Gilgamesh and the nether world

1 It began in the early days of the world, after the earth and the heavens had been separated. It was a turbulent time. Ereshkigal had been taken by the dragon Kur and Enki was sailing after to put things into the order that they belonged in.

2 The waters that Enki sailed were being pummeled by rocks. The smallest of these hit the side of Enki's boat like they were like hammers. The largest of these hit with the impact of a boulder thrown from a catapult.

3 From those turbulent waters a seedling from a Hulab tree was deposited upon the bank of the Euphrates river. The south wind had uprooted it and stripped it of its branches, but a woman of Uruk took it in.

4 This woman was respectful of the teachings of An and Enlil. She took the tree to Inanna's favored city of Uruk. In this city Inanna had made her luxuriant garden. The gods loved gardens and tended growing things. In this way the queen of heaven was no different from the other gods.

5 The woman planted and watered the tree with her feet rather than her hands. This imbued the tree with special properties. She tended the tree for years in the hopes of making use of the wood.

6 "When will this tree be ready to be made into a chair and a bed for me?" Inanna asked through her servant's mouth as the tree matured.

7 Ten years went by and the tree grew to massive proportions. As it grew its bark did not split. This Hulab tree was singular within Inanna's garden, but the tree was not without its own hardships.

8 At the roots of the tree was a snake who was unknown to exorcists. He therefore could not be extracated by that method of sorcery. This powerful snake made its nest at the base of the tree where none could get at it.

9 In the branches was the nest of a powerful mother Imdugud bird. Her head and claws were that of a lion. The rest of her body was that of an eagle. She was rearing pups in her nest and was particularly fierce.

10 In its trunk a phantom maiden made her nest and laughed with a joyful heart. The phantom maiden was a Lilitu demon, the demon of the screech owl. The demoness laughed the laugh of an owl, but it caused Inanna to cry.

11 The sun rose and the little birds began to make noise. It was at this time when Utu, the sun god and Inanna's brother, left his bedroom and began the day. Inanna saw him instantly and began to petition the young warrior.

12 "My brother," pleaded Inanna through the mouth of the lady who had planted the tree, "In the days when destiny first began to be determined there was a tree that had been stripped of its branches." The watchful garden lady told of the Hulab tree and how it came to Inanna's garden in Uruk.

13 Utu was not moved by his sister's sad story about the plight of her Hulab tree. He saw little reason why he should help her out just to get a bed and a chair. He had better things to do and as the sun passed over head he set about doing them.

14 Inanna's servant decided to turn instead to Gilgamesh who acted as Lugal for her city. It was still early in the day at this time. Gilgamesh was treated to the exact same story as Utu had been treated to, but he was more receptive to it.

15 Gilgamesh took his Ax of the Road in his hand. This Ax weighed seven talents and seven minas, roughly two hundred and thirteen kilograms. This was more than most heavily armored soldiers weighed, and Gilgamesh could swing the bronze Ax around easily.

16 A strike from this Ax killed the snake at the roots of the tree easily. Seeing this, the Imdugud bird took her nest and brought her young up to the mountains. She was more concerned about the safety of her young than anything else. The Lilitu demoness Lilith, fearing for her life, flew off into the wilderness for safety.

17 When he was done, Gilgamesh uprooted the tree. The young men of the city, who had followed Gilgamesh, stripped the tree of its branches and bundled them up. He made Inanna a bed and a chair out of the trunk as she had wished. Out of the roots he made for himself a wooden Ellag ball and a special Ekidma mat for the Ellag to go into. Gilgamesh was a great fan of the Ellag game and there would be no better set than this.

18 The broad square provided a court for him to play the game, and the young men of the city broke up into teams such as the widows children and everyone else. Those with mothers and sisters were brought bread and water as they played.

19 Ellag was a rough ball game and Gilgamesh was a strong player. There were injuries to many involved. Even so, the young men of the city loved the game and they played it until evening when the lack of light forced them to stop. Gilgamesh marked the spot where the ball had last been placed. He picked the ball and mat up and went home for the night.

20 In the morning he was heading from his home to the spot where he had marked and was about to put the ball down when the widows and young women of the city confronted him.

21 Their complaints caused Gilgamesh to drop the toys that he had made from Inanna's special tree. The ball and mat fell into a deep hole in the earth and fell to the underworld. Gilgamesh could not reach them with his hands so he tried putting his leg down the hole with the same result. His ball and mat were gone.

22 Gilgamesh was distraught at this turn of events. He went to Ganzer, fortress gate to the underworld, and mourned his loss. "My Ellag game has fallen into the underworld and I can not play with it any more. I was not done playing with it. The game had not lost its charm for me."

23 He regretted the bad sentiment that he had gained with the women of the city. "I wish the ball were still in the carpenter's house. I would treat his wife like my own mother and his child like my own sister. But it is lost, and who now could retrieve it?"

24 Enkidu, always attentive to his master's wishes, answered him. "Do not be sad my king. Do not worry because today I will retrieve your Ellag game from the land of Kur. I will go into Ganzer and retrieve your game for you."

25 "If you are going to go into the gates of Ganzer there are some things you should know about it. Let me discuss with you the proper etiquette of the underworld. You will need to follow my instructions exactly.

26 "Don't wear your best clothes or sandals and don't anoint yourself with scented oils. The dead will know that you are not supposed to be in their lands and will surround you." Gilgamesh advised Enkidu not to dress as though he were to be respected. He was a visitor in the land of the dead and he would be forced to dress as a mourner.

27 "Do not throw things in the underworld," Gilgamesh advised his friends in the hopes that he would not do harm to one of the dead. "If you hit one of the dead they will become angry at you. The spirits of the underworld will feel insulted if you hold a rod of Cornel wood. Do not shout in the underworld as this will disturb the rest of the dead."

28 "I know that you have a wife and child in the underworld." Gilgamesh said showing understanding to his servant. "If you see them it is important that you do not act as though they were still alive. No matter how angry they make you, you cannot hit them. No matter how much you miss them it is just as important that you don't kiss them. Should you do any of these things the dead will call out and you will be detained by the spirits who maintain order there."

29 "There is a beautiful woman who lies there. Her smooth skin and breasts will not be covered. This is the god Ninazu's mother." Gilgamesh spoke of Ereshkigal without invoking her name. Her husband, and the father of her son had been the bull of heaven. She would only be unclothed as a sign of her sadness. "Do not be fooled by her beauty, she can tear you apart with her pickax like claws, and she is still pulling out her hair in mourning."

30 Enkidu may have listened to Gilgamesh's wise words, but he did not pay any attention. He went into the underworld and did every last thing that he had been told not to. He dressed in a way that disrespected the dead. He caused injury to the dead. He went to his wife and son and struck them when they made him angry and kissed them when they made him happy. As a result of this he was detained by the underworld.

31 A week went by and Enkidu did not return. Realizing what had happened Gilgamesh, son of the goddess Ninsun, went to the temple of E-kur in the city of Nippur. There he pleaded his case before Enlil, lord of the gods. "Great father Enlil, my ellag game fell into the netherworld and my servant Enkidu went to retrieve them. He was seized by the netherworld itself rather than by Namtar, an Asag, the Udug demon of Nergal, or any other force that would normally take possession of the dead. He did not fall in battle as befits a man, but rather he was taken by the netherworld itself."

32 Enlil would not help Gilgamesh in any way, so he decided to go elsewhere. Nanna, the god of the moon, had his temple in the city of Ur. This was where Gilgamesh went next to seek out a way to rescue his most trusted servant.

33 Like Enlil, Nanna did nothing for Gilgamesh, so he went to Eridu to the temple of Enki. The lord of fresh waters was well known for his magical arts and close ties with the queen of the underworld. Once there he told the same thing to this great god that he had told to Enlil. Enki listened.

34 "Utu," Enki called to the young sun god, "open a hole to the netherworld an bring up this man's servant."

35 Utu, son of Ningal, and lord of law and justice did as he was asked. He opened up a hole to the underworld and brought up Enkidu's spirit in the form of his last breath.

36 The pair embraced and greeted each other as close friends who thought that they might never see one another again. Gilgamesh had countless questions for his companion and servant. He wanted to know everything that he could about the underworld.

37 "Tell me of the underworld," Gilgamesh begged of his friend, "I want to know what you saw when you were there."

38 "The order of the netherworld will make you cry. For most the conditions are appalling," Enkidu replied sitting with his friend in the dust. "The entire realm is like a cave. Worms infest the place as though it were an old garment."

39 "Did you see a man there who only had a single son to remember him and give him offerings?"

40 "I did see one like that. He is poor as you might imagine."

41 "What about those who had more sons than that?"

42 "The man with two sons had a few bricks to sit and rest upon and he had bread to eat. The man with three sons had been given regular offerings of fresh water. The man with four sons though lived quite well. The more people who had been left behind to give offerings, the better off the dead man was."

43 "What then of the palace Eunuch, the woman who never gave birth, the young man who never made love to his wife, or the young woman who never made love to her husband? How do they fare?" Gilgamesh asked.

44 "They have nobody to remember them after death. They are useless in the afterlife and mourn lost opportunities and things that they could never have had."

45 "Tell me about those that died in peculiar manners?"

46 "I saw a man who had been ripped apart by a lion. He is still in pain in the afterlife. I saw a man who fell from a roof and his bones are still broken in the land of Kur. There was a man who died from leprosy who twitched like an ox who had worms." Enkidu told how each man and woman in the underworld arrived exactly as they were buried.

47 "I have still born children. Did you see them?"

48 "They live quite well eating and drinking the best foods." Enkidu was able to soothe his friends worries.

49 "What happens to a man who was consumed in fire?"

50 "He was never buried and so I didn't see him. His soul was sent up to heaven where it doesn't belong and barred from the underworld."

PP 5: What is the significance of planting the tree with the feet?