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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

Gilgamesh in a Nutshell - 1. The Epic of Gilgamesh in a Nutshell

Gilgamesh was a king of the city-state of Uruk in ancient Sumer between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. A number of stories about Gilgamesh have been found in Sumerian. In Babylonian times, a scribe collected the stories and fused them into a continuous narrative, the Epic of Gilgamesh. It was widely known until the early years of the Common Era, when it was lost; then it was re-discovered in the 19th century in the library of the King of Assyria. The Epic can seem meandering and difficult to approach, but at its core it is a meditation on death, and an account of the love of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, a man from outside civilization. This is my interpretation, not purely a distillation of the Babylonian version. Whether or not the relationship of Gilgamesh and Enkidu was sexual can be debated endlessly. But, remarkably, the Babylonian version contains this line: "Once, you touched my body, and it brought you joy."


Long ago, when the first cities were built, Gilgamesh was king of the city of Uruk in Sumer, the Land Between the Rivers. His strength and energy were so great that people called him part man and part god. He drove his people hard to build the city and its magnificent walls. They appealed to the gods to create his equal, to send a man strong enough to challenge him and distract him from making his oppressive demands.

So, in the wilderness near Uruk, Enkidu appeared, part animal and part man, running with the gazelles and setting animals free from the hunterstraps. When a hunter begged Gilgamesh to stop Enkidus depredations, Gilgamesh sent a temple prostitute, a servant of the goddess Ishtar, to tame him. She had sex with him and fed him bread and wine, and so made him fully human. The animals would no longer have anything to do with him. What can I do now that I am alone?” he asked. The temple prostitute answered, Follow me to Uruk, and you will find your equal there,” and led him to the city.

The gods also sent Gilgamesh a dream in which he saw a falling star land before him. He picked it up and held it tightly with the yearning of the end of childhood. His mother, the priestess Ninsun, interpreted the dream, saying that the star was the friend who was promised to him, the friend who was even then on his way.

When Enkidu arrived, a wedding had just taken place, and Gilgamesh was demanding his traditional right of the first night with the bride and the groom. The frightened people were hiding. Enkidu blocked Gilgameshs way, saying, How can you treat your people like this?”

Gilgamesh said, Get out of my way.”

Enkidu replied, I will, if you are stronger.”

So they fought. They shook walls and felled houses, and in the end Gilgamesh forced Enkidu to one knee. Enkidu said, Gilgamesh, you are stronger. I will be your only servant and your only love. You need no other.”

Gilgamesh said, You are the one who was promised to me.” And they kissed and were friends.


They worked together and ate together, ran together and danced together and rested together, spent their days together and their nights together, and for a while they were happy. The people of Uruk were relieved.

But Enkidu did not like city life. The air smelled bad and the water tasted foul, and the narrow streets hemmed him in. After a time, Gilgamesh asked him what was wrong. This is your city,” Enkidu replied. You belong here and I never will.”

Every day I hold back from running away,” Gilgamesh said. Here a man works until he dies, and then his corpse is thrown into the river, to be forgotten like an animal. Just once I want to journey far, to do something no one else has done, to make a name for myself that will be remembered.” Gilgamesh held Enkidus hands and looked at him. I want to go to the cedar forest and bring back timbers for the gates.”

Enkidu shuddered with horror. The demon Humbaba guards the cedar forest. The great god Enlil protects him. He will kill us both like a wolf killing a pair of rabbits.”

I too have a god to protect me,” Gilgamesh replied. Shamash the Sun will help us.”

I am afraid you will die.”

Together we are invincible. I am copper, you are tin, making hardest bronze. I am the boat, you the outrigger, afloat on any sea.” Still Enkidu hesitated. If you will not go, Enkidu, then I will take sixty men of the city with me.”

They wouldnt know the first thing about fighting Humbaba,” Enkidu objected. I have been to the cedar forest. I know Humbaba. Without me you have no chance.”

Good. Then it will be the two of us.”

So they set off with weapons and provisions. After many days they heard the music of the forest, where Humbaba surrounded himself with singing birds and drumming monkeys and chirping insects. At last they came to a tall tree at the edge of the forest, and Gilgamesh struck deep into it with his axe.

Immediately a roar and a wind began from the densest part of the forest. Gilgamesh was struck dumb and he could not move his legs or arms. As Humbaba crashed through the trees, Enkidu shook Gilgamesh. Rouse yourself! If Shamash is to help us, it must be now!”

Gilgamesh shook himself and kneeled. Shamash, master of the sun and wind, send the eight winds to surround Humbaba, sharp north wind, blinding mistral, storm wind, desert wind, all of them, hold him in a cage of air!”

And as Humbaba reached them and was about to strike them, a whirlwind caught and held him. Enkidu threw chains which wrapped around the demon and Gilgamesh threw massive ropes, and Humbaba lay helpless on the ground before them.

Gilgamesh, you have won,” Humbaba said. Take what you wish of the trees of my land. Spare my life, and I will be your servant.”

Gilgamesh smiled. Enkidu, what do you say? Would a demon be a useful servant?”

Enkidu frowned. Dont trust him. The moment you let him go he will turn on us. Him, a servant? I am your only servant and I am your only love. You need no other. Kill him now while you have the chance.”

So Gilgamesh cut off Humbabas head.


Gilgamesh and Enkidu returned to Uruk in triumph and glory. As the people cheered them, the noise carried up to Heaven and caught the attention of Ishtar, goddess of love, war, and natural disasters.

Ishtar decided to grace Gilgamesh with her presence and her favors. Appearing before him, she said, Gilgamesh, most glorious of men, come with me and be my love. Your land will be fertile and plentiful, your people will be happy and productive, and besides, youll have me.”

Gilgamesh asked Enkidu, Should I become the lover of a goddess, my friend?”

Enkidu said, Dont trust her. I am your only servant and your only love. You need no other. Remember what happened to her other lovers.”

Together Gilgamesh and Enkidu recounted the sad aftermaths of Ishtars other dalliances: she loved a gardener but tired of him, and then turned him into a mole; she loved a shepherd but grew bored, and then changed him into a wolf, hunted by his own dogs; and a dozen others. Wouldnt my fate be the same?” Gilgamesh asked.

Ishtar was furious at this insult, all the more because it was true. Even a great king should not be insolent to a goddess. This is not ended.” And she vanished.

In Heaven, Ishtar met with her fellow deities. Gilgamesh and his people must be punished for insulting me. I am going to loose the Bull of Heaven on the earth.”

Shamash, lord of the Sun, said, The Bull of Heaven will scorch the whole world. There will be years of drought. You will kill them all, just for a little insult.”

Enlil said, Have you made certain the people will not all die?”

Ishtar waved a hand. They have enough grain stored for seven years. I mean to teach them, not to kill them all.”

Very well,” Enlil said.

So Ishtar released the Bull of Heaven. It fell and fell through the sky, growing larger and larger, until it was so large that the people below were not certain if it was falling to Earth or if the Earth was falling to it. It struck the Earth with the force of a thousand earthquakes. It snorted to the left and burned the ground to the horizon; it snorted to the right and dried up an inland sea; and then it pawed the ground and charged at Gilgamesh and Enkidu.

They jumped out of its way, then as it passed, Enkidu threw a rope onto its horns and pulled himself up onto the beasts back. When the Bull wheeled and came back for Gilgamesh, Enkidu threw him the rope and the king climbed up as well. The Bull lashed at them with its tail as if at a fly, but they hung on. Gilgamesh drew his sword and plunged it in, all the way to the great animals heart; and the Bull of Heaven fell dead.

Ishtar was not pleased. Down she came from Heaven to stand atop the city walls and wail her fury with the women of her temple. Woe to Gilgamesh, who killed my Bull of Heaven! Woe to Gilgamesh and Enkidu to scorn me so!”

Gilgamesh and Enkidu and the people called back, Send us more! Send us more! Send a lamb or send a boar! Send your monsters big and small! We will kill them, kill them all!”

Ishtar fled to Heaven.


After the great feasts and celebrations, in the silence of the night, Enkidu lay feverish and shaking. He awoke in terror. My friend, I dreamed a terrible dream,” he said.

Gilgamesh gave him water. It was only a fever-dream.”

I saw the gods. I heard their voices,” Enkidu said. Ishtar was crying to the gods of the injustice done to her. Now they must pay!

Shamash said, Did you expect them to do nothing about the Bull?

But Ishtar said, Enlil, I do not ask only for myself. They killed Humbaba, knowing he was under your protection.

Enlil said, Yes. They laugh at us in contempt. What punishment do you propose?

Ishtar said, One of the two must die. I dont care which.

So Enlil cast lots and read them. Enkidu will sicken and die. Gilgamesh will remain alive.

Shamash objected, Bring both of them near death and then let them live. Do not kill either of them; it is too much.

Enlil said, The lot has fallen.

And I died. I was in the hall of the dead, deep down in the earth, in the darkness and dust, with the souls of the forgotten glowing pale and cold around me.”

Gilgamesh tried to calm Enkidus fears. It is only the fever that makes you talk like this. Rest, sleep. I will stay at your side, and you will soon be well.”

But Enkidu sank day by day, and in a week he was near death. He whispered, Gilgamesh, this is the end. I am going, you must stay. Once, you touched my body and it brought you joy; soon, worms and beetles will be eating it. I wanted you to myself, to be your only love and your only servant. I pushed you to kill Humbaba and to reject Ishtar. I am the cause of this. If only I had --” But Enkidus voice failed. Then his breath stopped, started, stopped, started, and stopped, and he was dead.

Gilgamesh would not leave the body. My brother, my own dear brother, why am I acquitted and not you? Will I stand outside the door of death and never see my dear brother again?”

Gilgamesh raged and paced like a lion. At last people came and said, Lord, let us take the body. He has been dead three days. Let us bury him. Come back to your throne.”

Gilgamesh said, No. I will not stay here. Death is in this city. Life is in the wilderness from which he came. And I will stay there until the door of death is no barrier to me.”

As soon as Enkidu was buried, Gilgamesh left, unwashed, in rags, weeping.


Gilgamesh wandered in the wilderness for a long time. He fought lions in the moonlight and the Scorpion-Men who guard the great mountain passes. Each time he thought of returning to Uruk, he drifted farther away.

At last, near the last shore, he found a garden. The leaves were emerald and jade, the fruit were rubies, and the flowers were sapphire and amethyst. There was a house. In it lives Siduri, who gives wine to the rare travelers who pass that way.

She asked Gilgamesh, To where are you running?”

He said, Nowhere. My friend is dead. What plan can I make that will not wash away from under my feet like sand in the tide? What good are great works and deeds when life can be torn from me in a moment? This handful of days we are given, why should we even try to do anything with them? Until I can master death, I am nothing.”

Siduri said, Gilgamesh, nothing will change the number of years you are allotted. When the gods created life, they kept eternal life for themselves. For us they created death, and there is no avoiding it. We must live while we have life. Gilgamesh, I say to you, eat and drink with a merry heart. Let your clothes be fine and new. Be glad of the work that comes to your hand and the love you may yet find, now, while you can, for there will be no work or love in the grave to which we must all go.”

Gilgamesh asked, Is there no hope, then? Has no one ever conquered death?”

Siduri hesitated before answering, There is a man at the last shore. He does not die. His name is Utnapishtim.”

Gilgamesh thanked Siduri and rushed to the seashore. There he met two very old people: Utnapishtim and his wife. Tell me the secret,” Gilgamesh begged. Tell me how you thwarted the will of the gods and became immortal.”

Utnapishtim laughed. Thwarted the will of the gods? Dont be ridiculous. I lived because I listened to a gods voice.

It was a few thousand years ago - I dont remember exactly. The number of people had increased greatly, and the noise they made disturbed the gods. The gods, Ishtar in particular, decided to send a flood to drown out the noise and kill the people. And the gods all swore to say nothing to the humans, to give them no warning.

But my god Ea came to my reed-house and spoke to it, and no harm if I happened to overhear, right? To my house he said, Reed-house! Wall, O wall! Listen, house; listen, wall! Abandon this place! Build a boat and save your soul! Take people and animals into your boat and save a remnant of mankind!

I built a boat, brought my family on board with many animals and provisions for all, and when it was finished the rain started. The heavens opened for many days and all around us perished. At last the rains stopped, and the waters began to abate. When I let a bird fly and it did not return, I knew it had found dry land. And soon my boat grounded on a mountain, and we were safe.

Ishtar in heaven said, Why was my anger so great? I loved those little people. Now theyre floating like dead fish in the sea. By the blue gems of my necklace, I will not ordain such a disaster again. And I set the rainbow in the sky as a sign of this promise.

So she said, but, you know, her moods change. But to me the gods showed favor, and set me here at the last shore and granted that I live forever.

So you see, my life is not the result of anything I did. It is the work of the gods.”

Gilgamesh was downcast and said, So there is no hope for me. I hoped to learn from you the secret of immortality.”

There is one way,” Utnapishtim said. Deep in the water of this bay is a plant which brings youth and renewal each time you eat it.”

Gilgamesh immediately dove to the bottom of the bay and retrieved the plant. With new hope he took the plant and began the journey home. On the way, he stopped to bathe in a shallow pool in a river. A water-snake swam up and snatched the plant while Gilgamesh was bathing. He saw it shed its skin as it slithered away with the plant in its mouth.

Gilgamesh watched his last hope disappear. He said, I thought for a moment that the dead skin moved and curled like a living creature. What have I been chasing? Enkidu, how far away you must be by now! Compared to yours, my journey is a childs walk. My friend, nothing is left before me or within me.”

So Gilgamesh came back to Uruk. But he sat outside the city, reluctant to enter the gate. An old man came and sat beside him. King, wont you enter your city?”

For what?” Gilgamesh asked. There is nothing left for me to do. There is nothing I can do. The great walls of Uruk that I built of burnt brick did not save my friend. The great gates of timber from the cedars of Humbaba did nothing to keep death out.”

There is much you can do,” the old man replied. Be a better king than you were. Serve your people, now that you know that you are no different from them, that even you cant escape death, the common fate of everything that lives.”

Gilgamesh took up his kingship again, and worked and ate and drank and even laughed and danced again. And he wrote the story of all he had seen and done and heard on tablets of stone. He knew that the lost story of the Flood was something people would treasure, and that if the story of Enkidu were linked to it, Enkidu would never be forgotten.

Late in life, Gilgamesh dreamed. He was playing a game with a ball and stick at the edge of an abyss, and he dropped both, ball and stick, down into the netherworld. Enkidu offered to retrieve them. Despite his misgivings, Gilgamesh let Enkidu go. He begged Enkidu not to speak or to look into the eyes of any spirits in the netherworld. But when Enkidu entered the abyss, he ignored the advice, speaking to the spirits and looking directly at the goddess of Hell, and the gods and spirits of the dead seized Enkidu and held him in the pit. Through a crack in the earth Enkidu spoke to Gilgamesh one last time.

Gilgamesh asked, What is it like for the souls of the dead?”

Enkidu said, Those for whom no one mourns eat the scrapings left over in the cooking pot and drink stale water. Those for whom one mourns eat the grain cooked in the pot and drink pale beer. Those for whom many mourn, whom many remember, feast on the best bread and meats and fruit, and drink the best wine.”

You will never be forgotten, Enkidu. Your name is inscribed in stone and it will never be lost.”

And when Gilgamesh died, he was held in honor in the netherworld, and was made a judge of the dead.

Copyright © 2022 Refugium; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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A very enjoyable read.  Though it may be your own interpretation, the essential components of the legend have certain parallels with  another supposedly-unique mythology, always an interesting discovery.  Thanks for sharing this.

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4 hours ago, Thirdly said:

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned...

Ishtar (Inanna in Sumerian) is a corker, all right. She's clearly related to Astarte and other Near Eastern goddesses of that ilk, and more distantly to Aphrodite, but there is an element of Divine Mother Kali in her, too.

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I had heard the name Gilgamesh before, but not known of the history.  Beautiful interpretation. It is interesting how mythical stories have similar themes, especially the flood story.

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58 minutes ago, VBlew said:

I had heard the name Gilgamesh before, but not known of the history.  Beautiful interpretation. It is interesting how mythical stories have similar themes, especially the flood story.

There's a book by Alexander Heidel, "The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels," 1949, detailing many similarities. The parallels are so close that nothing short of one influencing the other or at least both having common origins can explain them. One of my favorites is Ecclesiastes 9:7-9:10, which is almost exactly Siduri's advice to Gilgamesh.

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On 12/13/2022 at 6:25 AM, VBlew said:

I had heard the name Gilgamesh before, but not known of the history.  Beautiful interpretation. It is interesting how mythical stories have similar themes, especially the flood story.

Me too! I remembered reading a book, a work of fantasy/fiction/sci-fi, however you label it, featuring Gilgamesh and the flood. This was some time ago, but intrigued I went searching and found it, not on this site unfortunately: https://www.royalroad.com/fiction/33327/neon 

No doubt many authors have been inspired by the ancient legend.

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