Study Guide

The Epic of Gilgamesh Quotes

  • Man and the Natural World

    Chapter 1, Tablet 1

    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?

    He filled in the pits that I dug,
    wrenched out my traps that I had spread,
    released from my grasp the wild animals.
    He does not let me make my rounds in the wilderness!" (1.105-115)

    Here, we hear the trapper complaining to his father about the wild man (Enkidu) whom he has encountered several times at the watering hole. According to the trapper, Enkidu doesn't just act like an animal and hang out with the animals. He also actively helps the animals escape from the trapper's traps. And we have to ask: if Enkidu is freeing animals from traps, how much of an animal can he really be? Doesn't the ability he has to free an animal that can't free itself show that he really is human, even if he doesn't know it yet?

    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?

    Chapter 2, Tablet 2
    Shamhat

    "Eat the food, Enkidu, it is the way one lives.
    Drink the beer, as is the custom of the land."
    Enkidu ate the food until he was sated,
    he drank the beer—seven jugs!—and became expansive and sang with joy!
    He was elated and his face glowed. (Old Babylonian Supplement at 2.56)

    Eating and drinking are among the most basic things an animal (including a human animal) needs to do in order to survive. And yet, the way humans eat when they are together in society—drinking out of jugs, for example—is completely different from the way animals eat in nature. But the food is different, too: a loaf of bread looks pretty different from grass, even though it comes from a kind grass. Hence Enkidu's confusion when Shamhat takes him to have dinner with the shepherds. That said, he seems to take to these news ways pretty quickly—especially to the beer.

    Chapter 7, Tablet 7
    Enkidu

    "Come now, Harlot, I am going to decree your fate,
    a fate that will never come to an end for eternity!
    I will curse you with a Great Curse,
    may my curses overwhelm you suddenly, in an instant!" (7.88-93)

    Here Enkidu thinks that, if he hadn't been brought into the human world, he wouldn't have gone through the chain of events that led to him being struck down with disease by the gods. What do you think of Enkidu's line of reasoning here? How safe is life in the wilderness anyway? Is there any guarantee that he would have been better off there?

    Shamash

    When Shamash heard what his mouth had uttered,
    he suddenly called out to him from the sky:
    "Enkidu, why are you cursing the harlot, Shamhat,
    she who fed you bread fit for a god,
    she who gave you wine fit for a king,
    she who dressed you in grand garments,
    and she who allowed you to make beautiful Gilgamesh your brother comrade?" (7.122-128)

    Shamash doesn't like what he's hearing from Enkidu. Here, he reminds Enkidu of all the good things that have come with civilization—like Enkidu's new friendship with Gilgamesh. But notice that Shamash never breathes a word in support of the trapper. Why do you think the god doesn't stick up for him?

    Chapter 8, Tablet 8
    Gilgamesh

    "May the …, the cypress, and the cedar which we destroyed(?) in our anger mourn you.
    May the bear, hyena, panther, tiger, water buffalo(?), jackal, lion, wild bull, stag, ibex, all the
    creatures of the plains mourn you.
    May the holy River Ulaja, along whose banks we grandly used to stroll, mourn you.
    May the pure Euphrates, to which we would libate water from our wineskins, mourn you.
    May the men of Uruk-Haven, whom we saw in our battle when we killed the Bull of Heaven,
    mourn you.
    May the farmer …, who extols your name in his sweet work song, mourn you.
    May the … of the broad city, who … exalted your name, mourn you.
    May the herder …, who prepared butter and light beer for your mouth, mourn you.
    May …, who put ointments on your back, mourn you.
    May …, who prepared fine beer for your mouth, mourn you.
    May the harlot, … you rubbed yourself with oil and felt good, mourn you.
    May …, … of the wife placed (?) a ring on you …, mourn you. (8.14-25)

    Gilgamesh doesn't only call on the human world to lament his friend, but on the natural world as well. Is the idea that he wants the whole world to be lamenting his friend? Note that, in these lines, Gilgamesh also emphasizes some very specific parts of human technology, like butter and beer, and the actions of a harlot who rubbed Enkidu with oil. Based on these details, would you say that Gilgamesh agrees or disagrees with the curse Enkidu placed on the trapper and Shamhat (before the god Shamash helped him change his mind)?

    "May the Roads of Enkidu to the Cedar Forest mourn you
    and not fall silent night or day.
    May the Elders of the broad city of Uruk-Haven mourn you.
    May the peoples who gave their blessing after us mourn you.
    May the men of the mountains and hills mourn you.
    May the …
    May the pasture lands shriek in mourning as if it were your mother." (8.2-13)

    These lines come from Gilgamesh's lamentations over the body of Enkidu. In them, he calls on not only human beings to mourn for Enkidu, but the natural world as well. And not only animals from the natural world, but even inanimate entities, like mountains and hills and pasture lands. What is Gilgamesh thinking when he calls on these entities? Is he just talking metaphorically, or does he really think that these parts of the non-human world will join in mourning for his friend? (And if they do—does anyone make tissues big enough for a weeping pasture?)

    Chapter 9, Tablet 9

    Before him there were trees of precious stones,
    and he went straight to look at them.
    The tree bears carnelian as its fruit,
    laden with clusters (of jewels), dazzling to behold,
    —it bears lapis lazuli as foliage,
    bearing fruit, a delight to look upon. (9.280-285)

    As soon as Gilgamesh arrives at the underside of the earth, he sees trees bearing precious stones. This is oddly appropriate to this strange realm where nobody dies—fruits made of stones presumably don't die either. That said, these trees do seem eerily unnatural. Does this mean that nature only exists where things are able to die?

  • Perseverance

    Chapter 1, Tablet 1

    He saw the Secret, discovered the Hidden,
    he brought information of (the time) before the Flood.
    He went on a distant journey, pushing himself to exhaustion,
    but then was brought to peace. (1.5-8)

    These are nearly the opening lines of the epic, and form part of a longer passage talking about the awesomeness of Gilgamesh, his accomplishments, and his city. But these lines don't just talk about what Gilgamesh accomplished; they also talk about the effort he put into accomplishing them, "pushing himself to exhaustion." By then adding in the next line that Gilgamesh "then was brought to peace," the poem lays out one of its key themes: you have to try everything.

    Chapter 4, Tablet 4

    At twenty leagues they broke for some food,
    at thirty leagues they stopped for the night,
    walking fifty leagues in a whole day,
    a walk of a month and a half.
    On the third day they drew near to the Lebanon.
    They dug a well facing Shamash (the setting sun) …. (4.1-6)

    A "league" is roughly 3 miles. This means that Gilgamesh and Enkidu walked 60 miles before taking a break for food, and another 30 miles before they stopped for the night—making a total day's journey of 90 miles. This must show some pretty serious perseverance, right? Well, maybe—unless you're basically a superhero. In that case, we're not so impressed.

    Chapter 5, Tablet 5
    Humbaba

    "May he not live the longer of the two,
    may Enkidu not have any 'shore'(?) more than his friend Gilgamesh!"
    Enkidu spoke to Gilgamesh, saying:
    "My friend, I have been talking to you but you have not been listening to me,
    You have been listening to the curse of Humbaba!" (5.280-284)

    The first two lines of this passage come from Humbaba's curses against Enkidu, when he realizes that he can't persuade Enkidu to save his life. The fact that Humbaba can't change Enkidu's mind shows Enkidu's perseverance—or, you know, stubbornness. But Enkidu is afraid that his friend Gilgamesh doesn't have as much perseverance as he does—and calls him out on it.

    Chapter 6, Tablet 6
    Enkidu

    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?

    Chapter 9, Tablet 9

    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.

    Chapter 10, Tablet 10
    Gilgamesh

    Gilgamesh spoke to the tavern-keeper, saying:
    "So now tavern-keeper, what is the way to Utanapishtim?
    What are its markers? Give them to me! Give me the markers!
    If possible, I will cross the sea;
    if not, I will roam the wilderness." (10.73-77)

    Here we see more signs of Gilgamesh's perseverance. Even though he's totally worn out, he keeps insisting on learning the way forward. If he can cross the sea, fine. If not, he'll find something else to do. Simple as that. The man doesn't know the meaning of the word "impossible."

    "I went circling through all the mountains,
    I traversed treacherous mountains, and crossed all the seas—
    that is why (?) sweet sleep has not mellowed my face,
    through sleepless striving I am strained,
    my muscles are filled with pain.
    I had not yet reached the tavern-keeper's area before my clothing gave out.
    I killed bear, hyena, lion, panther, tiger, stag, red-stag, and beasts of the wilderness;
    I ate their meat and wrapped their skins around me.
    The gate of grief must be bolted shut, sealed with pitch and bitumen!" (10.244-253)

    Gilgamesh explains to Utanapishtim how he's been able to make his journey—bysealing off his emotions—which he describes metaphorically as bolting a door or caulking a ship with "pitch and bitumen" (basically tar). But does this perseverance make Gilgamesh achieve the goal of his quest—to achieve immortal life? Not quite. But maybe he gets something even better.

    "Hold back, Gilgamesh, take a punting pole,
    but your hand must not pass over the Waters of Death …!
    Take a second, Gilgamesh, a third, and a fourth pole,
    take a fifth, Gilgamesh, a sixth, and a seventh pole,
    take an eighth, Gilgamesh, a ninth, and a tenth pole,
    take an eleventh, Gilgamesh, and a twelfth pole!"
    In twice 60 rods Gilgamesh had used up the punting poles.
    Then he loosened his waist-cloth(?) for …
    Gilgamesh stripped off his garment
    and held it up on the mast(?) with his arms. (10.167-178)

    Here, we see the most basic kind of perseverance when Gilgamesh uses punting pole after punting pole to push the boat along the perilous Waters of Death. (And let's not forget that Gilgamesh himself just went into the woods and carved these punting poles.) But then we really see what Gilgamesh is made of when the punting poles run out. Does he give up? No way. Faced with adversity, Gilgamesh comes up with a solution: he uses his clothes as a sail, and holds it in place with his arms.

    Siduri

    "If you are Gilgamesh, who killed the Guardian,
    who destroyed Humbaba who lived in the Cedar Forest,
    who slew lions in the mountain passes,
    who grappled with the Bull that came down from heaven, and killed him,
    why are your cheeks emaciated, your expression desolate?
    Why is your heart so wounded, your features so haggard?
    Why is there such sadness deep within you?
    Why do you look like one who has been traveling a long distance
    so that ice and heat have seared your face?
    … you roam the wilderness?" (10.35-44)

    Here, Siduri seems to think that a noble, mighty warrior is never supposed to get tired. We're not so sure about that. Maybe perseverance means getting tired, but forging ahead anyway.

  • Life, Consciousness, and Existence

    Chapter 1, Tablet 1

    "Look about, Enkidu, inside Uruk-Haven,
    where the people show off in skirted finery,
    where every day is a day for some festival,
    where the lyre(?) and drum play continually,
    where harlots stand about prettily,
    exuding voluptuousness, full of laughter,
    and on the couch of night the sheets are spread (?)." (1.205-213)

    Here, Shamhat is trying to convince Enkidu to come with her to Uruk by dangling all the awesome nightlife in his face. So, we get to see what Shamhat considers to be the best things in life: nice clothes, parties, listening to music, having fun, and having sex. But just because Shamhat thinks this is the good life doesn't mean it's what the poem as a whole wants us to think. (It could be, of course, but it doesn't have to be.) Based on the poem as a whole, what do you think the Epic of Gilgamesh wants us to think about Shamhat's words here?

    Two-thirds of him is god, one-third of him is human.
    The Great Goddess [Aruru] designed(?) the model for his body,
    she prepared his form …
    … beautiful, handsomest of men,
    … perfect … (1.46-50)

    When it comes to his life and existence, Gilgamesh is different from other human beings. The difference is that other human beings are … human beings, while Gilgamesh is part god: 2/3 god, in fact. This divine aspect mainly seems to do with his body: he may be the "beautiful, handsomest of men," but his consciousness seems basically like that of your average human—or maybe worse. What do you think are the divine and human aspects of Gilgamesh's life and existence? And how do these relate to his consciousness, which develops over the course of the story?

    Shamhat

    "Enkidu, you who do not know how to live,
    I will show you Gilgamesh, a man of extreme feelings (?).
    Look at him, gaze at his face—
    he is a handsome youth, with freshness(?),
    his entire body exudes voluptuousness.
    He has mightier strength than you,
    without sleeping day or night!" (1.214-220)

    Here, we get even more opportunity to figure out what Shamhat thinks life is all about; she even tells us that's what she's talking about, when she tells Enkidu that he "do[es] not know how to live." But does the poem as a whole encourage us to adopt that view? Does it want us to think that life "without sleeping day or night"—what Shamhat tells us Gilgamesh does (or doesn't do)—is really the way to go?

    Chapter 2, Tablet 2
    Gilgamesh

    "I will go in front of you,
    and your mouth can cry out: "Go on closer, do not be afraid!"
    Should I fall, I will have established my fame.
    (They will say:) "It was Gilgamesh who locked in battle with Humbaba the Terrible!" (2.228-237)

    Apparently Shamhat isn't the only one with opinions on what life is all about: Gilgamesh has them too. Here, after Gilgamesh has suggested that he and Enkidu should go to the Cedar Forest to fight Humbaba, Enkidu throws up some pretty valid objections. In response, Gilgamesh says that everyone dies anyway, so the best thing to do is to do dangerous deeds and win undying fame. Fair enough, Gilgamesh—but couldn't the thought that we all die anyway just make us want to preserve our lives all the more carefully, and not risk them in pointless battles with distant monsters?

    Chapter 4, Tablet 4

    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 …
    While Gilgamesh rested his chin on his knees,
    sleep that pours over mankind overtook him. (4.11-16)

    Okay, so if you read these lines in their original context from Tablet 4, where the same episode of preparing for the night takes place five times in almost the exact same words, you might be thinking something more like: you're telling me I have to read this business again? Don't worry: we feel your pain. (Shmoop had to read it too.) But bear with us. In fact, we're going to ask you to read the passage onemore … time. Do you see what's interesting about it? That's right: Gilgamesh sleeps, even though Shamhat insisted that he didn't! And the narrator really rubs the point in by calling the sleep that overtakes him "sleep that pours over mankind." Ha! Take that, Mr. Thinks-he's-so-superior-two-thirds-god-man! But there's still the problem of how to interpret this. Do you think Shamhat was wrong all along? Or is Gilgamesh undergoing a transition to a more ordinary human state as the story goes on? Either way, we're definitely learning something interesting about Gilgamesh's life and existence here.

    Chapter 7, Tablet 7
    Shamash

    "Now Gilgamesh is your beloved brother-friend!
    He will have you lie on a grand couch,
    and will have you lie in the seat of ease, the seat at his left,
    so that the princes of the world kiss your feet.
    He will have the people of Uruk go into mourning and moaning over you,
    and fill the happy people with woe over you.
    And after you he will let his body bear a filthy mat of hair,
    will don the skin of a lion and roam the wilderness." (7.129-137)

    Here, Shamash is trying to comfort a dying Enkidu. What's interesting here is that Shamash thinks one of civilized life's big pay-offs for Enkidu is that there will be ceremonies to commemorate him after he is dead. But, if he's dead, what difference does it make to him? How do people's lives change if they have consciousness (as Enkidu now receives) of what will happen to them after their existence is over? (And what's the point of coming up with a belief about the afterlife if it's this depressing?)

    The eleventh and twelfth day his illness grew ever worse.
    Enkidu drew up from his bed,
    and called out to Gilgamesh …:
    "My friend hates me …
    (Once), while he talked with me in Uruk
    as I was afraid of the battle (with Humbaba), he encouraged me.
    My friend who saved me in battle has now abandoned me!
    I and you …" (7.258-265)

    Unfortunately, the tablet on which this passage appears is broken in several places. Still, we get the general idea: Enkidu thinks that Gilgamesh, who once stood at his side in battle, is abandoning him. Sure, he's probably reacting to the fact that Gilgamesh can't save him from the disease that is ravaging his body. But how would Gilgamesh do that? Do these words by Enkidu show that he does not truly understand how life works? Or should we just cut a dying man some slack?

    Chapter 8, Tablet 8

    "May the holy River Ulaja, along whose banks we grandly used to stroll, mourn you.
    May the pure Euphrates, to which we would libate water from our wineskins, mourn you.
    May the men of Uruk-Haven, whom we saw in our battle when we killed the Bull of Heaven,
    mourn you.
    May the farmer…, who extols your name in his sweet work song, mourn you.
    May the … of the broad city, who … exalted your name, mourn you.
    May the herder …, who prepared butter and light beer for your mouth, mourn you.
    May …, who put ointments on your back, mourn you.
    May …, who prepared fine beer for your mouth, mourn you.
    May the harlot, … you rubbed yourself with oil and felt good, mourn you.
    May …, … of the wife placed (?) a ring on you …, mourn you." (8.16-25)

    Gilgamesh's lament over Enkidu is no exception to the poem's interest in what makes the good life. Take a look at the things he is listing: nice walks along the River Ulaja, triumphing in battle, singing, eating butter and drinking beer, and so on. Isn't this basically a catalog of the good things in life? Why do you think Enkidu's death makes Gilgamesh think of these things? And why does he want all of these things to partake in his grief for his friend?

    He covered his friend's face like a bride,
    swooping down over him like an eagle,
    and like a lioness deprived of her cubs
    he keeps pacing to and fro.
    He shears off his curls and heaps them onto the ground,
    ripping off his finery and casting it away as an abomination. (8.47-52)

    Right after Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh swoops in to protect him. And yet, why would one bother protecting something that isn't even living? What is it about us humans that makes us take care of our dead, as if the dead somehow knew what we were doing?

    Chapter 10, Tablet 10
    Siduri

    "Now you, Gilgamesh, let your belly be full!
    Be happy day and night,
    of each day make a party,
    dance in circles day and night!
    Let your clothes be sparkling clean,
    let your head be clean, wash yourself with water!
    Attend to the little one who holds onto your hand,
    let a wife delight in your embrace.
    This is the (true) task of mankind(?)." (Old Babylonian Supplement at 10.72)

    Here, Siduri gives us yet another vision of the good life, and it's explicitly based on knowing how short life is. But where Gilgamesh says that you should try to leave an immortal reputation behind, Siduri is basically saying to scrap all that: what you should really do is have a fun time while you're here on earth. Which of these two approaches do you think the poem wants us, the readers, to accept?

  • Wisdom and Knowledge

    Chapter 1, Tablet 1

    Enkidu was diminished, his running was not as before.
    But then he drew himself up, for his understanding had broadened. (1.183-184)

    Here, we get the transformation Enkidu experiences right after he has sex for the first time with Shamhat. On the one hand, he finds that his athletic prowess has been weakened. (Yeah, that makes sense.) On the other hand, his mind has been expanded. And think about how wisdom is acquired in the rest of the epic. Don't these two lines about Enkidu basically boil down the epic's whole point about wisdom? Whenever you gain knowledge, you lose something as well.

    He who has seen everything, I will make known (?) to the lands.
    I will teach (?) about him who experienced all things,
    … alike,
    Anu granted him the totality of knowledge of all.
    He saw the Secret, discovered the Hidden,
    he brought information of (the time) before the Flood. (1.1-6)

    This is the way we start off, so we know that wisdom and knowledge are going to be playing a key role. Basically, Gilgamesh is an awesome hero because of what he has learned. Note too that the author says that he is going to "teach" about what Gilgamesh has learned. This makes it seem like the whole epic is basically a hand-me-down report of what Gilgamesh saw in the underworld. This should make us modern readers feel especially lucky; we certainly appreciate the insight into the underworld, but we're glad only one person had to make the risky journey to the ends of the earth, encounter the Scorpion-beings, traverse the Waters of Death, and so on.

    Chapter 2, Tablet 2

    The Noble Counselors of Uruk arose and
    delivered their advice to Gilgamesh:
    "You are young, Gilgamesh, your heart carries you off—
    you do not know what you are talking about!" (2.280-283)

    We hear this when the elders of Uruk are trying to talk Gilgamesh out of going on his quest to the Cedar Forest to do battle with the monster Humbaba. The elders think that Gilgamesh doesn't know what he's getting himself into because he's just too young; if he were older and wiser, he would know better. How closely is wisdom related to experience in this epic?

    Chapter 5, Tablet 5
    Humbaba

    "You understand the rules of my forest, the rules …,
    further, you are aware of all the things 'So ordered (by Enlil).'
    I should have carried you up, and killed you at the very entrance to the branches of the forest.
    I should have fed your flesh to the screeching vulture, the eagle, and the vulture.
    So now, Enkidu, clemency is up to you.
    Speak to Gilgamesh to spare (my) life!" (5.168-173)

    Here, Humbaba is begging Enkidu for rescue by reminding him of what he knows: that Humbaba was appointed as the guardian of the Cedar Forest by Enlil, the king of the gods. Enkidu doesn't want to tick off the king of the gods, does he? Well, you wouldn't think so—but, as it turns out, Enkidu does instruct Gilgamesh to kill Humbaba, does tick off the gods (and Enlil specifically), and does end up getting struck down by a mortal illness (after some other mishaps along the way). Not too wise, Enkidu. Not wise at all.

    Chapter 9, Tablet 9
    Gilgamesh

    "I have come on account of my ancestor Utanapishtim,
    who joined the Assembly of the Gods, and was given eternal life.
    About Death and Life I must ask him!" (9.136-138)

    Here, Gilgamesh is chatting with the Scorpion-beings he meets at the rising of the sun. And, surprise: the whole point of the quest is to gain knowledge about life and death. This makes it sound like he is on a very different quest from the last one he made—to kill the monster Humbaba. But are there similarities? Gilgamesh wanted to kill Humbaba because he thought it would bring him undying fame. Now, he's just looking for a way to escape dying at all. Does Gilgamesh's attitude toward his quest at this point show that he has made progress in the direction of wisdom, or is it simply another side of his ongoing immaturity?

    Chapter 10, Tablet 10
    Utanapishtim

    "No one can see death,
    no one can see the face of death,
    no one can hear the voice of death,
    yet there is savage death that snaps off mankind.
    For how long do we build a household?
    For how long do we seal a document?
    For how long do brothers share the inheritance?
    For how long is there to be jealousy in the land(?)?
    For how long has the river risen and brought the overflowing waters,
    so that dragonflies drift down the river?
    The face that could gaze upon the face of the Sun
    has never existed ever." (10.190-301)

    Here, Utanapishtim is trying to explain to Gilgamesh the nature of death. What is it about his message that makes it so hard to accept? Uh, maybe it's because Gilgamesh has journeyed beyond the ends of the earth to find out what death is, and Utanapishtim has said, "Eh, who knows?" And yet, even if this answer is unsatisfying, it does seem to be the final answer about death that the poem gives us.

    "After Enlil had pronounced the blessing,
    the Anunnaki, the Great Gods, assembled.
    Mammetum, she who fashions destiny, determined destiny with them.
    They established Death and Life,
    but they did not make known 'the days of death." (10.302-309)

    Here, Utanapishtim keeps going with his "nobody knows what death is, we don't know when we die, so just deal with it" shtick. This time, it maybe becomes a bit clearer why Gilgamesh might not accept the message. Doesn't Utanapishtim's way of putting things really leave him open to somebody saying, "Where do you get off telling people to just 'get over it?' That's easy for you to say, since you were granted immortality by the gods." Is there something about wisdom that makes us need to trust the person who is passing it on to us?

    "Gilgamesh, where are you wandering?
    The life that you are seeking all around you will not find.
    When the gods created mankind
    they fixed Death for mankind,
    and held back Life in their own hands." (Old Babylonian Supplement at 10.72)

    Is it just us, or does tavern-keeper Siduri basically provide an answer to the whole question Gilgamesh is after? And her answer is pretty simple: death is what it is; you can't escape it, therefore, you should make the most of life. Yet, for some reason Gilgamesh doesn't take her advice, and demands to speak to Utanapishtim. Why doesn't Gilgamesh listen? Does he not believe that Siduri, of all people, could know the answer? Or is it that wisdom simply can't be acquired until the person seeking it has exhausted all possible options?

    Chapter 11, Tablet 11
    Utanapishtim

    "Gilgamesh, you came here exhausted and worn out.
    What can I give you so you can return to your land?
    I will disclose to you a thing that is hidden, Gilgamesh,
    a … I will tell you.
    There is a plant … like a boxthorn,
    whose thorns will prick your hand like a rose.
    If your hands reach that plant you will become a young man again." (11.269-278)

    Why does Utanapishtim give Gilgamesh the flower? Doesn't it kind of counteract his whole tough-love teaching style on the whole death issue? Is he afraid that Mrs. Utanapishtim will make him sorry if he doesn't take her suggestion? (She was the one who told him to call Gilgamesh back and give him something at least for his labors.) Or does Utanapishtim somehow know that Gilgamesh will lose the flower, and that this experience will be the straw that broke the camel's back—and that will make him finally accept wisdom?

    "Enlil went up inside the boat
    and, grasping my hand, made me go up.
    He had my wife go up and kneel by my side.
    He touched our forehead and, standing between us, he blessed us:
    'Previously Utanapishtim was a human being.
    But now let Utanapishtim and his wife become like us, the gods!
    Let Utanapishtim reside far away, at the Mouth of the Rivers.'
    They took us far away and settled us at the Mouth of the Rivers."
    "Now then, who will convene the gods on your behalf,
    that you may find the life that you are seeking?
    Wait! You must not lie down for six days and seven nights." (11.196-204)

    Check out the lightning quick transitions in this speech from one topic to another. At first, Utanapishtim is explaining how he was granted the gift of immortality. But then he shifts immediately to the moral of the story, when he asks "who will convene the gods on your behalf, / that you may find the life that you are seeking?" Utanapishtim's question may be rhetorical, but we know the answer he's driving at: "Nobody. Nobody is going to bring all the gods together and have them grant you immortality, Gilgamesh." Now that we hear the story and its moral, we might start to realize that Utanapishtim has a point. But, then again, we didn't make the journey beyond the ends of earth to get this answer, Gilgamesh did. And for Gilgamesh, this still might not be satisfactory. Could this be why Utanapishtim makes his next swift change of topic, when he challenges Gilgamesh to a staying-awake contest?

  • Sex

    Chapter 1, Tablet 1

    for six days and seven nights Enkidu stayed aroused,
    and had intercourse with the harlot
    until he was sated with her charms.
    But when he turned his attention to his animals,
    the gazelles saw Enkidu and darted off,
    the wild animals distanced themselves from his body. (1.172-180)

    In these lines, we see the trapper's father's theory (and also the theory offered by Gilgamesh himself) being put to the test. Shamhat does offer herself sexually to Enkidu, Enkidu does have sex with her (setting some sort of world record for endurance), and, at the end of it, discovers that the animals don't want to play with him anymore. Does this strike you as strange? In modern culture, isn't sex often seen as an "animal" activity, quite different from "higher," more "civilized" human activities? And yet, here, sex is what separates Enkidu from the animals, and paves the way for him to become a human being. Can you think of any reasons why it might work this way?

    Gilgamesh does not leave a girl to her mother(?)!" (1.59-74)

    Here, we get a look at Gilgamesh's tyrannical behavior before the goddess Aruru creates Enkidu as a match for him. The usual interpretation of these lines by scholars is that is tormenting the young women of Uruk by sexually exploiting them (that's the whole "does not leave a girl to her mother" bit). In the rigidly hierarchical Sumerian society in which the poem takes place, sex doesn't always occur as a matter of choice between two loving people. Sometimes, sex happens because one party (here, Gilgamesh) has more power, and is able to force the other party (the young women of Uruk) to make herself sexually available. That said, given that the people of Uruk disapprove of it and complain to the gods about it, maybe this bad behavior reflects more on Gilgamesh personally than it does on his society as a whole.

    Enkidu … his utterly depleted(?) body,
    his knees that wanted to go off with the animals went rigid;
    Enkidu was diminished, his running was not as before.
    But then he drew himself up, for his understanding had broadened. (1.181-184)

    After having sex with Shamhat, Enkidu feels like he has lost his strength and animal nature. Okay, so we're not that surprised about the strength part (Enkidu did just have sex with Shamhat for six days and seven nights), but we still want to ask about the "animal nature" part. What is it about sex with Shamhat that makes Enkidu become human? The last line of this passage is especially interesting for showing how Enkidu's mind has been expanded ("his understanding had been broadened") by the experience. How can sex with Shamhat have improved Enkidu's intellect?

    "Go, set off to Uruk,
    tell Gilgamesh of this
    Man of Might.
    He will give you the harlot Shamhat, take her with you.
    The woman will overcome the fellow
    (?) as if she were strong.
    When the animals are drinking at the watering place
    have her take off her robe and expose her sex.
    When he sees her he will draw near to her,
    and his animals, who grew up in his wilderness, will be alien to him." (1.120-127)

    Here, the trapper's father thinks Shamhat's sexuality makes her extremely powerful, "as if" she were strong. In fact, we think he could have gone even further in his language. After all, if Shamhat "were strong," as the trapper says, could strength alone really make him civilized? And yet, somehow, sex can. In this telling, it looks like love might really be more powerful than war.

    Chapter 2, Tablet 2

    "For Gilgamesh, the King of Broad-Marted Uruk,
    open is the veil(?) of the people for choosing.
    He will have intercourse with the 'destined wife,'
    he first, the husband afterward.
    This is ordered by the counsel of Anu" (2.71-78)

    Enkidu learns this from the guy he and Shamhat run into while heading toward Uruk. The young man reveals that a wedding is about to take place in Uruk. But there's a catch: Gilgamesh will have sex with the woman first, and then her husband will. There's a lot of debate among scholars over what the young man is talking about here, but one theory is that Gilgamesh has made it the law that every new bride has to have sex with him before having sex with her husband, Braveheart-style. If so, this looks like another example of power interfering with sex, just like in the first quotation for this theme.

    Chapter 6, Tablet 6
    Gilgamesh

    "You are an oven who … ice,
    a half-door that keeps out neither breeze nor blast,
    a palace that crushes down valiant warriors,
    an elephant who devours its own covering,
    pitch that blackens the hands of its bearer,
    a waterskin that soaks its bearer through,
    limestone that buckles out the stone wall,
    a battering ram that attracts the enemy land,
    a shoe that bites its owner's feet!" (6.31-40)

    Wow, Gil, way to let her down gently. Here, Gilgamesh is reacting to Ishtar. Based on the general context of the speech, it's possible that Gilgamesh could be calling Ishtar bad news simply because she has a tendency to abandon her lovers and then inflict horrible suffering on them. That said, given that Gilgamesh is also saying that Ishtar sleeps around (she's "a half-door that keeps out neither breeze nor blast"), we were wondering if he might also be hinting that she has STDs, especially with that whole "pitch that blackens the hands of its bearer" thing. If so, this would show the sexual double-standard that exists in Gilgamesh's society. After all, you don't hear Ishtar calling Gilgamesh immoral, even though he's slept with countless young women of Uruk.

    "You loved Ishullanu, your father's date gardener,
    who continually brought you baskets of dates,
    and brightened your table daily.
    You raised your eyes to him, and you went to him:
    'Oh my Ishullanu, let us taste of your strength,
    stretch out your hand to me, and touch our vulva.'" (6.62-77)

    Dirty pun alert: apparently, in ancient Babylonian, the same word was used for "vulva" (female sexual organs) and "date palm." Supposedly, this was because they looked the same. (Don't ask us.) Given that this is part of a Gilgamesh's rejection of Ishtar, it looks like Gilgamesh doesn't approve of Ishtar's behavior. So, is the problem here that Ishtar has a tendency to destroy the mortals she sleeps with—or is it that she's sleeping with them at all?

    Chapter 7, Tablet 7
    Enkidu

    Let my mouth which has cursed you, now turn to bless you!
    May governors and nobles love you,
    May he who is one league away bite his lip (in anticipation of you),
    may he who is two leagues away shake out his locks (in preparation)!
    May the soldier not refuse you, but undo his buckle for you,
    may he give you rock crystal(?), lapis lazuli, and gold,
    may his gift to you be earrings of filigree(?)." (7.138-151)

    Here, Enkidu turns his former curse into a blessing—but note that the focus is still squarely on sex: Enkidu wishes that all rich and powerful men be consumed with sexual desire for Shamhat, and reward her appropriately for her services. Does this series of blessings show a more positive view of women's sexuality than the previous quotation, or is it just the flip side of the same narrow-minded view?

    "May you not be able to make a household,
    and not be able to love a child of your own (?)!
    May you not dwell in the … of girls,
    may dregs of beer (?) stain your beautiful lap,
    may a drunk soil your festal robe with vomit (?), (7.94-98)

    Here, Enkidu is dying and cursing the Shamhat. Even though not everything in his curse against Shamhat is overtly concerned with sex (though there is that wish that "a gateway be where you take your pleasure"), you could say that, in a more subtle way, everything in it is concerned with sex. That's because, what Enkidu is describing, and hoping befalls Shamhat, is basically the life of an elderly street prostitute—a woman who has spent her entire life being exploited by others for sex. Nice, Enkidu.

    Chapter 10, Tablet 10
    Siduri

    "Now you, Gilgamesh, let your belly be full!
    Be happy day and night,
    of each day make a party,
    dance in circles day and night!
    Let your clothes be sparkling clean,
    let your head be clean, wash yourself with water!
    Attend to the little one who holds onto your hand,
    let a wife delight in your embrace.
    This is the (true) task of mankind(?)." (Old Babylonian Supplement at 10.72)

    Here, Siduri tries to explain to Gilgamesh that he should put all his effort into living the best life that it's possible for a human to live. And key to that life is sex ("let a wife delight in your embrace"). But note how Siduri describes this sex. First of all, it is supposed to be sex with a "wife," that is, with someone that Gilgamesh has devoted his life to, not sex with all of the young women of Uruk, whether they want to or not, and whether they're about to marry to somebody else or not. Also, Siduri makes clear that the point of this sex isn't just for Gilgamesh's own amusement; it is supposed to make the wife "delight" as well. Does this mean that the human connection of sex is what Siduri considers most important?

  • Pride

    Chapter 1, Tablet 1
    Enkidu

    Enkidu spoke to the harlot:
    "Come, Shamhat, take me away with you
    to the sacred Holy Temple, the residence of Anu and Ishtar,
    the place of Gilgamesh, who is wise to perfection,
    but who struts his power over the people like a wild bull.
    I will challenge him …
    Let me shout out in Uruk: 'I am the mighty one!'
    Lead me in and I will change the order of things;
    he whose strength is mightiest is the one born in the wilderness!" (1.196-204)

    Gilgamesh and Enkidu sure seem to think the same way. The only problem is their shared interests—extreme pride and love of power—set them on a course to do battle with each other before they can become friends. Does this mean that Enkidu must swallow his pride after Gilgamesh beats him? Or is knowing that Gilgamesh is extremely powerful (as Enkidu shows he does, in these lines) just the thing that lets Enkidu make friends?

    He walks around in the enclosure of Uruk,
    like a wild bull he makes himself mighty, head raised (over others).
    There is no rival who can raise his weapon against him.
    His fellows stand (at the alert), attentive to his (orders?),
    and the men of Uruk become anxious in …
    Gilgamesh does not leave a son to his father,
    day and night he arrogantly(?) … (1.51-58)

    Here, the narrator transitions from fawning over Gilgamesh's great strength and handsomeness and accomplishment to telling the citizens to ask the god Anu to save them from Gilgamesh's horrible behavior. Is this a coincidence? Not likely. What could be more typical of an immature ruler like Gilgamesh than letting your gifts and possessions go to your head, resulting in prideful, arrogant behavior? Thus, these lines set the stage for one of the major issues in the story: how Gilgamesh learns that he is basically the same as other humans, for all that 2/3 divine parentage business.

    Chapter 2, Tablet 2
    Gilgamesh

    "I will go in front of you,
    and your mouth can cry out: 'Go on closer, do not be afraid!'
    Should I fall, I will have established my fame.
    (They will say:) 'It was Gilgamesh who locked in battle with Humbaba the Terrible!'" (2.228-237)

    Here, we see how important pride is to Gilgamesh at the beginning of the story. First of all, it looks like pride is the whole reason why he wants to go to the Cedar Forest to fight Humbaba. Knowing that humans can't live forever, Gilgamesh is determined to do great deeds that will live on in people's memory after he is dead. But what good is that to him, if he won't be around to appreciate it?

    Chapter 5, Tablet 5
    Enkidu

    "Erect an eternal monument proclaiming …
    how Gilgamesh killed(?) Humbaba." (5.241-248)

    Here, Enkidu tries to convince Gilgamesh to kill Humbaba by saying that the deed will make him really, really famous. Hm, it sounds like Enkidu knows the way to Gilgamesh's heart. Or something.

    Humbaba

    "An idiot and a moron should give advice to each other,
    but you, Gilgamesh, why have you come to me?
    Give advice, Enkidu, you 'son of a fish,' who does not even know his own father,
    to the large and small turtles who do not suck their mother's milk!

    … Gilgamesh, throat and neck,
    I would feed your flesh to the screeching vulture, the eagle, and the vulture!" (5.75-85)

    It looks like even fierce monsters have feelings of pride. At least, that's one interpretation of this trash-talk Humbaba dishes out to Gilgamesh and Enkidu before doing battle with them in the Cedar Forest. But isn't it much more likely that insulting these two warriors' pride will make them all the more spoiling for a fight?

    Chapter 6, Tablet 6

    "Father, Gilgamesh has insulted me over and over,
    Gilgamesh has recounted despicable deeds about me,
    despicable deeds and curses!"
    Anu addressed Princess Ishtar, saying:
    "What is the matter? Was it not you who provoked King Gilgamesh?" (6.82-97)

    Basically, Ishtar's dad here is saying that she deserves the insults she got—but Ishtar's pride can't take it. Wounded pride: it's not just for humans.

    Chapter 8, Tablet 8

    "May the brothers go into mourning over you like sisters;
    … the lamentation priests, may their hair be shorn off on your behalf." (8.27-28)

    In the patriarchal society of The Epic of Gilgamesh, do you think that "brothers" would normally take kindly to being described as "sisters"? And, given the pride people in the poem take in their appearance, do you think the lamentation priests would really like their "hair to be shorn off"? And yet, Gilgamesh thinks people should undergo these humiliating procedures "on … behalf" of Enkidu. What is the point of these blows to one's pride? Could it be designed to show solidarity with the dead, who have suffered the ultimate blow to their pride, the destruction of their bodies?

    Chapter 9, Tablet 9
    Gilgamesh

    Gilgamesh said to the tavern-keeper:
    "I am Gilgamesh, I killed the Guardian!
    I destroyed Humbaba who lived in the Cedar Forest,
    I slew lions in the mountain passes!
    I grappled with the Bull that came down from heaven, and killed him." (9.29-33)

    Here, we can see how, even after all his travels and sufferings, Gilgamesh still clings to his pride as a doer of great deeds. But there's a difference. Gilgamesh originally claimed to want to do those deeds so that his fame would live on after his death. But now that doesn't seem good enough for him; now, death seems all too real. How does Gilgamesh's sense of pride change as he comes to accept death in the closing books of the epic?

    Chapter 11, Tablet 11

    "It was a field in area,
    its walls were each 10 times 12 cubits in height,
    the sides of its top were of equal length, 10 times 12 cubits each.
    I laid out its (interior) structure and drew a picture of it (?).
    I provided it with six decks,
    thus dividing it into seven (levels).
    The inside of it I divided into nine (compartments).
    I drove plugs (to keep out) water in its middle part.
    I saw to the punting poles and laid in what was necessary.
    Three times 3,600 (units) of raw bitumen I poured into the bitumen kiln,
    three times 3,600 (units of) pitch … into it,
    there were three times 3,600 porters of casks who carried (vegetable) oil,
    apart from the 3,600 (units of) oil which they consumed (?)
    and two times 3,600 (units of) oil which the boatman stored away.
    I butchered oxen for the meat(?),
    and day upon day I slaughtered sheep.
    I gave the workmen(?) ale, beer, oil, and wine, as if it were river water,
    so they could make a party like the New Year's Festival." (11.55-72)

    4x4 drive, voice-activated GPS, full leather interior … oh, wait, sorry: we thought Utanapishtim was bragging about his sweet new ride. But really, isn't this detailed description of the specs of his boat pretty much the same deal? What's the point of all this boasting?

    Gilgamesh

    At twenty leagues they broke for some food,
    at thirty leagues they stopped for the night.
    They arrived in Uruk-Haven.
    Gilgamesh said to Urshanabi, the ferryman:
    "Go up, Urshanabi, onto the wall of Uruk and walk around.
    Examine its foundation, inspect its brickwork thoroughly—
    is not (even the core of) the brick structure of kiln-fired brick,
    and did not the Seven Sages themselves lay out its plan?
    One league city, one league palm gardens, one league lowlands, the open area(?) of the Ishtar
    Temple,
    three leagues and the open area(?) of Uruk it (the wall) encloses." (11.310-319)

    The end. These are the last lines of the entire epic, when Gilgamesh welcomes Urshanabi, the ferryman of the underworld, to Uruk. Clearly, Gilgamesh takes a lot of pride in his city. But is it the same sort of pride he felt at the beginning of the epic? Notice how Gilgamesh points out that the "Seven Sages themselves" laid out the plan of the city. In other words, Gilgamesh isn't taking credit for all the good stuff in Uruk—he is giving credit where credit is due. How might this change in focus be connected to the main arc of Gilgamesh's character over the course of the epic?

  • Friendship

    Chapter 1, Tablet 1

    You loved him and embraced him as a wife;
    and it is he who will repeatedly save you.
    Your dream is good and propitious! (1.249-254)

    Whoa, there, Ninsun: here, Gilgamesh's mother puts a positive spin on her son's weird dream about embracing a massive meteorite, which is cool, but what about that whole bit about how Gilgamesh "loved him and embraced him as a wife"? Doesn't that sound a bit closer than just being friends? Do you think the relationship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu shades just a bit into something more romantic? If so, you wouldn't be the first reader of Gilgamesh to get this impression.

    Becoming aware of himself, he sought a friend. (1.194-204)

    Enkidu's desire for a friend is an important stage in his transition from the wild-man life to ordinary human life. After all, can it really be coincidence that Enkidu experiences this desire right after becoming "aware of himself"—something that we normally think of only humans as doing?

    Chapter 2, Tablet 2

    Gilgamesh bent his knees, with his other foot on the ground,
    his anger abated and he turned his chest away.
    […]
    They kissed each other and became friends. (2.103-109, 129)

    Fight over. As you may recall, Enkidu's plan has been to give Gilgamesh a royal thumping and show him who's boss. As it turns out, Gilgamesh is the one who administers the royal thumping (which makes sense, him being a king and all) … but Enkidu doesn't seem to mind. In fact, the two of them end up becoming the best of friends. Is it just a coincidence that they fight before becoming friends? Or could it be that the close fight creates a baseline feeling of respect between them, and thus makes their friendship possible?

    Chapter 3, Tablet 3

    "Let Enkidu go ahead of you;
    he knows the road to the Cedar Forest,
    he has seen fighting, has experienced battle.
    Enkidu will protect the friend, will keep the comrade safe." (3.1-9)

    With these words, the elders of Uruk show that friendship isn't all fun and games: there's a practical side to it as well. Two people together can accomplish much more than one person alone. But, as the last line of this passage hints, maybe if those two people are friends, it's the best of both worlds, and ensures that they will be looking out for each other. Think about that next time you send a Facebook friend request.

    Enkidu

    Enkidu spoke to Gilgamesh saying:
    "My friend, turn back! ...
    The road …" (3.242-248)

    Here, Enkidu is really taking the friendship-as-protecting thing seriously, by telling Gilgamesh that he shouldn't go on the quest at all. The tablet unfortunately breaks off at this point, but we can probably catch the general drift of what Enkidu is about to say: the quest is going to be extremely dangerous, and pointless. But here's the question: is Enkidu acting like a true friend here in telling Gilgamesh to turn back? Or should Enkidu just keep his mouth shut and go along on Gilgamesh's quest?

    Chapter 4, Tablet 4
    Gilgamesh

    "'One alone cannot …'

    'A slippery path is not feared by two people who help each other.'
    'Twice three times …'
    'A three-ply rope cannot be cut.'
    'The mighty lion—two cubs can roll him over.'" (Old Babylonian Supplement at 4.239)

    In other words, two heads are better than one. It sounds like the Babylonians had clichés of their own, because these words, all spoken by Gilgamesh to Enkidu, echo the proverbs spoken by the elders of Uruk in Tablet 3, before they set out on their quest. These proverbs emphasize the practical side of friendship: when people work together, they can accomplish things that individuals cannot.

    Take my hand, my friend, we will go on together.
    Your heart should burn to do battle
    —pay no heed to death, do not lose heart! (4.273-283)

    Bring out the tissues again, because this is basically the, "I can't carry it for you, Mr. Frodo, but I can carry you" of ancient Mesopotamia.

    Chapter 7, Tablet 7
    Shamash

    "Now Gilgamesh is your beloved brother-friend!
    He will have you lie on a grand couch,
    and will have you lie in the seat of ease, the seat at his left,
    so that the princes of the world kiss your feet.
    He will have the people of Uruk go into mourning and moaning over you,
    and fill the happy people with woe over you.
    And after you he will let his body bear a filthy mat of hair,
    will don the skin of a lion and roam the wilderness." (7.124-137)

    Here, Shamash is telling Enkidu to wash out his filthy mouth and stop cursing the trapper and Shamhat because they were the ones who brought him out of the wilderness—thus unleashing the chain of events that ultimately led to him being struck by the gods with a mysterious illness. But what do you think of Shamash's argument? Is having even just one great friendship a good trade-off for dying young?

    Chapter 10, Tablet 10
    Gilgamesh

    "Should my heart not be wretched, my features not haggard?
    Should there not be sadness deep within me? …

    My friend, whom I love deeply, who went through every hardship with me,
    Enkidu, whom I love deeply, who went through every hardship with me,
    the fate of mankind has overtaken him." (10.47-48, 52-63)

    This is Gilgamesh to Siduri, the underworld innkeeper in the underworld who has just locked Gilgamesh out of her tavern because he looks a total mess. But Gilgamesh defends himself: his friend has just died, so should he really look any different? It's a form of respect to mourn deeply for your friends.

    "How can I stay silent, how can I be still?
    My friend whom I love has turned to clay;
    Enkidu, my friend whom I love, has turned to clay!
    Am I not like him? Will I lie down never to get up again?" (10.233-242)

    Here, Gilgamesh focuses on how bad losing Enkidu makes him feel about himself. Seeing his friend die makes Gilgamesh all too aware that he, himself, will one day die. Doesn't this raise some questions about friendship? Like, if Gilgamesh is truly devoted to Enkidu, why is he thinking so much about himself? Or is there always an element of selfishness in friendship—because we hang out with people who make us feel good about ourselves?

  • Fear

    Chapter 1, Tablet 1

    A notorious trapper
    came face-to-face with him [Enkidu] opposite the watering hole.
    A first, a second, and a third day
    he came face-to-face with him opposite the watering hole.
    On seeing him the trapper's face went stark with fear,
    and he (Enkidu?) and his animals drew back home (?).
    He was rigid with fear; though stock-still
    his heart pounded and his face drained of color.
    He was miserable to the core,
    and his face looked like one who had made a long journey. (1.94-103)

    It doesn't look like Enkidu is doing anyone any harm, so why is the trapper so afraid? Could this just be another example of how people are afraid of what is different? Also, note the comparison in the last line of this passage, between the trapper's frightened face and the face of someone who has gone on a long journey. Could this be foreshadowing the lengthy journey Gilgamesh ends up making, because of fear?

    Chapter 2, Tablet 2

    "In order to protect the Cedar Forest
    Enlil assigned (Humbaba) as a terror to human beings—
    Humbaba's roar is a Flood, his mouth is Fire, and his breath is Death!
    He can hear 100 leagues away any rustling(?) in his forest!
    Who would go down into his forest?
    Enlil assigned him as a terror to human beings,
    and whoever goes down into his forest paralysis(?) will strike!" (2.200-206)

    Is fear always a bad thing? Maybe not necessarily. First of all, we learn from these lines that the god Enlil has deliberately placed Humbaba in the Cedar Forest in order to terrify human beings. Could this be because he wants to protect the forest? If so, fear would be good. Also, bear in mind that Enkidu says this to Gilgamesh in an attempt to talk him out of going on his quest to the Cedar Forest at all. Which, all things considered, might have been a good idea.

    Enkidu

    "Who, my friend, can ascend to the heavens
    (Only) the gods can dwell forever with Shamash.
    As for human beings, their days are numbered,
    and whatever they keep trying to achieve is but wind!
    Now you are afraid of death—
    what has become of your bold strength?
    I will go in front of you,
    and your mouth can cry out: "Go on closer, do not be afraid!"
    Should I fall, I will have established my fame.
    (They will say:) "It was Gilgamesh who locked in battle with Humbaba the Terrible!" (2.228-237)

    But Gilgamesh seems like too much of a meathead to take Enkidu's advice. In fact, by a sort of reverse-psychology, Enkidu talking about how fearsome Humbaba seems to make Gilgamesh even more eager to fight him, just to prove that he's not afraid. Do Gilgamesh's words here show true courage, or is there some fear underlying them?

    Chapter 4, Tablet 4
    Gilgamesh

    In the middle of the night his sleep came to an end,
    so he got up and said to his friend:
    "My friend, did you not call out to me? Why did I wake up?
    Did you not touch me? Why am I so disturbed?
    Did a god pass by? Why are my muscles trembling?
    Enkidu, my friend, I have had a third dream,
    and the dream I had was deeply disturbing." (4.88-101)

    Poor Gilgamesh, scared of a little nightmare. (Okay, not so little. And not just one.) On the journey to the Cedar Forest to fight Humbaba, Gilgamesh is tormented every night by horrible nightmares. Each time, Enkidu is the one who steps in to interpret the dreams in a more favorable light. Do you think Enkidu really believes in the interpretations he puts forward throughout Tablet 4? Or is he just putting a brave face on things, in order to cheer up Gilgamesh? And, either way, who do you think is truly more courageous: Gilgamesh or Enkidu?

    Chapter 9, Tablet 9
    Gilgamesh

    "I am going to die!—am I not like Enkidu?!
    Deep sadness penetrates my core,
    I fear death, and now roam the wilderness—
    I will set out to the region of Utanapishtim, son of Ubartutu, and will go with utmost dispatch!" (9.2-5)

    After Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh becomes consumed by overpowering fear—the fear of death. Why is death something to be afraid of? Or is this just another example of the fear of the unknown? In that case, it makes sense that Gilgamesh would go on a quest to find out what death is. But Gilgamesh never finds out what death is—because everybody he encounters tells him that nobody knows what death is. So how does he end up overcoming his fear?

    When he reached Mount Mashu,
    which daily guards the rising and setting of the Sun,
    above which only the dome of the heavens reaches,
    and whose flank reaches as far as the Netherworld below,
    there were Scorpion-beings watching over its gate.
    Trembling terror they inspire, the sight of them is death,
    their frightening aura sweeps over the mountains.
    At the rising and setting they watch over the Sun.
    When Gilgamesh saw them, trembling terror blanketed his face,
    but he pulled himself together and drew near to them. (9.48-57)

    Is true courage never being afraid? Or is true courage being afraid, and then mastering your fear? If it's number two, Gilgamesh is definitely showing some courage here. Even though the whole point of the Scorpion-beings is to make people scared out of their wits, Gilgamesh musters up the gumption to go forward. Gilgamesh's ability to conquer his fear, even without his buddy Enkidu to egg him on, shows just how powerful the fear is that is driving him on—the fear of death. Compared to that, Scorpion-beings are a piece of cake.

    Chapter 10, Tablet 10
    Gilgamesh

    "Six days and seven nights I mourned over him
    and would not allow him to be buried
    until a maggot fell out of his nose.
    I was terrified by his appearance(?),
    I began to fear death, and so roam the wilderness." (10.61-72)

    In these lines, Gilgamesh explains how he developed the overpowering fear of death that drives him on his quest to find Utanapishtim. It's pretty easy to see how anyone would be scared by what Gilgamesh describes—we at Shmoop just can't get over that whole maggot falling out of the nose thing. That said, why does Gilgamesh end the passage by asking "Am I not like him?" What do you think it was that made Gilgamesh so "terrified by his appearance"?

    Siduri

    The tavern-keeper was gazing off into the distance,
    puzzling to herself, she said,
    wondering to herself:
    "That fellow is surely a murderer(?)!
    Where is he heading?..."
    As soon as the tavern-keeper saw him, she bolted her door,
    bolted her gate, bolted the lock." (10.10-16)

    Siduri runs a tavern in the underworld. What are her typical patrons like? Apparently much more respectable than Gilgamesh—otherwise she probably wouldn't be so put-off by his haggard appearance. Of course, it turns out that Siduri's fear is pretty much justified. Not long after these lines, Gilgamesh starts threatening to bust Siduri's door down. This looks like another example of how fear can be good: better safe than sorry, after all.

    Chapter 11, Tablet 11
    Gilgamesh

    "Urshanabi, this plant is a plant against decay(?)
    by which a man can attain his survival(?).
    I will bring it to Uruk-Haven,
    and have an old man eat the plant to test it.
    The plant's name is 'The Old Man Becomes a Young Man.'
    Then I will eat it and return to the condition of my youth." (11.279-291)

    Why doesn't Gilgamesh eat the plant straightaway? Does he mistrust Utanapishtim? Clearly he trusted him enough to attach stones to his feet and dive down to the bottom of the sea in search of the plant. Is this a case of the devil you know (doing daring deeds) versus the devil you don't know (eating some weird flower)? We don't know. But Gilgamesh's hesitation might show a development in his character, as he becomes more thoughtful and less reckless over the course of his adventures.

    "The gods were frightened by the Flood,
    and retreated, ascending to the heaven of Anu.
    The gods were cowering like dogs, crouching by the outer wall.
    Ishtar shrieked like a woman in childbirth,
    the sweet-voiced Mistress of the Gods wailed:
    'The olden-days have alas turned to clay,
    because I said evil things in the Assembly of the Gods!
    How could I say evil things in the Assembly of the Gods,
    ordering a catastrophe to destroy my people?!
    No sooner have I given birth to my dear people
    than they fill the sea like so many fish!'" (11.113-123)

    The ultimate human fear in the poem is death. But the gods can't die. And yet, here they are described as being afraid. What can the gods be afraid of? Are they afraid for their own safety? But look at the words of Ishtar at the end of this quotation: it looks like she isn't afraid for herself so much as for the people of earth, who are being destroyed. Is it only the gods who are afraid on behalf of people other than themselves, or are there human characters in the poem who also feel fear for others?

  • Death

    Chapter 2, Tablet 2

    Who, my friend, can ascend to the heavens?
    (Only) the gods can dwell forever with Shamash.
    As for human beings, their days are numbered,
    and whatever they keep trying to achieve is but wind!
    Now you are afraid of death—
    what has become of your bold strength?
    I will go in front of you,
    and your mouth can cry out: "Go on closer, do not be afraid!
    Should I fall, I will have established my fame.
    (They will say:) "It was Gilgamesh who locked in battle with Humbaba the Terrible!" (2.228-237)

    Meet Gilgamesh: he lives fast and hard, and doesn't care if he dies trying. Enkidu has been warning his friend not to go on a quest to fight the monster Humbaba; Enkidu fears that Gilgamesh will be walking into certain death. But Gilgamesh points out that death is already certain—for human beings, anyhow. Given that we're all going to die anyway, Gilgamesh reasons, the next best thing is to accomplish great deeds so that your name will live on in people's memory. Is Gilgamesh right? Would it be enough if the people of Uruk remembered Gilgamesh as the one who battled Humbaba? Would there be an epic about him if he had died in that battle?

    Chapter 7, Tablet 7

    Then he … turned me into a dove,
    so that my arms were feathered like a bird.
    Seizing me, he led me down to the House of Darkness, the dwelling of Irkalla,
    to the House where those who enter do not come out,
    along the road of no return,
    to the House where those who dwell do without light,
    where dirt is their drink, their food is of clay,
    where, like a bird, they wear garments of feathers,
    and light cannot be seen, they dwell in the dark,
    and upon the door and bolt lies dust. (7.173-182)

    Don't you just hate it when people tell you their dreams? Here, Enkidu describes his frightening dream about being captured by a lion-headed eagle and taken down to the underworld. But unlike our dream about blow-up dolphins (seriously), this dream probably has a grain of truth for Gilgamesh. And it's not pretty: the underworld isn't much better than complete non-existence, and quite possibly worse. If you were living in the ancient Sumerian society of Gilgamesh, how would you react to knowing that the underworld was like this? Does this picture of what waits for us after death explain some of the attitudes toward life and death expressed by characters in the epic?

    Now Gilgamesh is your beloved brother-friend!
    He will have you lie on a grand couch,
    and will have you lie in the seat of ease, the seat at his left,
    so that the princes of the world kiss your feet.
    He will have the people of Uruk go into mourning and moaning over you,
    and fill the happy people with woe over you.
    And after you he will let his body bear a filthy mat of hair,
    will don the skin of a lion and roam the wilderness. (7.129-137)

    Shamash says this to Enkidu, who's just been cursing (1) the trapper who first found him at the watering hole, and (2) Shamhat, the temple-prostitute, who first initiated him into the ways of human beings. Sure, we can see why Enkidu might feel like lashing out. But he's wrong. If it weren't for the trapper and Shamhat, he never would have made friends with Gilgamesh. One of the plusses of this friendship is he'll now have elaborate ceremonies to commemorate him after he dies, and Gilgamesh will defile his own body in memory of his friend. Aw, now isn't that sweet?

    On entering the House of Dust,
    everywhere I looked there were royal crowns gathered in heaps,
    everywhere I listened, it was the bearers of crowns who in the past had ruled the land,
    but who now served Anu and Enlil cooked meats,
    served confections, and poured cool water from waterskins.
    In the House of Dust that I entered
    there sat the high priest and acolyte,
    there sat the purification priest and ecstatic,
    there sat the anointed priests of the Great Gods.
    There sat Etana, there sat Sumukan,
    there sat Ereshkigal, the Queen of the Netherworld.
    Beletseri, the Scribe of the Netherworld, knelt before her,
    she was holding the tablet and was reading it out to her (Ereshkigal). (7.183-195)

    Here, Enkidu is still going on about his spooky dream. This time, the emphasis isn't so much on how the underworld totally stinks, as much as on the fact that absolutely everybody has to go there. When the most powerful people on earth are reduced to the role of table servants in the underworld … well, that's a powerful message about the equalizing power of death.

    Chapter 8, Tablet 8
    Gilgamesh

    My friend, the swift mule, fleet wild ass of the mountain, panther of the wilderness,
    after we joined together and went up the mountain,
    fought the Bull of Heaven and killed it,
    and overwhelmed Humbaba, who lived in the Cedar Forest,
    now what is this sleep which has seized you?
    You have turned dark and do not hear me!"
    But his (Enkidu's) eyes do not move,
    he touched his heart, but it beat no longer. (8.38-46)

    Even though Gilgamesh's words are about how Enkidu is dead, it still doesn't seem like he totally accepts this fact—he is still talking to a dead guy, after all. This becomes even more clear at the end of this passage, when Gilgamesh touches Enkidu's heart—as though he were trying to see if, by some miracle, Enkidu wasn't actually dead. Ancient Sumerians: they're just like us.

    May the …, the cypress, and the cedar which we destroyed(?) in our anger mourn you.
    May the bear, hyena, panther, tiger, water buffalo(?), jackal, lion, wild bull, stag, ibex, all the
    creatures of the plains mourn you.
    May the holy River Ulaja, along whose banks we grandly used to stroll, mourn you.
    May the pure Euphrates, to which we would libate water from our wineskins, mourn you.
    May the men of Uruk-Haven, whom we saw in our battle when we killed the Bull of Heaven,
    mourn you.
    May the farmer …, who extols your name in his sweet work song, mourn you.
    May the … of the broad city, who … exalted your name, mourn you.
    May the herder …, who prepared butter and light beer for your mouth, mourn you.
    May …, who put ointments on your back, mourn you.
    May …, who prepared fine beer for your mouth, mourn you.
    May the harlot, … you rubbed yourself with oil and felt good, mourn you.
    May …, … of the wife placed (?) a ring on you …, mourn you.

    May the brothers go into mourning over you like sisters;
    … the lamentation priests, may their hair be shorn on your behalf.
    Enkidu, your mother and father are in the wastelands,
    I mourn you … (8.14-30)

    Is someone cutting onions nearby? This is Gilgamesh mourning Enkidu, obvs, and boy does it bring a tear to our eye. Does the fact that Gilgamesh is calling on animals and plants to lament his friend undercut his argument that being remembered after you die makes dying OK? After all, if Gilgamesh is calling on the entire universe to lament Enkidu, doesn't that suggest that it isn't enough for ordinary people to lament him?

    Chapter 9, Tablet 9
    Gilgamesh

    I am going to die!—am I not like Enkidu?!
    Deep sadness penetrates my core,
    I fear death, and now roam the wilderness—
    I will set out to the region of Utanapishtim, son of Ubartutu, and will go with utmost dispatch! (9.2-5)

    This is major, Shmoopers: Gilgamesh is actually changing. For starters, he's shifting from lamenting his friend to lamenting for himself, because he will have to die too someday. This also shows a shift from his attitude near the beginning of the poem (see the first quotation from this section), when he seemed to think that death really wasn't a big deal. But accepting death is the last thing on Gilgamesh's mind at this point. Instead, he is determined to do something about it: he will go see Utanapishtim, the one human being who received immortality. Does Gilgamesh's decision to go see Utanapishtim make sense, or is it just another way of refusing to accept the inevitable?

    Chapter 10, Tablet 10
    Gilgamesh

    Six days and seven nights I mourned over him
    and would not allow him to be buried
    until a maggot fell out of his nose.
    I was terrified by his appearance(?),
    I began to fear death, and so roam the wilderness. (10.61-72)

    This is Gilgamesh filling in Siduri, the tavern-keeper in the underworld. What's cool here is the complicated interweaving of feelings of grief over his friend and grief for himself—plus, check out that gritty realism. Maggots!

    No one can see death,
    no one can see the face of death,
    no one can hear the voice of death,
    yet there is savage death that snaps off mankind.
    For how long do we build a household?
    For how long do we seal a document?
    For how long do brothers share the inheritance?
    For how long is there to be jealousy in the land(?)? (10.290-301)

    Utanapishtim is trying—and failing—to satisfy Gilgamesh's curiosity about death. Basically, it's impossible to know what death is, and human life is incredibly brief, so you've just got to deal. But Gilgamesh isn't listening—not yet.

    Chapter 11, Tablet 11

    Enlil went up inside the boat
    and, grasping my hand, made me go up.
    He had my wife go up and kneel by my side.
    He touched our forehead and, standing between us, he blessed us:
    'Previously Utanapishtim was a human being.
    But now let Utanapishtim and his wife become like us, the gods!
    Let Utanapishtim reside far away, at the Mouth of the Rivers.'
    They took us away and settled us at the Mouth of the Rivers.
    Now then, who will convene the gods on your behalf,
    that you may find the life that you are seeking? (11.196-205)

    If you've ever watched the legendary HBO crime series The Wire, you may be familiar with the practice known as "juking the stats." This is when the bosses at police force decide that they've had it with high crime rates, and tell all the division commanders to bring the numbers down. So what happens if the division commanders can't deliver? They monkey with the statistics, that's what. Robberies get reclassified as petty larcenies, fights get reclassified as loitering, and on down the list until—presto!—the statistics say that crime is down. And evidently, it's an old technique. Here, Enlil, the king of the gods, had wanted to destroy the entire human species with the Flood. But now the Flood is over, and two human beings have survived. So what does Enlil do? He jukes the stats, that's what. By reclassifying Utanapishtim and his wife as immortal, and hence not human beings, he gets to preserve his perfect record.

  • Religion

    Chapter 3, Tablet 3

    "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).

    Chapter 4, Tablet 4
    Gilgamesh

    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.

    "Hurry, stand by him so that he (Humbaba) does not enter the forest,
    and does not go down into the thickets and hide (?)!
    He has not put on his seven coats of armor(?),
    he is wearing only one, but has taken off six." (4.225-234)

    And all those prayers to Shamash pay off. When Enkidu and Gilgamesh finally reach the Cedar Forest, Gilgamesh has a moment of doubt. But then Shamash himself speaks out of the heavens, telling him to cheer up—and to strike now, while Humbaba is vulnerable. This is the first of several times that Shamash will personally intervene to help out Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Gee, must be nice to have a personal sun-god.

    Chapter 5, Tablet 5
    Enkidu

    Enkidu spoke to Gilgamesh, saying:
    "My friend, Humbaba, Guardian of the Forest,
    grind up, kill, pulverize(?), and … him!
    Before the Preeminent God Enlil hears,
    and the … gods are full of rage at us.
    Enlil is in Nippur, Shamash is in Sippar.
    Erect an eternal monument proclaiming …
    how Gilgamesh killed(?) Humbaba." (5.241-248)

    Hey, Enkidu! Aren't you grateful? Did you forget that Shamash has been helping you out the whole time? Enkidu clearly isn't thinking straight here. And he'll pay for it later on, when Enlil insists he must die for killing Humbaba, and chopping down the mightiest tree in the Cedar Forest. If you're going to act against the will of the gods, you'd better be ready to take the punishment.

    Chapter 6, Tablet 6
    Ishtar

    After they had killed the Bull of Heaven,
    they ripped out its heart and presented it to Shamash.
    They withdrew, bowing down humbly to Shamash.
    Then the brothers sat down together.
    Ishtar went up onto the top of the Wall of Uruk-Haven,
    cast herself into the pose of mourning, and hurled her woeful curse:
    "Woe unto Gilgamesh who slandered me and killed the Bull of Heaven!"
    When Enkidu heard this pronouncement of Ishtar,
    he wrenched off the Bull's hindquarter and flung it in her face:
    "If I could only get at you I would do the same to you!
    I would drape his innards over your arms!" (6.147-157)

    This is probably the poem's clearest example of how, in the polytheistic culture of ancient Mesopotamia, people weren't just abstractly "religious." Instead, they had personal relationships with a variety of gods. Some gods would be their friends, but some could even be their enemies. Here, Enkidu and Gilgamesh continue to act as devoted worshippers of Shamash, the god who helped them out throughout their quest against Humbaba. On the other hand, Enkidu really goes nuts on Ishtar—surpassing even Gilgamesh's behavior, earlier on, when he insulted and rejected her.

    Chapter 8, Tablet 8

    When Gilgamesh heard this
    the zikru of the river(?) he created …
    Just as day began to dawn Gilgamesh opened(?) …
    and brought out a big table of sissoo wood.
    A carnelian bowl he filled with honey,
    a lapis lazuli bowl he filled with butter.
    He provided … and displayed it before Shamash. (8.222-228)

    The text of the tablet is broken in a few places here, and scholars don't know how to translate one of the words ("zikru"). (Sissoo trees, however, are actually a thing.) Still, the general idea seems to be that Gilgamesh is making an offering to Shamash before setting out on his journey to find Utanapishtim. If your personal god is a dude like Shamash, that's a relationship you want to keep up.

    Chapter 10, Tablet 10
    Utanapishtim

    "How alike are the sleeping(?) and the dead.
    The image of Death cannot be depicted.
    (Yes, you are a) human being, a man(?)!
    After Enlil had pronounced the blessing,
    the Anunnaki, the Great Gods, assembled.
    Mammetum, she who fashions destiny, determined destiny with them.
    They established Death and Life,
    but they did not make known 'the days of death.'" (10.302-309)

    Here, Utanapishtim tries to show Gilgamesh that death is a sacred limitation ordained by gods.When Gilgamesh finally backs down from his quest, are his reasons religious? If not, what are they?

    Chapter 11, Tablet 11
    Utanapishtim

    "Then I sent out everything in all directions and sacrificed (a sheep).
    I offered incense in front of the mountain-ziggurat.
    Seven and seven cult vessels I put in place,
    and (into the fire) underneath (or: into their bowls) I poured reeds, cedar, and myrtle.
    The gods smelled the savor,
    the gods smelled the sweet savor,
    and collected like flies over a (sheep) sacrifice." (11.155-171)

    Here, Utanapishtim explains what he did after the Flood. At first glance, this looks like a straightforward picture of the "you-scratch-my-back, I'll-scratch-yours" relationship that is typical between mortals and gods in ancient mythology. Utanapishtim gets the sacrifices in order, and the gods gratefully cluster round. But, um, didn't the gods just try to kill everyone?