Epic of Gilgamesh
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Tablet 7
Summary

Enkidu has a chilling nightmare in which the gods were angry with him and Gilgamesh and meet to decide their fate. Ishtar’s father Anu, the god of the firmament, says that they must punish someone for killing Humbaba, the Bull of Heaven and for felling the tallest cedar tree. However, only one of the two friends must die. Enlil is of the view that Enkidu should be the one to die. However, Shamash, the sun god, defended Enkidu, saying that the duo was only doing what he told them to do at the Cedar Forest. Enlil became angry at Shamash for taking their side and accused Shamash of being their comrade, not a god. The dream comes true when Enkidu falls ill. In a moment of self-pity, he curses the cedar gate that they brought back from the forbidden forest. He says he would have cut the gate to pieces if he’d known his fate, and that he’d rather be forgotten for forever than die like this. Seeing his friend in such a state, Gilgamesh is distraught, he tells Enkidu that he has pleaded to gods, but Enlil was adamant. Gilgamesh then promises his friend that he will build him an even greater monument than the cedar gate — an enormous gold statue of Enkidu. Enkidu cries out to Shamash and curses the hunter who first spotted him at the watering hole. He hopes his hunting pits are filled in and his traps are unset. Enkidu starts weeping and curses the temple prostitute too, who seduced him away from the animals. Shamash answers him from afar, asking why Enkidu is cursing the harlot, since if it hadn’t been for her, he would have not eaten the rich foods of the palace, never worn fancy garments, and never befriended Gilgamesh. Shamash reveals that when Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh will wander the earth, undone by grief. Finding comfort in Shamash’s words, Enkidu takes back his curse and supersedes it with a blessing for the prostitute, "May her patrons be generous and rich," he says. Next morning, Enkidu, lying on his deathbed, narrates Gilgamesh another terrible dream. In the dream, he was all alone on a dark plain, and a man with a lion’s head and an eagle’s talons got hold of him. They fought furiously but the man overpowered him, turned him into a birdlike creature and then dragged him down to the underworld.

There he saw kings, gods, and priests, all dressed in feathers. He saw King Etana, whom Ishtar had once chosen to be King of Kish, and Samuqan, the god of cattle. All of them living in darkness and eating dirt as their food. Queen Ereshkigal, the ruler of the underworld, sat on her throne, and Belit-Seri, the scribe of the gods, whose tablet tells everyone’s fate, knelt before her. Queen Ereshkigal looked at them and asked who brought them there. Enkidu confesses to Gilgamesh that he would have been blessed if he’d died in battle because those who die in battle are “glorious.” He suffers for twelve days and then dies.

Analysis

The first half of Sin-Leqi-Unninni’s version of The Epic of Gilgamesh celebrates the two friends’ physicality as they enjoy the worldly pleasures and test their masculinity. In this pivotal tablet, exactly the halfway point of the epic, they must struggle against that same physicality. They may be strong, bold, and beautiful but the underworld sill awaits them.

The adolescent exuberance and celebration of Tablet VI comes to an abrupt end as the two heroes, unredeemed by battlefield heroics, brace for the horror of an agonizing death. The gods have given their verdict: Enkidu must die. In a later tablet, Gilgamesh learns that the gods make decisions arbitrarily. Once, they set out to eliminate all life on earth for no reason at all. Enkidu curses the hunter and the prostitute, who lured him from the wilderness. He believes that if he had continued to live an animal life, he wouldn’t have brought doom upon himself. Without self-knowledge, he wouldn’t experience the anguish of looming death. Enlil accused Shamash of acting more like a human being than a deity, and the comfort the sun god offers Enkidu is in fact humanistic in nature. Shamash suggests that love, glory and the pleasures of a cultivated life are important.

Also important is the feeling of being loved while alive and mourned when dead. The consolation provides a strange kind of comfort to Enkidu since Shamash essentially means that the recompense for losing the life he cherished is the life he cherished. Enkidu’s curses are more than mere figures of speech, they can have big import. In the ancient Mesopotamiam culture, it was believed that curses were a sort of magic that could alter a person's fate. Probably, that is why Enkidu gives alternative blessing for the prostitute, instead of simply withdrawing his curse. The curse and the blessing alike must stand.

Enkidu’s dream about the underworld anticipates Gilgamesh's future journey, spotting king Etana among the dead is also significant as the ancient Sumerian 'Myth of Etana' describes the king’s futile quest for a magical plant to cure his wife’s barrenness. In the ancient story, an eagle carries him up to heaven but unfortunately he falls back to earth. This instance anticipates Gilgamesh’s similar quest with another magical plant.

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