The Epic of Gilgamesh
Religion Quotes Page 1
How we cite our quotes:
"Ninsun, (even though) I am extraordinarily strong(?) …
I must now travel a long way to where Humbaba is,
I must face fighting such as I have never known,
and I must travel on a road that I do not know!
intercede with Shamash on my behalf!" (3.23-31)
Check out one of the typical features of pantheistic belief-systems: just like in the Classical epics of Homer or Virgil, characters in The Epic of Gilgamesh exploit divisions between the different gods. Here, Gilgamesh asks his mom Ninsun to put in a good word for him with Shamash, the sun-god. But, before you interpret this as meaning that Gilgamesh is religious and wants the gods on his side, remember that Humbaba was created by Enlil and put in the Cedar Forest on purpose to terrify humans. Thus, while Gilgamesh wants one god to back him up, he is also getting himself in a conflict with another god, Enlil. In a world like this one, can a man—or a king—ever be on everybody's good side?
Ninsun went into her living quarters.
She washed herself with the purity plant,
she donned a robe worthy of her body,
she donned jewels worthy of her chest,
she donned her sash, and put on her crown.
She sprinkled water from a bowl onto the ground.
She … and went up to the roof.
She went up to the roof and set incense in front of Shamash,
she offered fragrant cuttings, and raised her arms to Shamash. (3.35-45)
Here we see that Ninsun listens to the prayers of her son, to put in a good word with Shamash. But, weirdly enough, she doesn't seem to have a special hotline to him, nor does she look him up in the top-secret gods-only telephone directory. Instead, she has to pray to him too, in much the same way that Gilgamesh prayed to her (his own mother).
Gilgamesh climbed up a mountain peak,
made a libation of flour, and said:
"Mountain, bring me a dream, a favorable message from Shamash."
Enkidu prepared a sleeping place for him for the night;
a violent wind passed through so he attached a covering.
He made him lie down, and … in a circle.
They … like grain from the mountain … (4.8-14)
These lines come from Gilgamesh and Enkidu's voyage to the Cedar Forest. Here, we get a hint at the special religious importance that Mesopotamian culture attached to dreams, which were often seen as prophesying the future or as messages from the gods. Just another way that religion was part of everyday life.