Orient for North Africa and the Middle East
Gilgamesh
TABLET 12






"If only I'd have protected our instruments in the
safe home of the drum-maker;
If only I'd have given so precious a harp to the
craftsman's wife, she who shepherds such jewel-like children.
God, has your heart forgotten me?
Who shall descend to Hell and redeem the
drum from where it rests unused?
Who shall risk his life to retrieve
the precious gifts of Ishtar from death?"
10. And for this quest his friend alone did pledge.
So Gilgamesh said this to Enkidu:
"Descend, descend to Hell where life does end
but listen now to words you need to know.
Go slow to where death rules, my brother dear,
and then arise again above and over fear."
And, once more, Gilgamesh said this to Enkidu:
"Let all who would be saved today, take heed,
and listen to god's words in time of need.
When walking with the strong or with the dead,
20. do not wear clothes of purple or of red.
Shun make-up that presents a holy face
for they attack the phony and the base.
Leave here with me your knife and rock and club;
such weapons only add to their own strife.
Put down your bow, as you would leave a wife.
The souls of death will soil your hands and feet.
Go naked, filthy, tearful, when you meet.
Be quiet, mild, remote, and distant too
as those who will surround and follow you.
30. Greet no girl with kiss so kind upon her lips;
push none away from you with fingertips.
Hold no child's hand as you descend to Hell
and strike no boy who chooses there to dwell.
Around you, Enkidu, the lament of the dead
will whirl and scream,
for she alone, in that good place, is at home who,
having given birth to beauty,
has watched that beauty die.
No graceful robe any longer graces her naked self
40. and her kind breasts, once warm with milk,
have turned into bowls of cold stone."
But Enkidu refused to heed his friend
as he set out that day to then descend
to where the dead who-do-not-live do stay.
He wore bright clothes of celebrative red,
the sight of which offended all the dead.
His colored face made him seem fair and good
but spirits hate the flesh that would dare
remind us of the beauty they have lost.
50. He brought with him his club and rock and knife
and did cause strife with those whom he did mock.
There, too, is where he showed off;
where he went clothed among the naked,
where he wasted food beside the starving,
where he danced beside the grief-stricken.
He kissed a happy girl.
He struck a good woman.
He enjoyed his fatherhood.
He fought with his son.
60. Around him, the lament for the dead arose;
for she alone, in that sad place, is at home who,
having given birth to beauty,
has watched that beauty die.
No graceful robe any longer graces her naked self
and her kind breasts, once warm with milk,
have turned into bowls of cold stone.
She never even dreamed once of letting him return
to life. Namtar, the decision-maker,
would not help Enkidu. Nor would illness
70. help. Hell became his home.
Nergal, chief-enforcer, would not help.
Dirges and laments rose all around.
Not even the soldier's death-in-battle,
with all its false and phony honor,
helped Enkidu. Death just swallowed him, unrecognized.
So the great son of Ninsun, proud Gilgamesh,
cried for his beloved friend
and went to the temple of Enlil,
the savage god of soldiers,
80. to say: "My god, when death
called for me, my best friend went
in my place and he is now no longer living."
But the savage god of soldiers, Enlil, was mute.
So Gilgamesh turned next to one who flies alone,
and to the moon he said: "My god, when death
called for me, my best friend went
in my place and he is now no longer living."
But the moon, who flies alone, was also mute;
so he went next to Ea, whose waters fill
90. the desert oasis even when no rain falls.
"My god," he cried, "when death
called for me, my best friend went
in my place and he is now no longer living."
And Ea, whose waters keep us alive as we journey over desert sands,
said this to Nergal, great soldier in arms.
"Go now, mighty follower; free Enkidu to speak once to kin
and show this Gilgamesh how to descend halfway
to Hell through the bowels of earth."
And Nergal, accustomed to absurd orders,
100. obeyed as soldiers do.
He freed Enkidu to speak once to kin
and showed Gilgamesh how to descend halfway
to Hell through the bowels of earth.
Enkidu's shadow rose slowly toward the living
and the brothers, tearful and weak,
tried to hug, tried to speak,
tried and failed to do anything but sob.
"Speak to me please, dear brother,"
whispered Gilgamesh.
110. "Tell me of death and where you are."
"Not willingly do I speak of death,"
said Enkidu in slow reply.
"But if you wish to sit for a brief
time, I will describe where I do stay."
"Yes," his brother said in early grief.
"All my skin and all my bones are dead now.
All my skin and all my bones are now dead.
"Oh no," cried Gilgamesh without relief.
"Oh no," sobbed one enclosed by grief.
120. "Did you see there a man who never fathered any child?"
"I saw there a no-man who died."
"Did you see there a man whose one son died?"
"I saw him sobbing all alone in open fields."
"Did you see there a man with two grown sons?"
"I did indeed and he smiles all day long."
"Did you see there a man with three of his own boys?"
"I did, I did; and his heart's full of joys."
"Did you there see a king with four full kids?"
"I did see one whose pleasure is supreme."
130. "Did you see there anyone with five children?"
"oh yes, they go about with laughs and shouts."
"And could you find a man with six or seven boys?"
"You could and they are treated as the gods."
"Have you seen one who died too soon?"
"Oh yes; that one sips water fair and rests each night upon a couch."
"Have you seen one who died in War?"
"Oh yes; his aged father weeps and his young widow visits graves."
"Have you seen one buried poor, with other homeless nomads?"
140. "Oh yes; that one knows rest that is not sure,
far from the proper place."
"Have you seen a brother crying among relatives
who chose to ignore his prayers?"
"Oh yes; he brings bread to the hungry from
the dumps of those who feed their dogs
with food they keep from people
and he eats trash that no other man would want."












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