Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, by Donald A. MacKenzie, , at sacred-texts.com
God and Heroes and the "Seven Sleepers"--Quests of Etana, Gilgamesh, Hercules, &c.--The Plant of Birth--Eagle carries Etana to Heaven--Indian Parallel--Flights of Nimrod, Alexander the Great, and a Gaelic Hero--Eagle as a God--Indian Eagle identified with Gods of Creation, Fire, Fertility, and Death--Eagle carries Roman Emperor's Soul to Heaven--Fire and Agricultural Ceremonies--Nimrod of the Koran and John Barleycorn--Gilgamesh and the Eagle--Sargon-Tammuz Garden Myth--Ea-bani compared to Pan, Bast, and Nebuchadnezzar--Exploits of Gilgamesh and Ea-bani--Ishtar's Vengeance--Gilgamesh journeys to Otherworld--Song of Sea Maiden and "Lay of the Harper"--Babylonian Noah and the Plant of Life--Teutonic Parallels--Alexander the Great as Gilgamesh--Water of Life in the Koran--The Indian Gilgamesh and Hercules--The Mountain Tunnel in various Mythologies--Widespread Cultural Influences.
ONE of the oldest forms of folk stories relates to the wanderings of a hero in distant regions. He may set forth in search of a fair lady who has been taken captive, or to obtain a magic herb or stone to relieve a sufferer, to cure diseases, and to prolong life. Invariably he is a slayer of dragons and other monsters. A friendly spirit, or a group of spirits, may assist the hero, who acts according to the advice given him by a "wise woman", a magician, or a god. The spirits are usually wild beasts or birds--the "fates" of immemorial folk belief--and they may either carry the hero on their backs, instruct him from time to time, or come to his aid when called upon.
When a great national hero appealed by reason of his achievements to the imagination of a people, all the
floating legends of antiquity were attached to his memory, and he became identified with gods and giants and knight-errants "old in story". In Scotland, for instance, the boulder-throwing giant of Eildon hills bears the name of Wallace, the Edinburgh giant of Arthur's Seat is called after an ancient Celtic king, 1 and Thomas the Rhymer takes the place, in an Inverness fairy mound called Tom-na-hurich, of Finn (Fingal) as chief of the "Seven Sleepers". Similarly Napoleon sleeps in France and Skobeleff in Russia, as do also other heroes elsewhere. In Germany the myths of Thunor (Thor) were mingled with hazy traditions of Theodoric the Goth (Dietrich), while in Greece, Egypt, and Arabia, Alexander the Great absorbed a mass of legendary matter of great antiquity, and displaced in the memories of the people the heroes of other Ages, as those heroes had previously displaced the humanized spirits of fertility and growth who alternately battled fiercely against the demons of spring, made love, gorged and drank deep and went to sleep--the sleep of winter. Certain folk tales, and the folk beliefs on which they were based, seem to have been of hoary antiquity before the close of the Late Stone Age.
There are two great heroes of Babylonian fame who link with Perseus and Hercules, Sigurd and Siegfried, Dietrich and Finn-mac-Coul. These are Etana and Gilgamesh, two legendary kings who resemble Tammuz the Patriarch referred to by Berosus, a form of Tammuz the Sleeper of the Sumerian psalms. One journeys to the Nether World to obtain the Plant of Birth and the other to obtain the Plant of Life. The floating legends with which they were associated were utilized
and developed by the priests, when engaged in the process of systematizing and symbolizing religious beliefs, with purpose to unfold the secrets of creation and the Otherworld.
Etana secures the assistance of a giant eagle who is an enemy of serpents like the Indian Garuda, half giant, half eagle. As Vishnu, the Indian god, rides on the back of Garuda, so does Etana ride on the back of the Babylonian Eagle. In one fragmentary legend which was preserved in the tablet-library of Ashur-banipal, the Assyrian monarch, Etana obtained the assistance of the Eagle to go in quest of the Plant of Birth. His wife was about to become a mother, and was accordingly in need of magical aid. A similar belief caused birth girdles of straw or serpent skins, and eagle stones found in eagles' nests, to be used in ancient Britain and elsewhere throughout Europe apparently from the earliest times. 1
On this or another occasion Etana desired to ascend to highest heaven. He asked the Eagle to assist him, and the bird assented, saying: "Be glad, my friend. Let me bear thee to the highest heaven. Lay thy breast on mine and thine arms on my wings, and let my body be as thy body." Etana did as the great bird requested him, and together they ascended towards the firmament. After a flight which extended over two hours, the Eagle asked Etana to gaze downwards. He did so, and beheld the ocean surrounding the earth, and the earth seemed like a mountainous island. The Eagle resumed its flight, and when another two hours had elapsed, it again asked Etana to look downwards. Then the hero saw that the sea resembled a girdle which clasped the land. Two hours later Etana found that he had been raised to a height
from which the sea appeared to be no larger than a pond. By this time he had reached the heaven of Anu, Bel, and Ea, and found there rest and shelter.
Here the text becomes fragmentary. Further on it is gathered from the narrative that Etana is being carried still higher by the Eagle towards the heaven of Ishtar, "Queen of Heaven", the supreme mother goddess. Three times, at intervals of two hours, the Eagle asks Etana to look downwards towards the shrinking earth. Then some disaster happens, for further onwards the broken tablet narrates that the Eagle is falling. Down and down eagle and man fall together until they strike the earth, and the Eagle's body is shattered.
The Indian Garuda eagle 1 never met with such a fate, but on one occasion Vishnu overpowered it with his right arm, which was heavier than the whole universe, and caused many feathers to fall off. In the story of Rama's wanderings, however, as told in the Ràmyàna and the Mahàbhàrata, there are interesting references in this connection to Garuda's two "sons". One was mortally wounded by Ravana, the demon king of Ceylon. The other bird related to Rama, who found it disabled: "Once upon a time we two (brothers), with the desire of out-stripping each other, flew towards the sun. My wings were burnt, but those of my brother were not. . . . I fell down on the top of this great mountain, where I still am." 2
Another version of the Etana story survives among the Arabian Moslems. In the "Al Fatihat" chapter of the Koran it is related that a Babylonian king held a dispute with Abraham "concerning his Lord". Commentators
identify the monarch with Nimrod, who afterwards caused the Hebrew patriarch to be cast into a fire from which he had miraculous deliverance. Nimrod then built a tower so as to ascend to heaven "to see Abraham's god", and make war against Him, but the tower was overthrown. He, however, persisted in his design. The narrative states that he was "carried to heaven in a chest borne by four monstrous birds; but after wandering for some time through the air, he fell down on a mountain with such a force that he made it shake". A reference in the Koran to "contrivances . . . which make mountains tremble" is believed to allude to Nimrod's vain attempt. 1
Alexander the Great was also reputed to have ascended on the back of an eagle. Among the myths attached to his memory in the Ethiopic "history" is one which explains how "he knew and comprehended the length and breadth of the earth", and how he obtained knowledge regarding the seas and mountains he would have to cross. "He made himself small and flew through the air on an eagle, and he arrived in the heights of the heavens and he explored them." Another Alexandrian version of the Etana myth resembles the Arabic legend of Nimrod. "In the Country of Darkness" Alexander fed and tamed great birds which were larger than eagles. Then he ordered four of his soldiers to mount them. The men were carried to the "Country of the Living", and when they returned they told Alexander "all that had happened and all that they had seen". 2
In a Gaelic story a hero is carried off by a Cromhineach, "a vast bird like an eagle". He tells that it "sprang to the clouds with me, and I was a while that I
did not know which was heaven or earth for me". The hero died, but, curiously enough, remained conscious of what was happening. Apparently exhausted, the eagle flew to an island in the midst of the ocean. It laid the hero on the sunny side. The hero proceeds: "Sleep came upon herself (the eagle) and she slept. The sun was enlivening me pretty well though I was dead." Afterwards the eagle bathed in a healing well, and as it splashed in the water, drops fell on the hero and he came to life. "I grew stronger and more active", he adds, "than I had ever been before." 1
The eagle figures in various mythologies, and appears to have been at one time worshipped as the god or goddess of fertility, and storm and lightning, as the bringer of children, and the deity who carried souls to Hades. It was also the symbol of royalty, because the earthly ruler represented the controlling deity. Nin-Girsu, the god of Lagash, who was identified with Tammuz, was depicted as a lion-headed eagle. Zeus, the Greek sky and air god, was attended by an eagle, and may, at one time, have been simply an eagle. In Egypt the place of the eagle is taken by Nekhebit, the vulture goddess whom the Greeks identified with "Eileithyia, the goddess of birth; she was usually represented as a vulture hovering over the king". 2
The double-headed eagle of the Hittites, which figures in the royal arms of Germany and Russia, appears to have symbolized the deity of whom the king was an incarnation or son. In Indian mythology Garuda, the eagle giant, which destroyed serpents like the Babylonian Etana eagle, issued from its egg like a flame of fire; its eyes flashed the lightning and its voice was the thunder. This bird is identified in a hymn with Agni, god of fire, who
has the attributes of Tammuz and Mithra, with Brahma, the creator, with Indra, god of thunder and fertility, and with Yama, god of the dead, who carries off souls to Hades. It is also called "the steed-necked incarnation of Vishnu", the "Preserver" of the Hindu trinity who rode on its back. The hymn referred to lauds Garuda as "the bird of life, the presiding spirit of the animate and inanimate universe . . . destroyer of all, creator of all". It burns all "as the sun in his anger burneth all creatures". 1
Birds were not only fates, from whose movements in flight omens were drawn, but also spirits of fertility. When the childless Indian sage Mandapala of the Mahàbhàrata was refused admittance to heaven until a son was born to him, he "pondered deeply" and "came to know that of all creatures birds alone were blest with fecundity"; so he became a bird.
It is of interest, therefore, to find the Etana eagle figuring as a symbol of royalty at Rome. The deified Roman Emperor's waxen image was burned on a pyre after his death, and an eagle was let loose from the great pile to carry his soul to heaven. 2 This custom was probably a relic of seasonal fire worship, which may have been introduced into Northern and Western Syria and Asia Minor by the mysterious Mitanni rulers, if it was not an archaic Babylonian custom 3 associated with fire-and-water magical ceremonies, represented in the British Isles by May-Day and Midsummer fire-and-water festivals. Sandan, the mythical founder of Tarsus, was honoured
each year at that city by burning a great bonfire, and he was identified with Hercules. Probably he was a form of Moloch and Melkarth. 1 Doves were burned to Adonis. The burning of straw figures, representing gods of fertility, on May-Day bonfires may have been a fertility rite, and perhaps explains the use of straw birth-girdles.
According to the commentators of the Koran, Nimrod, the Babylonian king, who cast victims in his annual bon-fires at Cuthah, died on the eighth day of the Tammuz month, which, according to the Syrian calendar, fell on 13th July. 2 It is related that gnats entered Nimrod's brain, causing the membrane to grow larger. He suffered great pain, and to relieve it had his head beaten with a mallet. Although he lived for several hundred years, like other agricultural patriarchs, including the Tammuz of Berosus, it is possible that he was ultimately sacrificed and burned. The beating of Nimrod recalls the beating of the corn spirit of the agricultural legend utilized by Burns in his ballad of "John Barleycorn", which gives a jocular account of widespread ancient customs that are not yet quite extinct even in Scotland: 3
They fillèd up a darksome pit
With water to the brim,
They heavèd in John Barleycorn--
There let him sink or swim. p. 171
They wasted o’er a scorching flame
The marrow of his bones,
But the miller used him worst of all,
For he crushed him between two stones.
Hercules, after performing many mythical exploits, had himself burned alive on the pyre which he built upon Mount Œta, and was borne to Olympus amidst peals of thunder.
Gilgamesh, the Babylonian Hercules, who links with Etana, Nimrod, and Sandan, is associated with the eagle, which in India, as has been shown, was identified with the gods of fertility, fire, and death. According to a legend related by Ælian, 1 "the guards of the citadel of Babylon threw down to the ground a child who had been conceived and brought forth in secret, and who afterwards became known as Gilgamos". This appears to be another version of the Sargon-Tammuz myth, and may also refer to the sacrifice of children to Melkarth and Moloch, who were burned or slain "in the valleys under the clifts of the rocks" 2 to ensure fertility and feed the corn god. Gilgamesh, however, did not perish. "A keen-eyed eagle saw the child falling, and before it touched the ground the bird flew under it and received it on its back, and carried it away to a garden and laid it down gently." Here we have, it would appear, Tammuz among the flowers, and Sargon, the gardener, in the "Garden of Adonis". Mimic Adonis gardens were cultivated by women. Corn, &c., was forced in pots and baskets, and thrown, with an image of the god, into streams. "Ignorant people", writes Professor Frazer, "suppose that by mimicking the effect which they desire to produce they actually help to produce it: thus by sprinkling water they
make rain, by lighting a fire they make sunshine, and so on." 1 Evidently Gilgamesh was a heroic form of the god Tammuz, the slayer of the demons of winter and storm, who passed one part of the year in the world and another in Hades (Chapter VI).
Like Hercules, Gilgamesh figured chiefly in legendary narrative as a mighty hero. He was apparently of great antiquity, so that it is impossible to identify him with any forerunner of Sargon of Akkad, or Alexander the Great. His exploits were depicted on cylinder seals of the Sumerian period, and he is shown wrestling with a lion as Hercules wrestled with the monstrous lion in the valley of Nemea. The story of his adventures was narrated on twelve clay tablets, which were preserved in the library of Ashur-banipal, the Assyrian emperor. In the first tablet, which is badly mutilated, Gilgamesh is referred to as the man who beheld the world, and had great wisdom because he peered into the mysteries. He travelled to distant places, and was informed regarding the flood and the primitive race which the gods destroyed; he also obtained the plant of life, which his enemy, the earth-lion, in the form of a serpent or well demon, afterwards carried away.
Gilgamesh was associated with Erech, where he reigned as "the lord". There Ishtar had a great temple, but her worldly wealth had decreased. The fortifications of the city were crumbling, and for three years the Elamites besieged it. The gods had turned to flies and the winged bulls had become like mice. Men wailed like wild beasts and maidens moaned like doves. Ultimately the people prayed to the goddess Aruru to create a liberator. Bel, Shamash, and Ishtar also came to their aid.
Aruru heard the cries of her worshippers. She dipped her hands in water and then formed a warrior with clay. He was named Ea-bani, which signifies "Ea is my creator". It is possible, therefore, that an ancient myth of Eridu forms the basis of the narrative.
Ea-bani is depicted on the cylinder seals as a hairy man-monster resembling the god Pan. He ate grass with the gazelles and drank water with wild beasts, and he is compared to the corn god, which suggests that he was an early form of Tammuz, and of character somewhat resembling the Egyptian Bast, the half-bestial god of fertility. A hunter was sent out from Erech to search for the man-monster, and found him beside a stream in a savage place drinking with his associates, the wild animals. The description of Ea-bani recalls that of Nebuchadnezzar when he was stricken with madness.
He was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles' feathers, and his nails like birds' claws." 1
The hunter had no desire to combat with Ea-bani, so he had him lured from the wilds by a beautiful woman. Love broke the spell which kept Ea-bani in his savage state, and the wild beasts fled from him. Then the temptress pleaded with him to go with her to Erech, where Anu and Ishtar had their temples, and the mighty Gilgamesh lived in his palace. Ea-bani, deserted by his bestial companions, felt lonely and desired human friend-ship. So he consented to accompany his bride. Having heard of Gilgamesh from the hunter, he proposed to test his strength in single combat, but Shamash, god of the sun, warned Ea-bani that he was the protector of Gilgamesh,
who had been endowed with great knowledge by Bel and Anu and Ea. Gilgamesh was also counselled in a vision of night to receive Ea-bani as an ally.
Ea-bani was not attracted by city life and desired to return to the wilds, but Shamash prevailed upon him to remain as the friend of Gilgamesh, promising that he would be greatly honoured and exalted to high rank.
The two heroes became close friends, and when the narrative becomes clear again, they are found to be setting forth to wage war against Chumbaba, 1 the King of Elam. Their journey was long and perilous. In time they entered a thick forest, and wondered greatly at the numerous and lofty cedars. They saw the great road which the king had caused to be made, the high mountain, and the temple of the god. Beautiful were the trees about the mountain, and there were many shady retreats that were fragrant and alluring.
At this point the narrative breaks off; for the tablet is mutilated. When it is resumed a reference is made to "the head of Chumbaba", who has apparently been slain by the heroes. Erech was thus freed from the oppression of its fierce enemy.
Gilgamesh and Ea-bani appear to have become prosperous and happy. But in the hour of triumph a shadow falls. Gilgamesh is robed in royal splendour and wears his dazzling crown. He is admired by all men, but suddenly it becomes known that the goddess Ishtar has been stricken with love for him. She "loved him with that love which was his doom". Those who are loved by celestials or demons become, in folk tales, melancholy wanderers and "night wailers". The "wretched wight" in Keats' "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" is a typical example.
. . . . .
I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful--a faery's child;
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.
. . . . .
She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild and manna dew;
And sure in language strange she said,
"I love thee true".
Having kissed her lover to sleep, the fairy woman vanished. The "knight" then saw in a dream the ghosts of knights and warriors, her previous victims, who warned him of his fate.
The goddess Ishtar appeared as "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" before Gilgamesh and addressed him tenderly, saying: "Come, O Gilgamesh, and be my consort. Gift thy strength unto me. Be thou my husband and I will be thy bride. Thou shalt have a chariot of gold and lapis lazuli with golden wheels and gem-adorned. Thy steeds shall be fair and white and powerful. Into my dwelling thou shalt come amidst the fragrant cedars. Every king and every prince will bow down before thee, O Gilgamesh, to kiss thy feet, and all people will become subject unto thee."
Gilgamesh feared the fate which would attend him as
the lover of Ishtar, and made answer saying: "To what husband hast thou ever remained faithful? Each year Tammuz, the lover of thy youth, is caused by thee to weep. Thou didst love the Allala bird and then broke his wings, and he moans in the woods crying, 'O my wings!' Thou didst love the lion and then snared him. Thou didst love the horse, and then laid harness on him and made him gallop half a hundred miles so that he suffered great distress, and thou didst oppress his mother Silili. Thou didst love a shepherd who sacrificed kids unto thee, and then thou didst smite him so that he became a jackal (or leopard); his own herd boy drove him away and his dogs rent him in pieces. Thou didst love Ishullanu, the gardener of Anu, who made offerings unto thee, and then smote him so that he was unable to move. Alas! if thou wouldst love me, my fate would be like unto the fates of those on whom thou hast laid affliction."
Ishtar's heart was filled with wrath when she heard the words which Gilgamesh had spoken, and she prevailed upon her father Anu to create a fierce bull which she sent against the lord of Erech.
This monster, however, was slain by Gilgamesh 1 and Ea-bani, but their triumph was shortlived. Ishtar cursed Gilgamesh. Ea-bani then defied her and threatened to deal with her as he had dealt with the bull, with the result that he was cursed by the goddess also.
Gilgamesh dedicated the horns of the bull to Shamash and returned with his friend to Erech, where they were received with great rejoicings. A festival was held, and afterwards the heroes lay down to sleep. Then Ea-bani dreamt a dream of ill omen. He met his death soon afterwards, apparently in a battle, and Gilgamesh lamented
Click to enlarge
THE SLAYING OF THE BULL OF ISHTAR
From the Painting by E. Wallcousins.
over him. From the surviving fragments of the narrative it would appear that Gilgamesh resolved to undertake a journey, for he had been stricken by disease. He wept and cried out, "Oh! let me not die like Ea-bani, for death is fearful. I will seek the aid of mine ancestor, Pir-napishtim"--the Babylonian Noah, who was believed to be dwelling on an island which corresponds to the Greek "Island of the Blessed". The Babylonian island lay in the ocean of the Nether World.
It seems that Gilgamesh not only hoped to obtain the Water of Life and the Plant of Life to cure his own disease, but also to restore to life his dead friend, Ea-bani, whom he loved.
Gilgamesh set out on his journey and in time reached a mountain chasm. Gazing on the rugged heights, he beheld fierce lions and his heart trembled. Then he cried upon the moon god, who took pity upon him, and under divine protection the hero pressed onward. He crossed the rocky range and then found himself confronted by the tremendous mountain of Mashi--"Sunset hill", which divided the land of the living from the western land of the dead. The mountain peak rose to heaven, and its foundations were in Aralu, the Underworld. 1 A dark tunnel pierced it and could be entered through a door, but the door was shut and on either side were two monsters of horrible aspect--the gigantic "scorpion man" and his wife, whose heads reached to the clouds. When Gilgamesh beheld them he swooned with terror. But they did him no harm, perceiving that he was a son of a god and had a body like a god.
When Gilgamesh revived, he realized that the monsters
regarded him with eyes of sympathy. Addressing the scorpion giant, he told that he desired to visit his ancestor, Pir-napishtim, who sat in the council of the gods and had divine attributes. The giant warned him of the dangers which he would encounter, saying that the mountain passage was twelve miles long and beamless and black. Gilgamesh, however, resolved to encounter any peril, for he was no longer afraid, and he was allowed to go forward. So he entered through the monster-guarded mountain door and plunged into thick unbroken darkness. For twice twelve hours he groped blindly onward, until he saw a ray of light. Quickening his steps, he then escaped from the dreadful tunnel and once more rejoiced in the rays of the sun. He found himself in an enchanted garden, and in the midst of it he saw a divine and beautiful tree towards which he hastened. On its gleaming branches hung clusters of precious stones and its leaves were of lapis lazuli. His eyes were dazzled, but he did not linger there. Passing many other wonderful trees, he came to a shoreland, and he knew that he was drawing nigh to the Sea of Death. The country which he entered was ruled over by the sea lady whose name was Sabitu. When she saw the pilgrim drawing nigh, she entered her palace and shut the door.
Gilgamesh called out requesting that he should be allowed to enter, and mingled his entreaties with threats to break open the door. In the end Sabitu appeared and spoke, saying:
[paragraph continues] This is the philosophy of the Egyptian "Lay of the Harper". The following quotations are from two separate versions:
. . . . . .
(Make) it pleasant for thee to follow thy desire
While thou livest.
Put myrrh upon thy head,
And garments on thee of fine linen. . . .
Celebrate the glad day,
Be not weary therein. . . .
Thy sister (wife) who dwells in thy heart.
She sits at thy side.
Put song and music before thee,
Behind thee all evil things,
And remember thou (only) joy. 2
Jastrow contrasts the Babylonian poem with the following quotation from Ecclesiastes:--
Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart. . . . Let thy garments be always white; and
let thy head lack no ointment. Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he [God] hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun. 1
"The pious Hebrew mind", Jastrow adds, "found the corrective to this view of life in the conception of a stern but just God, acting according to self-imposed standards of right and wrong, whose rule extends beyond the grave." The final words of the Preacher are, "Fear God and keep his commandments". 2
Gilgamesh did not accept the counsel of the fatalistic sea lady. He asked her how he could reach Pir-napishtim, his ancestor, saying he was prepared to cross the Sea of Death: if he could not cross it he would die of grief.
Sabitu answered him, saying: "O Gilgamesh, no mortal is ferried over this great sea. Who can pass over it save Shamash alone? The way is full of peril. O Gilgamesh, how canst thou battle against the billows of death?"
At length, however, the sea lady revealed to the pilgrim that he might obtain the aid of the sailor, Arad Ea, who served his ancestor Pir-napishtim.
Gilgamesh soon found where Arad Ea dwelt, and after a time prevailed upon him to act as ferryman. Arad Ea required a helm for his boat, and Gilgamesh hastened to fashion one from a tree. When it was fixed on, the boat was launched and the voyage began. Terrible experiences were passed through as they crossed the Sea of Death, but at length they drew nigh to the "Island of the Blessed" on which dwelt Pir-napishtim and his wife. Wearied by his exertions and wasted by disease, Gilgamesh sat resting in the boat. He did not go ashore.
Pir-napishtim had perceived the vessel crossing the Sea of Death and marvelled greatly.
The story is unfortunately interrupted again, but it appears that Gilgamesh poured into the ears of his ancestor the tale of his sufferings, adding that he feared death and desired to escape his fate.
Pir-napishtim made answer, reminding the pilgrim that all men must die. Men built houses, sealed contracts, disputed one with another, and sowed seeds in the earth, but as long as they did so and the rivers rose in flood, so long would their fate endure. Nor could any man tell when his hour would come. The god of destiny measured out the span of life: he fixed the day of death, but never revealed his secrets.
Gilgamesh then asked Pir-napishtim how it chanced that he was still alive. "Thou hast suffered no change," he said, "thou art even as I am. Harden not thy heart against me, but reveal how thou hast obtained divine life in the company of the gods."
Pir-napishtim thereupon related to his descendant the story of the deluge, which is dealt with fully in the next chapter. The gods had resolved to destroy the world, and Ea in a dream revealed unto Pir-napishtim how he could escape. He built a ship which was tossed about on the waters, and when the world had been destroyed, Bel discovered him and transported him to that island in the midst of the Sea of Death.
Gilgamesh sat in the boat listening to the words of his ancestor. When the narrative was ended, Pir-napishtim spoke sympathetically and said: "Who among the gods will restore thee to health, O Gilgamesh? Thou hast knowledge of my life, and thou shalt be given the life thou dost strive after. Take heed, therefore, to what I say unto thee. For six days and seven nights thou
shalt not lie down, but remain sitting like one in the midst of grief." 1
Gilgamesh sat in the ship, and sleep enveloped him like to a black storm cloud.
Pir-napishtim spoke to his wife and said: "Behold the hero who desireth to have life. Sleep envelops him like to a black storm cloud."
To that lone man his wife made answer: "Lay thine hand upon him so that he may have perfect health and be enabled to return to his own land. Give him power to pass through the mighty door by which he entered."
Then Pir-napishtim addressed his wife, saying: "His sufferings make me sad. Prepare thou for him the magic food, and place it near his head."
On the day when Gilgamesh lay down, the food was prepared by seven magic processes, and the woman ad-ministered it while yet he slept. Then Pir-napishtim touched him, and he awoke full of life.
Gilgamesh spake unto Pir-napishtim and said: "I was suddenly overcome by sleep. . . . But thou didst awaken me by touching me, even thou. . . . Lo! I am bewitched. What hast thou done unto thy servant?"
Then Pir-napishtim told Gilgamesh that he had been given to eat of the magic food. Afterwards he caused Arad Ea to carry Gilgamesh to a fountain of healing, where his disease-stricken body was cleansed. The blemished skin fell from him, and he was made whole.
Thereafter Gilgamesh prepared to return to his own land. Ere he bade farewell, however, Pir-napishtim revealed unto him the secret of a magic plant which had power to renew life and give youth and strength unto those who were old.
Arad Ea conducted the hero to the island where the plant grew, and when Gilgamesh found it he rejoiced, and said that he would carry it to Erech, his own city, where he would partake of it and restore his youth.
So Gilgamesh and Arad Ea went on their way together, nor paused until they came to a well of pure water. The hero stooped down to draw water. 1 But while he was thus engaged that demon, the Earth Lion, crept forth as a serpent, and, seizing the magic plant of life, carried it away. Stricken with terror, Gilgamesh uttered a curse. Then he sat down and wept bitterly, and the tears streamed over his face. To Arad Ea he spake, saying: "Why has my health been restored to me? Why should I rejoice because that I live? The benefit which I should have derived for myself has now fallen to the Earth Lion."
The two travellers then resumed their journey, performing religious acts from time to time; chanting dirges and holding feasts for the dead, and at length Gilgamesh returned to Erech. He found that the city walls were crumbling, and he spake regarding the ceremonies which had been performed while yet he was in a far-distant country.
During the days which followed Gilgamesh sorrowed for his lost friend Ea-bani, whose spirit was in the Underworld, the captive of the spirits of death. "Thou canst not draw thy bow now," he cried, "nor raise the battle shout. Thou canst not kiss the woman thou hast loved; thou canst not kiss the child thou hast loved, nor canst thou smite those whom thou hast hated."
In vain Gilgamesh appealed to his mother goddess to restore Ea-bani to him. Then he turned to the gods, and
[paragraph continues] Ea heard him. Thereafter Nergal, god of death, caused the grave to yawn, and the spirit of Ea-bani arose like a wind gust.
Gilgamesh, still dreading death, spoke to the ghost of his friend, saying: "Tell me, my friend, O tell me regarding the land in which thou dost dwell."
Ea-bani made answer sorrowfully: "Alas! I cannot tell thee, my friend. If I were to tell thee all, thou wouldst sit down and weep."
Said Gilgamesh: "Let me sit down and weep, but tell me regarding the land of spirits."
The text is mutilated here, but it can be gathered that Ea-bani described the land where ill-doers were punished, where the young were like the old, where the worm devoured, and dust covered all. But the state of the warrior who had been given burial was better than that of the man who had not been buried, and had no one to lament or care for him. "He who hath been slain in battle," the ghost said, "reposeth on a couch drinking pure water--one slain in battle as thou hast seen and I have seen. His head is supported by his parents: beside him sits his wife. His spirit doth not haunt the earth. But the spirit of that man whose corpse has been left unburied and uncared for, rests not, but prowls through the streets eating scraps of food, the leavings of the feast, and drinking the dregs of vessels."
So ends the story of Gilgamesh in the form which survives to us.
The journey of Gilgamesh to the Island of the Blessed recalls the journeys made by Odin, Hermod, Svipdag, Hotherus and others to the Germanic Hela. When Hermod went to search for Balder, as the Prose Edda relates, he rode through thick darkness for nine days and nine nights ere he crossed the mountains. As Gilgamesh
met Sabitu, Hermod met Modgudur, "the maiden who kept the bridge "over the river Gjöll. Svipdag, according to a Norse poem, was guided like the Babylonian hero by the moon god, Gevar, who instructed him what way he should take to find the irresistible sword. Saxo's Hother, who is instructed by "King Gewar", crosses dismal mountains "beset with extraordinary cold". 1 Thorkill crosses a stormy ocean to the region of perpetual darkness, where the ghosts of the dead are confined in loathsome and dusty caves. At the main entrance "the door posts were begrimed with the soot of ages". 2 In the Elder Edda Svipdag is charmed against the perils he will be confronted by as he fares "o’er seas mightier than men do know", or is overtaken by night "wandering on the misty way". 3 When Odin "downward rode into Misty Hel" he sang spells at a "witch's grave", and the ghost rose up to answer his questions regarding Balder. "Tell me tidings of Hel", he addressed her, as Gilgamesh addressed the ghost of Ea-bani.
In the mythical histories of Alexander the Great, the hero searches for the Water of Life, and is confronted by a great mountain called Musas (Mashti). A demon stops him and says: "O king, thou art not able to march through this mountain, for in it dwelleth a mighty god who is like unto a monster serpent, and he preventeth everyone who would go unto him." In another part of the narrative Alexander and his army arrive at a place of darkness "where the blackness is not like the darkness of night, but is like unto the mists and clouds which descend at the break of day". A servant uses a shining jewel stone, which Adam had brought from Paradise, to guide him, and found the well. He drank
of the "waters of life" and bathed in them, with the result that he was strengthened and felt neither hunger nor thirst. When he came out of the well "all the flesh of his body became bluish-green and his garments likewise bluish-green". Apparently he assumed the colour of supernatural beings. Rama of India was blue, and certain of his monkey allies were green, like the fairies of England and Scotland. This fortunate man kept his secret. His name was Matun, but he was afterwards nicknamed "'El-Khidr', that is to say, 'Green'". What explanation he offered for his sudden change of appearance has not been recorded. 1 It is related that when Matun reached the Well of Life a dried fish which he dipped in the water was restored to life and swam away. In the Koran a similar story is told regarding Moses and Joshua, who travelled "for a long space of time" to a place where two seas met. "They forgot their fish which they had taken with them, and the fish took its way freely to the sea." The Arabian commentators explain that Moses once agreed to the suggestion that he was the wisest of men. In a dream he was directed to visit Al Khedr, who was "more knowing than he", and to take a fish with him in a basket. On the seashore Moses fell asleep, and the fish, which had been roasted, leapt out of the basket into the sea. Another version sets forth that Joshua, "making the ablution at the fountain of life", some of the water happened to be sprinkled on the fish, which immediately leapt up. 2
The Well of Life is found in Fingalian legends. When Diarmid was mortally wounded by the boar, he called upon Finn to carry water to him from the well:
The quest of the plant, flower, or fruit of life is referred to in many folk tales. In the Mahàbhàrata, Bhima, the Indian Gilgamesh or Hercules, journeys to north-eastern Celestial regions to find the lake of the god Kuvera (Kubera), on which grow the "most beautiful and unearthly lotuses", which restore health and give strength to the weary. As Gilgamesh meets with Pir-napishtim, who relates the story of the Deluge which destroyed the "elder race", Bhima meets with Hanuman, who informs him regarding the Ages of the Universe and the races which were periodically destroyed by deluges. When Bhima reaches the lotus lake he fights with demons. To heal his wounds and recover strength he plunges into the lake. "As he drank of the waters, like unto nectar, his energy and strength were again fully restored." 1
Hercules similarly sets out to search for the golden apples which grow in
As Bhima slew Yakshas which guarded the lotuses, Hercules slew Ladon, the guardian of the apples. Other heroes kill treasure-protecting dragons of various kinds.
There is a remarkable resemblance between the Babylonian account of Gilgamesh's journey through the mountain tunnel to the garden and seashore, and the Indian story of the demigod Hanuman passing through the long
cavern to the shoreland palace of the female ascetic, when he was engaged searching for Sita, the wife of Rama, who had been carried away by Ravana, the demon king of Ceylon. In the version of the latter narrative which is given in the Mahàbhàrata, Hanuman says: "I bring thee good news, O Rama; for Janaka's daughter hath been seen by me. Having searched the southern region with all its hills, forests, and mines for some time, we became very weary. At length we beheld a great cavern. And having beheld it, we entered that cavern which extended over many yojanas. It was dark and deep, and overgrown with trees and infested by worms. And having gone a great way through it, we came upon sunshine and beheld a beautiful palace. It was the abode of the Daitya (sea demon) Maya. And there we beheld a female ascetic named Parbhávati engaged in ascetic austerities. And she gave us food and drink of various kinds. And having refreshed ourselves therewith and regained our strength, we proceeded along the way shown by her. At last we came out of the cavern and beheld the briny sea, and on its shores, the Sahya, the Malaya, and the great Dardura mountains. And ascending the mountains of Malaya, we beheld before us the vast ocean (or, "the abode of Varuna"). And beholding it, we felt sorely grieved in mind. . . . We despaired of returning with our lives. . . . We then sat together, resolved to die there of starvation."
Hanuman and his friends, having had, so far, experiences similar to those of Gilgamesh, next discovered the eagle giant which had burned its wings when endeavouring to soar to the sun. This great bird, which resembles the Etana eagle, expressed the opinion that Sita was in Lanka (Ceylon), whither she must have been carried by Ravana. But no one dared to cross the dangerous ocean. Hanuman
at length, however, obtained the assistance of Vayu, the wind god, his divine father, and leapt over the sea, slaying monsters as he went. He discovered where the fair lady was concealed by the king of demons. 1
The dark tunnel is met with in many British stories of daring heroes who set out to explore it, but never return. In the Scottish versions the adventurers are invariably pipers who are accompanied by dogs. The sound of the pipes is heard for a time; then the music ceases suddenly, and shortly afterwards the dog returns without a hair upon its body. It has evidently been in conflict with demons.
The tunnel may run from a castle to the seashore, from a cave on one side of a hill to a cave on the other, or from a seashore cave to a distant island.
It is possible that these widespread tunnel stories had origin among the cave dwellers of the Palæolithic Age, who believed that deep caverns were the doors of the underground retreats of dragons and giants and other supernatural enemies of mankind.
In Babylonia, as elsewhere, the priests utilized the floating material from which all mythologies were framed, and impressed upon it the stamp of their doctrines. The symbolized stories were afterwards distributed far and wide, as were those attached to the memory of Alexander the Great at a later period. Thus in many countries may be found at the present day different versions of immemorial folk tales, which represent various stages of culture, and direct and indirect contact at different periods with civilizations that have stirred the ocean of human thought, and sent their ideas rippling in widening circles to far-distant shores.
164:1 It is suggested that Arthur is derived from the Celtic word for "bear". If so, the bear may have been the "totem" of the Arthur tribe represented by the Scottish clan of MacArthurs.
165:1 See "Lady in the Straw" beliefs in Brand's Popular Antiquities, vol. ii, 66 et seq. (1899 ed.).
166:1 Like the Etana "mother eagle" Garuda was a slayer of serpents (Chapter III).
166:2 Yana Parva section of the Mahàbhàrata (Roy's trans.), p. 818 et seq., and Indian Myth and Legend, p. 413.
167:1 The Koran (with notes from approved commentators), trans. by George Sale, p. 246, n.
167:2 The Life and Exploits of Alexander the Great, E. Wallis Budge (London, 1896), pp. 277-8, 474-5.
168:1 Campbell's West Highland Tales, vol. iii, pp. 251-4 (1892 ed.).
168:2 Religion of the Ancient Egyptians, A. Wiedemann, p. 14.
169:1 Adi Parva section of the Mahàbhàrata (Hymn to Garuda), Roy's trans., p. 88, 89.
169:2 Herodian, iv, 2.
169:3 The image made by Nebuchadnezzar is of interest in this connection. He decreed that "whoso falleth not down and worshippeth" should be burned in the "fiery furnace". The Hebrews, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, were accordingly thrown into the fire, but were delivered by God. Daniel, iii, 1-30.
170:1 The Assyrian and Phœnician Hercules is discussed by Raoul Rochette in Mémoires de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres (Paris, 1848), pp. 178 et seq.
170:2 G. Sale's Koran, p. 246, n.
170:3 In the Eddic poem "Lokasenna" the god Byggvir (Barley) is addressed by Loki, "Silence, Barleycorn!" The Elder Edda, translation by Olive Bray, pp. 262, 263.
171:1 De Nat. Animal., xii, 21, ed. Didot, p. 210, quoted by Professor Budge in The Life and Exploits of Alexander the Great, p. 278, n.
171:2 Isaiah, lvii, 4 and 5.
172:1 The Golden Bough (Adonis, Attis, Osiris vol.), "The Gardens of Adonis", pp. 194 et seq. (3rd ed.).
173:1 Daniel, iv, 33. It is possible that Nebuchadnezzar, as the human representative of the god of corn and fertility, imitated the god by living a time in the wilds like Ea-bani.
174:1 Pronounce ch guttural.
176:1 On a cylinder seal the heroes each wrestle with a bull.
177:1 Alexander the Great in the course of his mythical travels reached a mountain at the world-end. "Its peak reached to the first heaven and its base to the seventh earth."--Budge.
179:1 Jastrow's trans., Aspects of Religious Belief and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria, p. 374.
179:2 Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt (1912), J. H. Breasted, pp. 183-5.
180:1 Ecclesiastes, ix, 7-9.
180:2 Ibid., xii, 13.
182:1 Perhaps brooding and undergoing penance like an Indian Rishi with purpose to obtain spiritual power.
183:1 Probably to perform the ceremony or pouring out a libation.
185:1 Saxo, iii, 71.
185:2 Ibid., viii, 291.
185:3 The Elder Edda, O. Bray, pp. 157 et seq. See also Teutonic Myth and Legend.
186:1 The Life and Exploits of Alexander the Great, E. Wallis Budge, pp. xl et seq., 167 et seq.
186:2 The Koran, trans. by G. Sale, pp. 222, 223 (chap. xviii).
187:1 Yana Parva section of the Mahàbhàrata (Roy's trans.), pp. 435-60, and Indian Myth and Legend, pp. 105-9.
189:1 Yana Parva section of the Mahàbhàrata (Roy's translation), pp. 832, 833.