The Epic of Gilgamesh
How we cite our quotes:
At his third snort a huge pit opened up,
and Enkidu fell in up to his waist.
Then Enkidu jumped out and seized the Bull of Heaven by its horns.
The Bull spewed its spittle in front of him,
with his thick tail he flung his dung behind him (?).
Enkidu addressed Gilgamesh, saying:
"My friend, we can be bold(?) …
How shall we respond …
My friend, I saw …
And my strength …
I will rip out …
I and you, we must share(?)
I shall grasp the Bull
I will fill my hands (?) …
In front …
Between the nape, the horns, and … thrust your sword." (6.124-140)
This passage is fragmentary, but we still think it's possible to get the idea of what's going on. Basically, the Bull of Heaven, sent by Ishtar, is attacking Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Because the Bull is so powerful, its snorts make giant crevices open up in the earth—and Enkidu falls into one of these. But Enkidu doesn't give up the fight; instead, as the passage tells us, he jumps up and grasps the Bull by the horns. So to speak. Then, even though the Bull starts spewing bodily waste in every direction, Enkidu keeps hanging on—and even gives his friend instructions on how to kill the beast. Once again, Gilgamesh does as he's told. Once again, Enkidu's perseverance triumphs. So … is Gilgamesh learning perseverance from Enkidu?
The Scorpion-being spoke to Gilgamesh …, saying:
"Never has there been, Gilgamesh, a mortal man who could do that (?).
No one has crossed through the mountains,
for twelve leagues it is darkness throughout—
dense is the darkness, and light there is none.
"Though it be in deep sadness andpain,
in cold or heat …
gasping after breath … I will go on!
Now! Open the Gate!" (9.139-146, 215-221)
Finally, Gilgamesh has arrived at the end of the earth—but the passage forward is defended by two Scorpion-beings. Gilgamesh needs permission from the Scorpion-beings to proceed further. Although what the first Scorpion-being says at this point is hard to make out (because the tablet is broken), he basically seems to be making the road ahead seems super spooky Gilgamesh will turn back. But Gilgamesh isn't about to back to down—and he gives the Scorpion-being a piece of his mind. When the Scorpion-being sees Gilgamesh's perseverance, it gives him permission to continue—and wishes that he will continue to be brave and persevere on the rest of his journey. Is this a larger message to the Sumerian readers of this text? Is perseverance a trait that we should all be aspiring to as good Sumerians?
Along the Road of the Sun he journeyed—
one league he traveled …,
dense was the darkness, light there was none.
Neither what lies ahead nor behind does it allow him to see.
Two leagues he traveled …,
dense was the darkness, light there was none,
neither what lies ahead nor behind does it allow him to see.
Eleven leagues he traveled and came out before the sun(rise)
Twelve leagues he traveled and it grew brilliant. (9.227-233, 256-277)
Here, Gilgamesh has to travel 12 leagues before the sun comes barreling along the same path, when he will be burned to a crisp. Stopping at any point on this journey is not an option. As you can see, Gilgamesh just barely escapes getting fried—but escapes nonetheless. For modern readers, the way the story is told here might seem a bit repetitious—but we think this might just be the epic's way of acting out Gilgamesh's perseverance.