The Epic of Gilgamesh
The Epic of Gilgamesh Man and the Natural World Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Tablet.Line)
He carved on a stone stela all of his toils,
and built the wall of Uruk-Haven,
the wall of the sacred Eanna Temple, the holy sanctuary.
Look at its wall which gleams like copper (?),
inspect its inner wall, the likes of which no one can equal!
Take hold the threshold stone—it dates from ancient times! (1.9-22)
The opening description of the city emphasizes the difference between human culture and the natural world particularly through writing—the skill that let people stockpile crops, make business transactions, and pay taxes. (Sorry to burst your bubbles, but writing was a business technology before it was a way for tortured poets to confess their misery.) Given that this whole poem is written, we're not surprised that the author thinks writing is pretty special.
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.
It was he who reached by his own sheer strength Utanapishtim, the Faraway,
who restored the sanctuaries (or: cities) that the Flood had destroyed!
… for teeming mankind. (1.36-42)
Here, we're treated to a description of Gilgamesh's prowess. These lines emphasize Gilgamesh's role as someone who does battle with—and triumphs over—nature. Just look at that use of the word "flank" (something we typically associate with animals or war) when it talks about how Gilgamesh "dug wells on the flank of the mountain." Or the water bubbling up from those wells like blood flowing from the side of a wounded animal. So, do these lines portray Gilgamesh's triumph over nature in a positive or a negative light? Also, note that Gilgamesh is described as the one who fixed up what the Flood has destroyed. Could this be a hint that we're supposed to compare Gilgamesh to Utanapishtim, the man who survived the Flood itself, whom we'll meet in Tablet 11? Out of Gilgamesh and Utanapishtim, who has the greater triumph over nature?
Aruru washed her hands, she pinched off some clay, and threw it into the wilderness.
In the wilderness(?) she created valiant Enkidu,
He knew neither people nor settled living,
but wore a garment like Sumukan.
He ate grasses with the gazelles,
and jostled at the watering hole with the animals;
as with animals, his thirst was slaked with (mere) water. (1.83-93)
Here, we see how Aruru created Enkidu and placed him in the wilderness. And it's all about the contrast. What are the main differences the poem highlights between Enkidu's way of life and that of an ordinary human being? What does this say about the poem's view of human life in general?