do not have the immunities developed by city dwellers. Gilgamesh is so stricken with grief that he journeys throughout the world seeking a cure for death. Finally, after talking with a wise man who survived a flood, Ut-napishtim, Gilgamesh realizes the irrevocable nature of his actions. The theme of the rashness of one beloved companion’s pursuit of fame and honor leading to the death of the other, and the subsequent agony of remorse, echoes from this early epic down through literature, notably in the grief of Achilles over the death of Patroclus.
There are fragments from many versions of the Gilgamesh epic, perhaps the work of millennia of story tellers in cities or along trade routes between Europe and India. This is suggested by similarities between the Gilgamesh story and the stories of Odysseus and of Sinbad. The fragments are translated from cuneiform writing inscribed in clay tablets discovered at various sites in or near Mesopotamia. As the tablets have been scattered and broken, there are still many gaps in the narrative, as indicated by the Sigla in the following extracts.
1 Humbaba made his voice heard and spoke; he said to Gilgamesh,
‘The fool Gilgamesh and the brutish man ought to ask themselves, why have you come to see me?
Your [friend] Enkidu is small fry who does not know his own father!
You are so very small that I regard you as I do a turtle or a tortoise
Which does not suck its mother's milk, so I do not approach you.
[Even if I] were to kill (?) you, would I satisfy my stomach?
[Why, ], Gilgamesh, have you let (him) reach me,
[ ] . . .
So l shall bite [through your/his] windpipe and neck, Gilgamesh,
And leave [your/his body] for birds of the forest, roaring (lions), birds of prey and scavengers.’
Gilgamesh made his voice heard and spoke; he said to Enkidu,
‘My friend, Humbaba has changed his mood
And . . . has come upon him [ ]
And my heart [trembles lest he ] suddenly!’
Enkidu made his voice heard and spoke; he said to Gilgamesh,
‘My friend, why do you talk like a coward?
And your speech was feeble (?), and you tried to hide(?).
Now, my friend, he has drawn you out (?)
With the (blow)pipe of the coppersmith for heating (?)
To count back each league swollen (?) with the heat (?), each league of cold,
To dispatch the flood-weapon, to lash with the whip!
Don't retrace your footsteps! Don't turn back!
[ ] Make your blows harder!
Tablet V, Column i (Late Version)
2 Gilgamesh listened to the speech of his companion;
Took the axe in his hand,
Drew the sword from his belt.
Gilgamesh slew him at the neck;
Enkidu his friend struck at (?) the heart.
At the third [blow] he fell.
Old Babylonian Version, Tablet IV
3 Enkidu made his voice heard and spoke; he said to Gilgamesh,
'My friend, finish him off, slay him, grind him up, that [I may survive]
Humbaba the guardian of the [Pine] Forest!
Finish him off, slay him, grind him up that [I may survive]
Humbaba, the guardian of the forest.
Tablet V, Column iii
4 Gilgamesh was cutting down the trees; Enkidu kept tugging at the stumps.
Enkidu made his voice heard and spoke; he said to Gilgamesh,
'My friend, I have had a fully mature pine cut down,
The crown of which butted against the sky.
I made a door six poles high and two poles wide,
Its doorpost is a cubit . . ., its lower and upper hinges are (made) from a single [ ].
Let the Euphrates carry [it] to Nippur; Nippur [ ].
Tablet V, Column 6
5 In the Euphrates they washed their hands
And held hands and came
Riding through the main street of Uruk.
The people of Uruk gathered and gazed at them.
Gilgamesh addressed a word to [his] retainers,
'Who is finest among the young men?
Who is proudest among the males?'
'Gilgamesh is finest among the young men!
Gilgamesh is proudest among the males!
[ ] we knew in our anger
There is nobody like him who can please her [ ].
Gilgamesh made merry in his palace.
Then they lay down, the young men were lying in bed for the night,
And Enkidu lay down and had a dream.
Enkidu got up and described the dream,
Tablet VI, Column v-vi
6 Enkidu lay down before Gilgamesh, his tears flowing like streams.
‘O my brother, my brother is so dear to me.
But they are taking me from my brother.'
And: 'I shall sit among the dead, I shall I 1
the threshold of the dead;
Never again [shall I see] my dear brother with my own eyes.'
Tablet VII, Column i
After describing his dream, Enkidu curses his exploits with Gilgamesh and also the temple priestess who brought him to the city. A voice asks why he is cursing the priestess, pointing out that he has enjoyed fine food, wine, grand clothes, and the love of Gilgamesh. Enkidu then replaces his harsh words with a blessing. Shortly afterwards he dies.
7 From the day he saw the dream, his [strength] was finished.
Enkidu lay there the first day, then [a second day.]
[The illness] of Enkidu, as he lay in bed, [grew worse, his flesh weaker.]
A third day and a fourth day, the [illness] of [Enkidu grew worse, his flesh weaker (?),]
A fifth, sixth and seventh day, eighth, ninth [and tenth.]
The illness of Enkidu [grew worse, his flesh weaker (?)].
An eleventh and twelfth day [his illness grew worse, his flesh weaker.]
8 When the first light of dawn appeared
Gilgamesh said to his friend,
'Enkidu, my friend, your mother a gazelle,
And your father a wild donkey sired you,
Their milk was from onagers; they reared (?) you,
And cattle made you familiar with all the pastures.
Enkidu's paths [led to] the Pine Forest.
They shall weep for you night and day, never fall silent,
Weep for you, the elders of the broad city, of Uruk the Sheepfold.
The summit will bless (us) after our death,
They shall weep for you, the [ ]s of the mountains,
They shall mourn [ ]
[The open country as if it were your father], the field as if it were your mother.
They shall weep for you, [myrtle (?)], cypress, and pine,
In the midst of which we armed ourselves (?) in our fury.
They shall weep for you, the bear, hyena, leopard, tiger, stag, cheetah,
Lion, wild bulls, deer, mountain goat, cattle, and other wild beasts of open country.
It shall weep for you, the holy river Ulaya, along whose bank
We used to walk so proudly.
It shall weep for you, the pure Euphrates,
With whose water in waterskins we used to refresh ourselves.
They shall weep for you, the young men of the broad city, of Uruk the Sheepfold,
Who watched the fighting when we struck down the Bull of Heaven.
Tablet VII, Column i
9 Listen to me, young men, listen to me!
Listen to me, elders of Uruk, listen to me!
I myself must weep for Enkidu my friend,
Mourn bitterly, like a wailing woman.
As for the axe at my side, spur to my arm,
The sword in my belt, the shield for my front,
My festival clothes, my manly sash:
Evil [Fate (?)] rose up and robbed me of them.
My friend was the hunted mule, wild ass of the mountains, leopard of open country.
Enkidu the strong man was the hunted wild ass of [the mountains, leopard of open country].
We who met, and scaled the mountain,
Seized the Bull of Heaven and slew it,
Demolished Humbaba the mighty one of the Pine Forest,
Now, what is the sleep that has taken hold of you ?
Turn to me, you! You aren't listening to me!
But he cannot lift his head.
I touch his heart, but it does not beat at all.
My friend has covered his face like a daughter-in-law.
He circled over him like an eagle,
Like a lioness whose cubs are [trapped] in a pit,
He paced back and forth.
He (?) tore out and spoilt (?) well-curled hair,
He stripped off and threw away finery as if it were taboo.
When the first light of dawn appeared, Gilgamesh sent out a shout through the land.
The smith, the [ ], the coppersmith, the silversmith, the jeweller (were summoned).
He made [a likeness (?)] of his friend, he fashioned a statue of his friend.
The four limbs of the friend were [made of ],
his chest was of lapis lazuli,
His (?) skin was of gold [ ]
(gap of about 12 lines)
Tablet VII, Column ii
10 '[I will lay you to rest] on a bed [of loving care]
And will let you stay [in a restful dwelling, a dwelling of the left].
Princes of the earth [will kiss your feet].
I will make the people [of Uruk] weep for you, [mourn for you].
[I will fill] the proud people with sorrow for you.
And I myself will neglect my appearance after you(r death)
Clad only in a lionskin, I will roam the open country.'
Tablet VII, Column iii
11 Gilgamesh mourned bitterly for Enkidu his friend,
And roamed open country.
'Shall I die too? Am I not like Enkidu?
Grief has entered my innermost being,
I am afraid of Death, and so I roam open country.
Tablet IX, Column i
Gilgamesh journeys through the world in search of a cure for death that will bring his friend back, seeking to gain advice from Ut-napishtim, a wise man who survived the Mesopotamian flood and was considered immortal. When he meets Ut-Napishtim, he is asked why he wastes so much energy on grief.
12 [Gilgamesh spoke to him, to Ut-napishtim],
['How would my cheeks not be wasted, nor my face dejected],
[Nor my heart wretched, nor] my appearance [worn out],
[Nor grief in] my innermost being,
[Nor] my face like [that of a long-distance traveller],
[Nor] my face [weathered by cold and heat . . .]
[Nor] roaming open country [clad only in a lionskin] ?
My friend was the hunted mule, wild ass of the mountain, leopard of open country,
Enkidu my friend was the hunted mule, wild ass of the mountain, leopard of open country.
We who met and scaled the mountain,
Seized the Bull of Heaven and slew it,
Demolished Humbaba who dwelt in the Pine Forest,
Killed lions in the passes of the mountains,
My friend whom I love so much, who experienced every hardship with me,
Enkidu my friend whom I love so much, who experienced every hardship with me—
The fate of mortals conquered him! For six days and seven nights I wept over him,
I did not allow him to be buried
Until a worm fell out of his nose.
I was frightened [ ]. I am afraid of Death, [and so I roam open country].
I roam open country for long distances;
The words of my friend weigh upon me.
The words of Enkidu my friend weigh upon me.
I roam the open country on long journeys.
How, O how could I stay silent, how, O how could I keep quiet?
My friend whom I love has turned to clay:
Enkidu my friend whom I love has turned to clay.
Am I not like him? Must I lie down too,
Never to rise, ever again?'
Gilgamesh spoke to him, to Ut-napishtim,
'So I thought I would go to see Ut-napishtim the far-distant, of whom people speak.
I searched, went through all countries,
Passed through and through difficult lands,
And crossed to and fro all seas.
My face never had enough of sweet sleep,
My fibre was filled with grief.
Tablet X, Column v
12 [Why (?)] have you exerted yourself? What have you achieved (?)?
You have made yourself weary for lack of sleep,
You only fill your flesh with grief,
You only bring the distant days (of reckoning) closer.
Mankind's fame is cut down like reeds in a reed-bed.
A fine young man, a fine girl,
[ ] of Death.
Nobody sees Death,
Nobody sees the face of Death,
Nobody hears the voice of Death.
Savage Death just cuts mankind down.
Sometimes we build a house, sometimes we make a nest,
But then brothers divide it upon inheritance.
Sometimes there is hostility in [the land],
But then the river rises and brings flood-water.
Dragonflies drift on the river,
Their faces look upon the face of the Sun,
(But then) suddenly there is nothing.
Tablet X, Column vi
Square brackets indicate short gaps in text due to damage of tablet clay. Text
inside brackets is restored, often from parallel versions.
( ) Round brackets indicate words inserted to give a better rendering in English, or explanatory insertions.
[( )] Square brackets enclosing round brackets indicate uncertainty as to whether or not there is a gap in the text.
. . . Omission dots indicate an unknown word or phrase.
? A question mark indicates a possible but unconfirmed reading.
The Old Babylonian Version is from the early second millennium BCE. The Late Version text from Babylonia dates from between 612 BCE and the end of the Selucid era.