Gilgamesh: quest for immortality, 7th November 2009


The gods decree Enkidu must die. His funeral is sombre and splendid. A magnificent statue is made to honour him.

Gilgamesh is crazy with grief. He leaves the city of Uruk searching for his immortal ancestor, Utnaphistim. He wants to find out from Utnapishtim how to live forever. He fights with lions and wanders in the wild wearing lionskins.

The scorpion-people (girtablullu) allow Gilgamesh to enter the path of total darkness taken by the sun when it disappears. After twelve hours Gilgamesh comes out at the edge of the world into a fantastic garden of the gods where jewels grow on trees.

The inn-keeper goddess, Shidduri, sees him from her house nearby. He looks so dreadful she runs up to her roof. He tells her his story. She advises him to give up his quest for immortality and live his life to the full. But Gilgamesh insists he must find Utnapishtim. Shidduri directs him to his ancestor’s boat-man, Urshanabi. He is in the forest by the sea-shore, preparing to journey over the waters of death to faraway Utnapishtim.

Gilgamesh demands to be taken with Urshanbi. The boatman agrees to take him so long as he makes 200 super-long punting poles. They set forth and Gilgamesh uses the punting poles to propel the boat over the waters of death without getting his hands wet. He has to let the punting poles go one by one. When they have all gone he makes a sail with a cloak.

Gilgamesh arrives on the faraway shore. Utnapishtim welcomes him. ‘I cannot tell you how to live forever,’ he says. ‘But I will tell you how I became immortal.’

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Clue to the gods decreeing Enkidu’s death

Clue to lions killed by Gilgamesh

Image on a pot of a scorpion-man (girtablullu)

Story texts written on clay tablets

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A statue honours dead Enkidu

Gilgamesh wears lionskins in the wild

The goddess Shidduri advises Gilgamesh

Urshanabi agrees to take Gilgamesh in his boat