Utnapishtim’s Ark, pt. 2: Gilgamesh’s End

Let’s recap: (Part One can be found here)

Gilgamesh was a Sumerian king (technically, he presided over the city of Uruk). However, his heart had grown cruel, and his subjects grew fearful. They begged the Goddess Arura to mend him, and she did:

She sent Gilgamesh on a play date, with a wild man from the forest named Enkidu.

Enkidu had been tamed by the civilizing forces of femininity; his encounter with the  temple prostitute/priestess Shamhat had driven away his animal companions, forcing him to go to the city. There, after an initial conflict, he became Gilgamesh’s closest confidant.

The two went on many adventures, crossing the paths of enemies; human, demonic and divine.

It was crossing the path of a divine being that got them in trouble…

*

As we’ve seen before, Inanna/Ishtar is not a Goddess to trifle with. Gilgamesh and Enkidu crossed her path, and death followed.

Death came for Enkidu, and Gilgamesh found himself powerless to protect his friend.

This didn’t sit well with the king.

If he couldn’t save his best friend, could he even save himself?

However, there was one person who knew the answer…

One man who had gained immortality…

One man who had cheated Death…

And Gilgamesh was determined to find him.

His name: Utnapishtim.

Why should we remember him?

He built the Ark.

*

Enki is a multifaceted God.

He’s implicated in at least two myths that predate/presage Judaic traditions:

One involves confusing the languages of humans, which of course has parallels in the Biblical account of the Tower of Babel.

The other is the Flood.

*

In the Sumerian account, Enlil was the king of the Gods.

Enki was a water God, subservient to his half-brother Enlil.

As the story goes, Enlil became frustrated with how loud the humans were.

Banging, clanging, singing and dancing, all through the night…

Enlil couldn’t get any sleep.

And so he decided to flood them out of existence.

Enki, on the other hand, had directly helped create humanity in the first place.

Like most parents, he was partial to his children…

And so he warned one of them.

His chosen child was Utnapishtim…

And thanks to Enki’s secret warning, he built an ark, which he loaded with every pair of animals he saw fit to survive the oncoming storm…

*

To our (current) knowledge, Noah never named his ark.

However, Utnapishtim did, in addition to leaving detailed construction notes.

(these were handed down from Enki, who drew them for Utnapishtim in the sand).

His ark was called the Preserver of Life.

Made of solid timber, it was as long as it was wide and tall.

Made in five days, it was 200 feet in every dimension. The floor space was an acre; there were seven stories, each one having nine chambers.

Everything was finished on the seventh day, when the ark was sealed, with human, plant and animal passengers onboard.

Sound familiar?

If not, here’s the next part:

After twelve days on the water, Utnapishtim landed on Mount Nisir, where he waited another seven days. On the seventh day, he released a dove, which returned.

He then sent out a swallow, which also returned, implying no dry land.

Finally, he sent out a raven; the raven, finding land, didn’t return, meaning Untapishtim and his family were able to disembark.

After making a sacrifice to the Gods, Enki personally came to Untapishtim – after Enki convinced his half-brother Enlil (King of the Gods)  – that wiping out humanity wasn’t a very nice thing to do.

For his piety, Enki bestowed immortality on Utnapishtim and his wife.

Immortality…

This was exactly what Gilgamesh was searching for.

*

Gilgamesh went to the mouth of the rivers, where his ancestor, Utnapishtim, was rumored to live.

Finding his immortal progenitor, he asked him the secret to eternal life.

Utnapishtim did not approve.

“Go home, boy” he stated gravely.

“I’ve come too far. What must I do to live…forever.”

“Defy sleep, boy. Let me see that you can defy the siren’s call of sleep”.

Did Gilgamesh try?

Yes…

Did he fail?

When Gilgamesh woke, Utnapishtim was standing over him, laughing.

“You failed immortality, but how about eternal youth?”

Gilgamesh nodded his agreement.

“At the bottom of the waters is a sacred herb. Gather it, and be young forever.”

*

At the bottom of the waters of Dilum,

Gilgamesh gathered the plants…

But, as he swam up…

He was attacked.

A mighty serpent came at him, and before he could defend himself, it grabbed the sacred, youth regenerating plants that Gilgamesh had gathered from the bottom of the sea…

And swam away….

*

Gilgamesh returned to Uruk. He reigned, he aged…

He died.

What’s the take away?

Mortality is the one given truth of our lives. How we deal with it is indicative of who we are, culturally and personally.

Gilgamesh tried, and he failed.

Maybe that’s the lesson…

*

And if you disagree, there’s still one person you can ask:

Utnapsihtim is still waiting at mouth of the rivers,

If you can find him…

 

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