Study Guide

The Epic of Gilgamesh Chapter 9, Tablet 9

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Chapter 9, Tablet 9

  • This tablet begins with Gilgamesh roaming the wilderness, alone. We never saw him leave Uruk—but, then again, the end of Tablet 8 is missing, so maybe we heard about it then.
  • Gilgamesh is still lamenting the death of Enkidu, but his lamentation is taking on a different tone. Now, it starts to seem like what's really bugging Gilgamesh is the thought that he himself will die someday.
  • Enkidu's death has just made this thought real to him in a way that it never was before.
  • Finally, Gilgamesh figures out what he's got to do: head to the ends of the earth and meet a man called Utanapishtim.
  • Why does he need to speak to Utanapishtim? We'll find that out soon enough.
  • Also, Gilgamesh tells us about another dream. The details are a bit hard to make out, but it sounds like it was some sort of crazy nightmare. Still, Gilgamesh isn't going to let a dream turn him back now.
  • Eventually, he comes to the mountain of Mashu. This mountain is in the very, very far East. In fact, Mount Mashu is where the sun rises every day.
  • (The Babylonians thought the earth was flat; thus, if you got to its Eastern edge, you'd be where the sun rises. You can get a very rough idea of the Babylonian view of the cosmos here.)
  • Standing in front of Mount Mashu are two scorpion-beings. What are scorpion-beings? They are divine entities who are part scorpion, part human. If that doesn't help, then check out this picture—a copy of an ancient Babylonian carving of one of these weird dudes.
  • Gilgamesh is super freaked out when he sees them, but he doesn't let his fear get the better of him. Instead, he stomps right up to them.
  • Apparently, the feeling is mutual. The first scorpion-being is afraid because he thinks Gilgamesh is a god—but then his wife (the other scorpion-being) calms him down by pointing out that Gilgamesh is only 2/3 god and 1/3 mortal.
  • Gilgamesh says that he's come to speak to Utanapishtim. From Gilgamesh's words here, we learn that Utanapishtim is Gilgamesh's ancestor. But that's not nearly as important as the next thing we learn: that Utanapishtim is a mortal who has been granted eternal life by the gods. Gilgamesh wants to speak to him to learn about the mysteries of life and death.
  • At first, the scorpion-being tells Gilgamesh that no mortal man can go where Utanapishtim is. But after Gilgamesh insists, the scorpion-being backs down. He tells Gilgamesh that he can walk through the mountains to the mysterious region beyond.
  • As it happens, the road Gilgamesh takes through the mountains is the same path that the sun will take when it rises in the morning (remember: Mount Mashu is at the eastern end of the world). Thus, Gilgamesh is in a race against time: if he doesn't cover all 12 leagues of the journey before the sun rises, he'll burn to a crisp.
  • Gilgamesh makes an incredible effort and runs the whole way. Surprise, surprise, he only makes it at the very last minute; one second more, and our hero would have been Grilledgamesh.
  • (Maybe Sinleqqiunninni should move to Hollywood and make end-of-the-world, disaster movies.)
  • So where is he now? In a marvelous garden—where, instead of fruit, the trees bear precious stones.

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