The King Gilgamesh

Enkidu from the wilderness to Uruk of the Sheepfold, a TempleCourtesan is sent to fetch him. She initiates Enkidu into the sacred sexualworship of Ishtar, and, instantly, Enkidu’s “mind is widened”. His animalcompanions flee from him, and he and the Temple Courtesan travel to Uruk ofthe Sheepfold to meet King Gilgamesh. When the two men meet they start out fighting, but, in truth, it is loveborn of their mutually intertwined destinies. Gilgamesh is fascinated byEnkidu’s primordial innocence and Enkidu is awe-struck by the splendor ofUruk of the Sheepfold, and the beauty of his new friend.

Finally Gilgameshhas a reason for living and for being a good King. Inspired by true love andShamash, the sun god, Gilgamesh and Enkidu set out on a daring adventure tokill Humbaba, who guards the sacred cedar groves and who has been ferociouslyterrorizing the people of Uruk who rely upon the cedars as useful resources. (Deforestation in the Middle East happened early in the history ofhumanity! )Returning to Uruk of the Sheepfold with the head of Humbaba, victorious andtriumphant, Gilgamesh takes a stand against the Goddess Ishtar when shetries to seduce him.

King Gilgamesh prefers to worship a male god. Ishtar is furious and she rides the Bull of Heaven down from the sky tokill Gilgamesh, but Enkidu and King Gilgamesh kill the Bull of Heaven instead. But, killing the Bull of Heaven is sacrilege (sp? ). After killing the Bullof Heaven, Enkidu is cursed, he gets sick and dies. In profound grief, King Gilgamesh (like the Buddha 2000 years later)deserts his throne and puts on rags. He sets out on a quest to discover thecure todeath.

First he meets the Scorpion People who guard the gates of themountains, then he goes into deep darkness after which he enters a heavenlypure land where Siduri the Barmaid lives. But heaven isn’t what Gilgamesh isafter. All he wants is to find Utnapishtim and his wife, the only mortalswho have ever achieved eternal life. They live beyond the Waters of Death, atthe source of all rivers. To get there, Gilgamesh has todepend on Urshanabi, the boatman. Finally Gilgamesh reaches Utnapishtim.

Yet after all his sincere grief,honest questing and weary traveling, Gilgamesh finds “the fate of mankind”. Utnapishtim is a hedonist and materialist. Utnapishtim has been stuck withthe curse of immortality at the end of the world. He is living eternallybored and lonely and simply has to tell Gilgamesh the long hard sad tale ofhow he survived the Flood in his Ark (The “Noah” story found in “The Epicof Gilgamesh” is far more detailed than the later Hebrew version of thestory). In humanity’s very first piece of hero literature, Gilgamesh findsthat there is no cure for death.

And, as Utnapishtim says, “There is no wordof advice. ” either. The Gods themselves reveal to Gilgamesh the impermanenceof existence, being that Life and Death are one and the same. Still Utnapishtim feels sorry for Gilgamesh’s wasted efforts, so he givesthe King his servant Urshanabi and a fountain-of-youth sort of plant before hesends him home. But on the journey back to Uruk of the Sheepfold, a snake(probably the same one that we find later in the Garden of Eden) slithersup and steals the magical plant.

So King Gilgamesh returns to Uruk of the Sheepfold, returns to being King,returns to his people, with nothing to show for his quest except his newmaturity and the acceptance of the inescapabilty of death and theimpermanence of all life. He understands that it is by the existence ofUruk of the Sheepfold itself that he will be remembered. The strength andbeauty of Uruk’s walls will outlast him, as will the clay tablets on which thestory of King Gilgamesh is told.

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