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The Narrative of Yilgamseh
by Ramset Hebron
The following is a modern transliteration of an illuminated text compiled by the Second Era scholar Ramset Hebron of Summerset (2E821-2E879) from the original runic tablets unearthed during an archeological excavation of a Skyrim shrine dedicated to the Late Merethic historian Ysgramor, discovered near Karthwasten in the region now known as The Reach.
The ancient text was apparently an endeavor by royal Nordic scholars and literate bards to compile into written narrative the many oral traditions of various beast folk and Nedic (peaceful pre-Nordic human) peoples which depicted events surrounding the mass-exodus from Hammerfell upon the arrival of the brutal Yokudan Warrior Wave of Ra Gada circa 1E808.
It is now apparent that during this violent period many of the strongest and most skilled craftsmen of the native aboriginal peoples escaped the massacre only to be enslaved by the invading Yokudan to serve the subsequent Na-Totambu ruling class. During this tumultuous period the survival of these various peoples depended on the satisfactory appeasement of the brutal Crown elite, and thus their own rudimentary cultural identity was rapidly consumed by the simultaneous development of the hereditary Redguard High King society.
While the Redguard themselves initially adopted much of the cultural traditions of the Nedic and other native peoples they had conquered, their own traditional warlord social structure persevered until outside intervention made any sort of successful coup possible. From The Pocket Guide to the Empire Volume on Hammerfell we read:
Under the provincial organization of the Second Empire, two Redguard "parties" formed to aid Cyrodiils administration of Hammerfell. The ancient Na-Totambu ruling class retained the rights of noble council as the Crowns, and the much-admired warriors of the Ra Gada were finally granted rights of ownership within their tribal districts. This empowerment fundamentally changed the Ra Gada, who began to call themselves the Forebears, firmly announcing their status as the first Redguards on Tamriel. This republic, however, lasted only so long as the Cyrodiils were strong enough to support it. During the Imperial Interregnum, control reverted back to the hereditary monarchy of the Na-Totambu. The new "High King" was even so bold as to move his throne from Old Hegathe to the more prosperous Forebear city of Sentinel, which had, by this time, mastered a third of the trade of the Iliac Bay.
Thassad II was the last of these "High Kings," for upon his death in CE862, the honorable Forebears retook Sentinel by force. Crown Prince A'tor then sailed from Stros M'kai to avenge his father, resulting in one of the bloodiest massacres of Tamrielic history. Tiber Septim, in his rightful duty as Heir to the Reman Dynasty, answered the Forebears' plea for help, sending his men to end the mad Prince's butchery. A'tor found it impossible to stand against the superiority of the Imperial legions; many of the Crowns had deserted him after seeing the glory of the Empire reborn. He and a few loyalists fled back to Stros M'kai, doggedly pursued by the West Navy, where they were soundly defeated at the Battle of Hunding Bay. The Emperor, in his wisdom, deemed it best to assume responsibility for Hammerfell's lawful restoration as a republic and provincial territory, where presently the Redguards spend their days as proud subjects of the new Cyrodilic Empire.
Before this harsh period of transitions the traditional rite of succession among the Na-Totambu monarchy mandated the first born son or “fecund seed” of the High King would inherit the kingdom and be declared future heir to the throne, the former King upon his death being revered himself as a God. The cultural drama of the Forebears however centered on more than merely a political ploy for the continuing support of the Cyrodiilic Empire against the oppressive ways of the Na-Totambu, involving a fierce internal conflict over the perceived unjust system of the traditional hereditary succession itself.
It seems that along with the continued mingling of cultures there was also a mingling of the races, many of the future Forebear warrior class taking wives for themselves from the ranks of those most fair among the servile peoples they had conquered. This practice, once scorned by the ruling elite, eventually made its way to the throne as the Na-Totambu High Lord Lulugabda himself had a son by the Nedic priestess Ninshar when his own wife failed to conceive him an heir.
This was seen by many as heretical, and when at last King Lulugabda’s own wife did bear him a son it was he who was declared heir to the throne rather than the legitimate first born by right of the traditional succession. Fate however had apparently been decided, as after a bold challenge by the newly empowered Forebears and (apparent) subsequent assassination of both Lulugabda and his second son Limul, this illegitimate offspring was indeed destined to become the future King of the Ra Gada.
Though Yilgamseh was coming into his own during one of the most turbulent transitional periods in Redguard history, and without the guidance of any save his Nedic mother and the converts of her church (who many still suspected were responsible for the former king’s demise though Yilgamseh himself refused to acknowledge this), he was considered by many to be a king above all kings; “for who could declare themselves King like Yilgamseh?” This holds true even in light of modern evidence which suggests that by the end of his reign he had lost much of the bold (and often blind) idealism which had for a time seemingly held the best interests of his people at heart.
Being a compilation of numerous accounts (and perhaps numerous cultural traditions), the Epic of Yilgamseh should be taken more as a dramatic interpretation than a true historical record, seen not through the eyes of the Redguard themselves so much as those whom they influenced through their conquests and expansion, and who had become in many ways culturally dependant upon them. While mention is made briefly of certain specific events at the onset, the story itself centers on generally universal themes common to the apocryphal literature of the day; specifically prophesy, fellowship, loss, death, and the pursuit of immortality.
The translation begins:
It is an old story, but one that can still be told, about a man who loved and lost a friend to death and learned he lacked the power to bring him back to life. It is the story of Yilgamseh and his friend Enduki.
Yilgamseh was king of Urkai, a city set between Hegathe and Taneth in ancient Hammerfell. Enduki was born on the Steppe of the Dragontail Mountains where he grew up among the animals. Yilgamseh was called a god and man; Enduki was an animal and man. It is the story of their becoming human together.
As High King, Yilgamseh was a tyrant to his people. He demanded, from an old Na-Totambu birthright, the privilege of sleeping with their brides before the husbands were permitted. Sometimes he pushed his people half to death with work rebuilding Urkai's walls, and then without an explanation let the walls go unattended and decay, and left his people dreaming of the past and longing for a change. They had grown tired of his contradictions and his callous ways. They knew his world was old and cluttered with spoiled arts that they defended but could not revive.
Enduki was ignorant of oldness. He ran with the animals, drank at their springs, not knowing fear or wisdom. He freed them from the traps the hunters set.
A hunter's son one day saw Enduki opening a trap: The creature was all covered with hair and yet his hands had the dexterity of a man; he ran beside the freed gazelle like a brother and they drank together at a pool like two friends sharing some common journey not needing to speak but just continue.
Yilgamseh was a godlike man alone with his thoughts in idleness except for those evenings when he went down into the marketplace to the Family House to sleep with the virgins, or when he told his dreams to his mother, Ninshar.
The hunter listened to his son's description of Enduki and was both angry and afraid. He told his son to go to Urkai and to tell what he had seen to Yilgamseh and to ask him to send a prostitute who would sleep with Enduki and make the animals ashamed of him. Yilgamseh would understand, for he was king.
The hunter's son made the day's journey to Urkai and told what he had seen to Yilgamseh, showing him his father's anger and his fear and praising the strength of the strange creature that had come to his father's plains and freed the animals from the traps and lived as one of them and threatened the livelihood of men.
Yilgamseh listened but he had heard so many stories of the wondrous creatures of the forest and the steppe that he could hardly be aroused. He sent the prostitute but then forgot what he had listened to.
The hunter left the prostitute alone at the spring. When evening came, Enduki appeared among the animals and drank with them and rested at their side. When he awoke he saw a creature unlike any he had seen before standing near the water, its skin smooth, tan and hairless except for its head and between its legs. He wanted to touch it, but then it made sounds he had never heard, not like the sounds of his friends, the animals, and he was afraid. The prostitute came close to him and the animals withdrew. She took his hand and guided it across her breasts and between her legs and touched him with her fingers gently and bent down and moistened him with her lips then drew him slowly to the ground.
When he rose again looking for his friends who had gone, he felt a strange exhaustion, as if life had left his body. He felt their absence. He imagined the gazelles raising the dry dust like soft brush floating on the crests of sand swiftly changing direction, and the serpents asleep at the springs, slipping effortlessly into the water, and the wild she-camel vanishing into the desert. His friends had left him to a vast aloneness he had never felt before. The lions returned to the mountains, the water buffalo to the rivers, and the birds to the sky.
Yilgamseh woke anxiously from a dream and said to Ninshar: “I saw a star fall from the sky, and the people of Urkai stood around and admired it, and I was jealous and tried to carry it away but I was too weak and I failed. What does it mean? I have not dreamed like this before.”
She said: ‘Your equal is the star which fell, as if a sign from Satakal had been sent which is too heavy but which you will try to lift and drive away, and fail. ‘
”But I have never failed before,” he interrupted her, surprised himself at his anxiety.
”It will be a person,” she continued, speaking in her somber monotone, “a companion who is your equal in strength, a person loyal to a friend, who will not forsake you and whom you will never wish to leave. “
Yilgamseh was quiet at this interpretation of his dream.
That night he had a vision of an ax. “What does this mean,” he asked upon waking; “the people stood around the ax when I tried to lift it, and I failed. I feel such tiredness. I cannot explain.”
Ninshar said: “The ax is a man who is your friend and equal. He will come, a graceful man who will lift you out of tiredness.”
“O Ninshar, I want your words to be true. I have never known such weariness before, as if some life in me has disappeared or needs to be filled up again. I am alone and I have longed for some companionship. My people also have grown tired of my solitude.”
The prostitute slept beside Enduki until he was used to her body. She knew how gradually one stops desiring to run with old companions. One morning she awoke and said to him: “Why do you still want to run with the animals? You are a human being now, not like them. You are like a god, like Yilgamseh. I will lead you to Urkai where you belong, to the Temple of Anu where Yilgamseh rules over his people and is strong, and you will recognize yourself in him, as in a clear stream you see your own face, a man's face.” He listened to her words and to the unfamiliar names of Anu, Yilgamseh . . . and he felt weak. He let her clothe him in a portion of her scarlet robe and lead him to a shepherd's house where he was welcomed and taught to eat bread and drink the liquor that the shepherds drank. His soul felt new and strange and his face was hot with sweat and somehow gay. The prostitute shaved the long hair off his body; she washed him with perfumes and oils, and he became a man. At night he stood watch for the shepherds against the lions so they could sleep. He captured wolves for them, and he was known as their protector.
One day a man who was going to Urkai stopped to eat at the shepherd's house. He told them he was hurrying to the marketplace to choose for himself a virgin bride whom Yilgamseh by his birthright would sleep with before him.
Enduki's face was pale. He felt a weakness in his body at the mention of their king. He asked the prostitute why this should be his birthright. She answered: He is king.
Enduki entered Urkai. The prostitute walked behind him. The marketplace filled with people when they heard that he was coming. People said: He looks like Yilgamseh but he is shorter and also stronger; he has the power of the Steppe, the milk of the animals he sucked. They hailed him as the equal of their king.
At night when Yilgamseh approached the market square to go into the Family House where the bride was to be chosen, Enduki stood blocking his way. Yilgamseh looked at the stranger and listened to his people's shouts of praise for someone other than himself and lunged at Enduki. They fell like wolves at each other's throats, like bulls bellowing, and horses gasping for breath that have run all day desperate for rest and water, crushing the gate they fell against. The dry dust billowed in the marketplace and people shrieked. The dogs raced in and out between their legs. A child screamed at their feet that danced the dance of life which hovers close to death. And quiet suddenly fell on them when Yilgamseh stood still exhausted. He turned to Enduki who leaned against his shoulder and looked into his eyes and saw himself in the other, just as Enduki saw himself in Yilgamseh. In the silence of the people they began to laugh and clutched each other in their breathless exaltation.
Yilgamseh spoke then: “We go to kill the Evil One, Humbaba. We must prove ourselves more powerful than he.”
Enduki was afraid of the forest of Humbaba and urged him not to go, but he was not as strong as Yilgamseh in argument, and they were friends: They had embraced and made their vow to stay together always, no matter what the obstacle. Enduki tried to hold his fear but he was sick at heart: “I feel the weakness that I felt before come over my body; as if I tried to lift my arms and found that they were hollow.”
”It is Humbaba who has taken your strength;” Yilgamseh spoke out, anxious for the journey. “We must kill him and end his evil power over us.”
”No,” Enduki cried; “it is the journey that will take away our life.”
”Don't be afraid,” said Yilgamseh. “We are together. There is nothing we should fear.”
”I learned,” Enduki said, “when I lived with the animals never to go down into that forest. I learned that there is death in Humbaba. Why do you want to raise his anger?”
Only half listening Yilgamseh thought aloud about the cedars he would climb.
”How can we climb those cedars?”
Enduki tried to sway his thoughts: “Humbaba never sleeps. He is the guardian whom Enlil has commanded to protect the sacred trees by terror. I have learned his sound is like a flood's sound slowly forming in the distance, and then enveloping all other sounds. Even the cries of animals cannot be heard. Trees are hushed; the wind still moves them back and forth but noiselessly. As when one senses violence gathering its force, soon there is no sound apart from it, not even one's own thoughts in terror. I have learned that from his mouth springs fire that scorches the earth and in a moment there is nothing left alive, no tree, no insect, as in a dream that makes one wake and cry out of the pain one cannot find the source of, out of nothing; one wakes and everything has vanished. I have learned Humbaba is the face of death. He hears each insect crawling toward the edge of the forest; he twitches and it dies. Do you think he could not hear two men?”
”Why are you worried about death? Only the gods are immortal anyway. What men do is nothing, so fear is never justified. What happened to your power that once could challenge and equal mine? I will go ahead of you, and if I die I will at least have the reward of having people say: ‘He died in war against Humbaba.’ You cannot discourage me with fears and hesitations. I will fight Humbaba; I will cut down his cedars. Tell the armorers to build us two-edged swords and double shields and tell them I am impatient and cannot wait long.”
Thus Yilgamseh and Enduki went together to the marketplace to notify the elders of Urkai who were meeting in their senate. They too were talking of Humbaba, as they often did, edging always in their thoughts toward the forbidden.
”The one you speak of,” Yilgamseh addressed them, “I now must meet. I want to prove him not the awesome thing we think he is and that the boundaries set up by gods are not unbreakable. I will defeat him in his cedar forest. The youth of Urkai need this fight. They have grown soft and restless.”
The old men leaned a little forward remembering old wars. A flush burned on their cheeks. It seemed a little dangerous. and yet they saw their king was seized with passion for this fight. Their voices gave the confidence his friend had failed to give; some even said Enduki's wisdom was a sign of cowardice. “You see, my friend,” laughed Yilgamseh, “the wise of Urkai have outnumbered you.”
Amidst the speeches in the hall that called upon the gods for their protection, Yilgamseh saw in his friend that pain he had seen before and asked him what it was that troubled him.
Enduki could not speak. He held his tears back. Barely audibly he said: “It is a road which you have never traveled.”
The armorers brought to Yilgamseh his weapons and put them in his hand. He took his quiver, bow and ax, and two-edged sword, and they began to march. The Elders gave their austere blessing and the people shouted: ‘Let Enduki lead, don't trust your strength, he knows the forests, the one who goes ahead will save his friend. May Shamash bring you victory!’
Enduki was resolved to lead his friend who was determined but did not know the way. Now Yilgamseh was certain with his friend beside him. They went to Ninshar, his mother, who would advise them how to guard their steps.
Her words still filled his mind as they started their journey, just as a mother's voice is heard sometimes in a man's mind long past childhood calling his name, calling him from sleep or from some pleasurable moment on a foreign street when every trace of origin seems left and one has almost passed into a land that promises a vision or the secret of one's life, when one feels almost god enough to be free of voices, her voice calls out like a voice from childhood, reminding him he once tossed in dreams.
He still could smell the incense she had burned to Shamash, saying: ‘Why did you give my son a restless heart, and now you touch him with this passion to destroy Humbaba, and you send him on a journey to a battle he may never understand, to a door he cannot open. You inspire him to end the evil of the world which you abhor and yet he is a man for all his power and cannot do your work. You must protect my son from danger.’
She had put out the incense and called Enduki to her side, and said: “You are not my son but I adopt you and call upon the same protection now for you I called upon for Yilgamseh.” She placed a charm around his neck, and said: “Let Enduki now protect his friend.”
These words still filled their minds as the two friends continued on their way.
After three days they reached the edge of the forest where Humbaba's watchman stood. Suddenly it was Yilgamseh who was afraid, Enduki who reminded him to be fearless. The watchman sounded his warning to Humbaba. The two friends moved slowly toward the forest gate.
When Enduki touched the gate his hand felt numb, he could not move his fingers or his wrist, his face turned pale like someone's witnessing a death, he tried to ask his friend for help whom he had just encouraged to move on, but he could only stutter and hold out his paralyzed hand.
”It will pass,” said Yilgamseh. “Would you want to stay behind because of that? We must go down into the forest together. Forget your fear of death. I will go before you and protect you.” Enduki followed close behind so filled with fear he could not think or speak. Soon they reached the high cedars.
They stood in awe at the foot of the green mountain. Pleasure seemed to grow from fear for Yilgamseh. As when one comes upon a path in woods unvisited by men, one is drawn near the lost and undiscovered in himself; he was revitalized by danger. They knew it was the path Humbaba made. Some called the forest "hell," and others "paradise"; ‘what difference does it make,’ asked Yilgamseh. But night was falling quickly and they had no time to call it names, except perhaps "the dark," before they found a place at the edge of the forest to serve as shelter for their sleep.
It was a restless night for both. One snatched at sleep and sprang awake from dreams. The other could not rest because of pain that spread throughout his side. Enduki was alone with sights he saw brought on by pain and fear, as one in deep despair may lie beside his love who sleeps and seems so unafraid, absorbing in himself the phantoms that she cannot see - phantoms diminished for one when two can see and stay awake to talk of them and search out a solution to despair, or lie together in each other's arms, or weep and in exhaustion from their tears perhaps find laughter for their fears.
But alone and awake the size and nature of the creatures in his mind grew monstrous; beyond resemblance to the creatures he had known before the prostitute had come into his life. He cried aloud for them to stop appearing over him emerging from behind the trees with phosphorescent eyes brought on by rain. He could not hear his voice but knew he screamed and could not move his arms but thought they tried to move as if a heavy weight he could not raise or wriggle out from underneath had settled on his chest, like a turtle trapped beneath a fallen branch, each effort only added to paralysis. He could not make his friend, his one companion, hear.
Yilgamseh awoke but could not hear his friend in agony; he still was captive to his dreams which he would tell aloud to exercise: “I saw us standing in a mountain gorge, a rockslide fell on us, and we seemed no more than insects under it. And then a solitary graceful man appeared and pulled me out from under the mountain. He gave me water and I felt released.”
”Tomorrow you will be victorious,” Enduki said, to whom the dream brought chills (for only one of them, he knew, would be released) which Yilgamseh could not perceive in the darkness for he went back to sleep without responding to his friend's interpretation of his dream.
”Did you call me?” Yilgamseh sat up again. “Why did I wake again? I thought you touched me. Why am I afraid? I felt my limbs grow numb as if some god passed over us drawing out our life. I had another dream: ‘This time the heavens were alive with fire, but soon the clouds began to thicken, death rained down on us, the lightning flashes stopped, and everything which rained down turned to ashes.’ What does this mean, Enduki?”
”That you will be victorious against Humbaba,” Enduki said, or someone said through him because he could not hear his voice or move his limbs although he thought he spoke, and soon he saw his friend asleep beside him.
At dawn Yilgamseh raised his ax and struck at the great cedar. When Humbaba heard the sound of falling trees, he hurried down the path that they had seen but only he had traveled. Yilgamseh felt weak at the sound of Humbaba's footsteps and called to Shamash saying, “I have followed you in the way decreed; why am I abandoned now?” Suddenly the winds sprang up. They saw the great head of Humbaba like a water buffalo's bellowing down the path, his huge and clumsy legs, his flailing arms thrashing at phantoms in his precious trees. His single stroke could cut a cedar down and leave no mark on him. His shoulders, like a porter's under building stones, were permanently bent by what he bore; he was the slave who did the work for gods but whom the gods would never notice. Monstrous in his contortion, he aroused the two almost to pity. But pity was the thing that might have them killed. It made them pause just long enough to show how pitiless he was to them. Yilgamseh in horror saw him strike the back of Enduki and beat him to the ground until he thought his friend was crushed to death. He stood still watching as the monster leaned to make his final strike against his friend, unable to move to help him, and then Enduki slid along the ground like a ram making its final lunge on wounded knees. Humbaba fell and seemed to crack the ground itself in two, and Yilgamseh, as if this fall had snapped him from his daze, returned to life and stood over Humbaba with his ax raised high above his head watching the monster plead in strangled sobs and desperate appeals the way the sea contorts under a violent squall. “I’ll serve you as I served the gods,” Humbaba said; “I'll build you houses from their sacred trees.”
Enduki feared his friend was weakening and called out: “Yilgamseh! Don't trust him!” As if there were some hunger in himself that Yilgamseh was feeling that turned him momentarily to yearn for someone who would serve, he paused; and then he raised his ax up higher and swung it in a perfect arc into Humbaba's neck. He reached out to touch the wounded shoulder of his friend, and late that night he reached again to see if he was yet asleep, but there was only quiet breathing. The stars against the midnight sky were sparkling like mica in a riverbed. In the slight breeze the head of Humbaba was swinging from a tree.
In the morning when they had bathed and were preparing to return to Urkai Ninstar came, their city's patroness, Goddess of love and fruitfulness and war. She brought to Yilgamseh his royal robes and crown and hinted that the gods had grieved Humbaba's loss. “Why should you be chosen as the one they blame?” She said in her coyness. “I might persuade my father Anu to relent if you marry me. That is the way your kingdom will know peace.”
Yilgamseh shook off what were to him unwanted dreams: “What would I gain by taking you as wife?”
”Love,” she said, “and peace.”
”Just as you loved the lion and gave him pits to fall in and the horse whose back you wounded with the whip, he shouted back at her. Your love brings only war! You are an old fat whore, that's all you are, who once was beautiful, perhaps, and could deceive but who has left in men a memory of grief. We outgrow our naiveté in thinking goddesses return our love. I am tired of your promises, tired as Ishullanu, who brought you dates, innocent until you pressed his hand against your breasts and turned him to a mole that lived beneath the surface of your earth, unable to dig out to air, feeling in his darkness for that same soft touch.” He subsided in his insults and turned away to his friend Enduki.
Ninstar was enraged, and flew to the protection of her father.
In his customary calm wise Anu noted that her sins had been declaimed this way before. She shook in greater rage and said she had no time to listen to reminders from old gods, but only to ask him to make for her the Bull of Anu to destroy this man. I will send him something he would never wish to dream. There will be more dead than living on this earth; a drought that nothing will relieve. He listened while her anger ran its course and then reminded her: “Men need survival after punishments. Have you stored for them enough grain?”
She knew her father's weakness for details and said,” I thought of that; they will not starve. But a little hunger will replace their arrogance with new desire.”
Then Anu acceded to her wish. The Bull of Anu descended to the earth and killed at once three hundred men, and then attacked King Yilgamseh. Enduki, to protect his friend, found strength. He lunged from side to side watching for his chance to seize the horns. The bull frothed in its rage at this dance and suddenly Enduki seized its tail and twisted it around, until the bull stood still, bewildered, out of breath, and then Enduki plunged his sword behind its horns into the nape of the bull's neck, and it fell dead.
The goddess stood on Urkai's walls, and cried aloud: “Grief to those who have insulted me and killed the Bull of Heaven!”
When Enduki heard Ninstar's curse he tore the right thigh from the bull's flesh and hurled it in her face, and shouted: “I would tear you just like this if I could catch you! Then she withdrew among the prostitutes and mourned with them the Bull of Anu’s death.
That night the wound Enduki had received in his struggle with Humbaba grew worse. He tossed with fever and was filled with dreams. He woke his friend to tell him what he heard and saw: The gods have said that one of us must die because we killed Humbaba and the Bull of Anu. Enlil said I must die, for you are two-thirds god and should not die. But Shamash spoke for me and called me "innocent." They all began to argue, as if that word touched off a universal rage. I know that they have chosen me. The tears flowed from his eyes. “My brother, it is the fever only,” said Yilgamseh. Enduki cursed the gate into Humbaba's forest that had lamed his hand and cursed the hunter and the prostitute who had led him from his friends, not sensing Yilgamseh's fear at the thought of his own solitude: “I can't imagine being left alone; I'm less a man without my friend.” Yilgamseh did not let himself believe the gods had chosen one of them to die. The fever reached its height and like a madman talking to a wall in an asylum Enduki cursed the gate as if it were the person he could blame: “I would have split you with my ax if I had known that you could wound. Shamash, who called me ‘innocent,’ I curse your heart for bringing me to suffer this.” He thought he heard Shamash arguing that if the prostitute had never come to him he would have never known his friend who sat beside him now trying to find the gesture to reverse the gods' decision or relieve a close companion's pain. Yilgamseh, though he was king, had never looked at death before. Enduki saw in him a helplessness to understand or speak, as if this were the thing the other had to learn and he to teach. But visions from his sickness made him also helpless as a teacher. All he had to give was being weak and rage about the kings and elders and the animals in the underworld that crowded sleep, about the feathers that grew from his arms in the house of dust whose occupants sat in the dark devoid of light with clay as food, the fluttering of wings as substitutes for life. The priest and the ecstatic sat there too, their spirits gone, each body like an old recluse no longer inhabiting its island. Like shells one finds among shore rocks, only the slightest evidence of life survived.
Yilgamseh knew his friend was close to death. He tried to recollect aloud their life together that had been so brief, so empty of gestures they never felt they had to make. Tears filled his eyes as he appealed to Ninshar, his mother, and to the Elders not to explain but to save his friend who once had run among the animals, the wild horses of the range, and the panther of the Steppe. He had run and drunk with them as if they were his brothers. Just now he went with me into the forest of and killed the Bull of Anu. “Everything had life to me;” he heard Enduki murmur, “the sky, the storm, the earth, water, wandering, the moon and its three children, salt, even my hand had life. It's gone. It's gone. I have seen death as a total stranger sees another person's world, or as a freak sees whom the gods created when they were drunk on too much wine and had a contest to show off the greatness of the harm that they could do, creating a man who had no testicles or a woman without a womb, a crippled or deliberately maimed child or old age itself, blind eyes, trembling hands contorted in continual pain, a starving dog too weak to eat, a doe caught in a trap wincing for help, or death. The contest rules the one who makes the greatest wretchedness wins. For all of these can never fit into the perfect state they made when they were sober. These are the things I have witnessed as a man and weep for now for they will have no witness if friends die. I see them so alone and helpless, who will be kind to them?”
He looked at Yilgamseh, and said: “You will be left alone, unable to understand in a world where nothing lives anymore as you thought it did. Nothing like yourself, everything like dead clay before the river makes the plants burst out along its beds, dead and ...” He became bitter in his tone again: “Because of her. She made me see things as a man, and a man sees death in things. That is what it is to be a man. You'll know when you have lost the strength to see the way you once did. You'll be alone and wander looking for that life that's gone or some eternal life you have to find. He drew closer to his friend's face. My pain is that my eyes and ears no longer see and hear the same as yours do. Your eyes have changed. You are crying. You never cried before. It's not like you. Why am I to die, you to wander on alone? Is that the way it is with friends?”
Yilgamseh sat hushed as his friend's eyes stilled. In his silence he reached out to touch the friend whom he had lost.
Yilgamseh wept bitterly for his friend. He felt himself now singled out for loss apart from everyone else. The word Enduki roamed through every thought like a hungry animal through empty lairs in search of food. The only nourishment he knew was grief, endless in its hidden source yet never ending hunger.
All that is left to one who grieves is convalescence. No change of heart or spiritual conversion, for the heart has changed and the soul has been converted to a thing that sees how much it costs to lose a friend it loved. It has grown past conversion to a world few enter without tasting loss in which one spends a long time waiting for something to move one to proceed. It is that inner atmosphere that has an unfamiliar gravity or none at all where words are flung out in the air but stay motionless without an answer, hovering about one's lips or arguing back to haunt the memory with what one failed to say, until one learns acceptance of the silence amidst the new debris or turns again to grief as the only source of privacy, alone with someone loved. It could go on for years and years, and has, for centuries, for being human holds a special grief of privacy within the universe that yearns and waits to be retouched by someone who can take away the memory of death.
Yilgamseh wandered through the desert alone as he had never been alone when he had craved but not known what he craved; the dryness now was worse than the decay. The bored know nothing of this agony waiting for diversion they have never lost. Death had taken the direction he had gained. He was no more a king but just a man who now had lost his way -yet had a greater passion to withdraw into a deeper isolation. Mad, perhaps insane, he tried to bring Enduki back to life to end his bitterness, his fear of death. His life became a quest to find the secret of eternal life which he might carry back to give his friend.
He had put on the skins of animals and thrown himself in the dust, and now he longed to hear the voice of one who still used words as revelations; he yearned to talk to Utnamishem, the one who had survived the flood and death itself, the one who knew the secret.
Before his loss, when he approached at night the mountain passes where the lions slept he raised his eyes to Sin, the moon god, and prayed. Now he expected help from no one. He tried to fall asleep despite the sounds of movement through the trees, his chest was tight with needless fear Enduki would have calmed.
When he arrived at the mountains of Dragontail, whose peaks reach to the shores of Heaven and whose roots descend to Hell, he saw the Scorpion people who guard its gate, whose knowledge is awesome, but whose glance is death. When he saw them, his face turned ashen with dismay, but he bowed down to them, the only way to shield himself against effusions of their gaze. The Scorpion man then recognized in Yilgamseh the flesh of gods and told his wife: This one is two-thirds god, one-third man and can survive our view, then spoke to him: Why have you traveled this route to us? The way is arduous and long and no one goes beyond.
”I have come to see my father (spiritual father) Utnamishem, who was allowed to go beyond. I want to ask him about life and death, to end my loss. My friend has died. I want to bring him back to life.”
The Scorpion interrupted him and laughed, being impatient with such tales and fearful of sentiment: “No one is able to explain, no one has gone beyond these mountains. There is only death. There is no light beyond, just darkness and cold and at daybreak a burning heat. You will learn nothing that we do not know. You will only come to grief.”
”I have been through grief!” Yilgamseh screamed. “Even if there will be more of pain, and of heat and of cold, I will go on! Open the gate to the mountains!”
”Alright, go!” The Scorpion man said, as if in anger with a child who had not reached the age of reason. “The gate is open!” His wife added: “Be careful of the darkness.” Yilgamseh saw his going frightened them. They only seemed secure.
He entered the Road of the Sun which was so shrouded in darkness that he could see neither what was ahead of him nor behind. Thick was the darkness and there was no light. He could see neither what was ahead nor behind. For hours he traveled in this blindness without a light to guide him, ascending or descending, he could not be sure, going on with only the companionship of grief in which he felt Enduki at his side. He said his name:” Enduki, Enduki,” to quiet his fear through the darkness where there was no light and where he saw neither what was ahead nor behind until before him when it seemed there was no end to loneliness a valley came in view sprinkled with precious stones and fruit-filled vines.
Gazing into the valley he felt overcome with pain as a man who has been in prison feels his chains at his release from fear. He spoke Enduki's name aloud as if explaining to the valley why he was there, wishing his friend could see the same horizon, share the same delights: “My friend Enduki died. We hunted together. We killed Humbaba and the Bull of Anu. We were always at each other's side, encouraging when one was discouraged or afraid or didn't understand. He was this close to me.” He held his hands together to describe the closeness. It seemed for a moment he could almost touch his friend, could speak to him as if he were there: “Enduki.” But suddenly the silence was deeper than before in a place where they had never been together. He sat down on the ground and wept: “Enduki.”
As when we can recall so vividly we almost touch, or think of all the gestures that we failed to make.
After several minutes he stood up explaining only to himself why he had come - to find the secret of eternal life to bring Enduki back to life - recognizing now the valley was deaf to loss known only to him.
This private mumbling made both time and distance pass until he reached the sea and came upon a cottage where a barmaid named Siduri lived. He beat the door impatiently and when she called: “Where are you going, Traveler?” and came to see, she saw him as half-crazed. Perhaps he is a murderer! she thought, and drew away from him in fear.
”Why do you draw back like that?” he asked. “Has grief made me so terrible to look at?”
”Who are you? You are no one that I know. I am Yilgamseh, who killed Humbaba and the Bull of Anu with my friend.”
”If you are Yilgamseh and did those things, why are you so emaciated and your face half-crazed?”
”I have grieved! Is that so impossible to believe?” he pleaded. “My friend who went through everything with me is dead!”
”No one grieves that much,” she said. “Your friend is gone. Forget him. No one remembers him. He is dead.”
”Enduki,” Yilgamseh called out: “Help me. They do not know you as I know you.”
Then she took pity on him and let him enter and lie down and rest. She gave him her bed to fall into and sleep and rubbed his back and neck and legs and arms when he was coming out of sleep, still muttering about the one “who went with me through everything.” Like those old people who forget their listeners have not lived through their past with them, mentioning names that no one knows; “Enduki, whom I loved so much, who went through everything with me. He died - like any ordinary man.”
I have cried both day and night. I did not want to put him in a grave. He will rise, I know, one day. But then I saw that he was dead. His face collapsed within after several days, like cobwebs I have touched with my finger.
She wiped his face with a moist cloth saying: yes, yes, yes, yes, as she made him cooler trying to help him to forget by the steady softness of her flesh. She moved her lips across his chest and caressed the length of his tired body and lay over him at night until he slept.
”You will never find an end to grief by going on,” she said to the one half sleeping at her side, leaning forward to wipe the perspiration from his face. His eyes were open though his whole self felt asleep far off alone in some deep forest planted in his flesh through which he felt his way in pain without the help of friends. She spoke as to a child who could not understand all the futility that lay ahead yet who she knew would go on to repeat the things men had to learn. “The gods gave death to man and kept life for themselves. That is the only way it is. Cherish your rests; the children you might have; you are a thing that carries so much tiredness.”
When he arose, she washed his body and dressed him and spoke of pleasures he could find with her instead of going on in foolishness. But he, when he was fully awake, threw off the clothes she had put on and dressed again in the dark pelts he had come so far in.
Her presence seemed to suffocate him now. He wanted to throw off each pleasurable touch and moment of forgetfulness, to bathe away her memory. To bathe was now more urgent than to sleep. “Tell me only the way to Utnamishem if you know. Tell me the way to him, I am going on!”
”No one has crossed the sea of death to him. Will you? You are impetuous like all the rest. Stay here and sleep. Begin your life again.”
”You have come so far. You need much sleep.”
He was fully awake with desperate energy. “Tell me the way!”
”All right,” she sighed; she had despaired of him already. “You must find his boatman Ursulababi; he has stone images that will show the way. If it can be arranged for you, who are so blind with love of self and with rage, to reach the other side, it will be through his help, his alone. If it cannot be, then turn back. I am still fool enough to take you in.” She turned in anger back to her house and slammed the door, not listening as he screamed at her: “I am not blind with self-love but with loss!” He felt his head split with the pain of making himself heard by her, by the entire world. It was as if his mind exploded into little pieces. He struck at everything in sight. He hurried with his ax drawn from his belt down to the shore to find this Ursulababi.
Coming upon some stones that stood in his way he smashed them into a thousand pieces. Ursulababi, a lean old man with gray hair browned by the brackish water of his river, laughed at the stranger's folly and even danced to mock the crazed man's act. “You have destroyed the Sacred Stones that might have taken you across!”
Yilgamseh sat on the ground, his head resting on his drawn up knees, wondering how much fatigue a man could stand. He raised his head to speak: “I know I have broken them; what difference now. I only want to speak to Utnamishem, to reach his shore. Can you help me?”
”Perhaps,” the boatman said, “but I have questions to ask first. Why are your cheeks so thin? Why are your eyes so full of grief? What have you known of loss that makes you different from other men?”
”Don’t ask me to retell my pain,” he said. “I only want to bring him back to life”
”Who,” asked Ursulababi, and he laughed at the presumption in this quest.
”He was my friend,” pleaded Yilgamseh, unconscious once again of audience and pain. Recounting flowed from him like music played by someone else. “He was my younger brother, who saved me from the Bull of Anu, and Humbaba, who listened to my dreams, who shared my pain. Why did he have to die? He would have stayed with me in death. He would not have let me die alone. He was a friend.”
He stopped, realizing he had not come this far to hear himself recall the failure of his grief to save but to find an end to his despair.
”Which is the way to Utnamishem? I must know! Is it the sea, the mountains? I will go there!”
”I told you,” Ursulababi said; “the stone images are destroyed. If you had been as reverent with them as with your friend, they might have helped you cross.”
”What else? What else is there? There must be something else!”
”You are exhausting me,” the boatman said. “I do not think that you will be serene ever, or at peace enough for others not to be exhausted by your presence until; at last, you lose by your own hand the very thing you crave to hold alone.”
”Don't moralize at me! I have no love for images, old gods, and prophetic words. I want to talk to Utnamishem! Tell me how.”
”Take your ax in your hand,” said Ursulababi. “Go down into the forest, cut down a boatload of long trees and set them with bitumen. They will be your poles to push yourself across the sea of death.”
When Yilgamseh heard this, he went to work. And when the poles were cut and set with Bitumen, the two men boarded Ursulababi's ship and sailed the channel toward the sea of death.
Now Yilgamseh was alone. The boatman's voice could still be heard, but faintly, from the shore. “Don't let the waters touch your hand. Take a second pole, a third, a fourth, when each is rotted by the sea of death.”
When he had used each pole but one he pulled his clothes off his body and with this last remaining pole he made a mast, his clothes as sail, and drifted on the sea of death.
Utnamishem stood on the other shore, his old and rugged features worn by the seas and deserts he himself had crossed. He wondered why the Sacred Stones had been destroyed, why the boat was only drifting. And who the man was who resembled loss itself. Before the ship had touched his shore he thought, I am afraid that nothing here can help him.
The eyes of Utnamishem seemed so full of hospitality when Yilgamseh awoke from his exhaustion. As if some faces could be doorways into life one has an image of but never sees. The vista was a strange and beautiful release. Utnamishem was the only one whom he had met on his journey who did not add to his fatigue. Yilgamseh was speaking but only to relieve his weight of grief, not to demand an understanding: “My friend has died so many times in me, and yet he still seems so alive, like a younger brother, then suddenly like soft tissue, a dried leaf. I was afraid. Is there something more than death? Some other end to friendship? I came to you whom they call "the distant," I crossed the mountains and the sea. I was like a blind man, but not one from whom someone in search can draw light. I am so tired, so tired. I have killed bear, hyena, and stag for food and clothes. I barely crossed the sea of death.”
Utnamishem raised his hand and touched the shoulder of the younger man to put him at his ease. “Two things encourage me to hope,” he said; “that one can come this far to bring life to a friend and that you understand how we must borrow light from the blind. (My own right eye was damaged long ago and my left is slowly decaying.) Friendship is vowing toward immortality and does not know the passing away of beauty (though take care!) because it aims for the spirit. Many years ago through loss I learned that love is wrung from our inmost heart until only the loved one is and we are not. You have known, Yilgamseh, what interests me, to drink from the Well of Immortality, which means to make the dead rise from their graves and the prisoners from their cells, the sinners from their sins. I think love's kiss kills our heart of flesh. It is the only way to eternal life, which should be unbearable if lived among the dying flowers and the shrieking farewells of the overstretched arms of our spoiled hopes.”
”I think compassion is our god's pure act which burns forever, and be it with Anu or in Oblivion doesn't matter for me; because Oblivion is the everlasting gift of Anu’s presence to the lonely heart who is longing amidst perishing phantoms and doesn't care to find any immortality if not in the pure loneliness of the holy one, this loneliness which he enjoys forever inside and outside of his creation. It is enough for one who loves to find his only one singled in himself. And that is the cup of immortality!”
Yilgamseh looked into the face of the older man in whom he saw this loneliness. He could still feel the touch of Utnamishem's hand.
Time and space were uneventful now. Nothing inclined him to impatience. They talked together, walked and sat on rocks. The older man seemed pleased to have his company as if an absent son or other loss had been slightly returned to him. In time the younger felt he knew him well enough to say: “You sometimes seem to have a downcast look as if the life you have found here still has failed to bring you peace. How did you come to find this world and reach this life?”
”I did not come out of desire like you,” said Utnamishem; “I was the choice of others.” They walked along the shore and the older man told his story.
There was a city called Shurrupak on the shores of old Yokuda. It was very old and so many were the gods within it. They converged in their complex hearts on the idea of creating a great flood. There was Anu their aging and weak-minded father, the military Enlil, his adviser, Ninstar, the sensation craving one, and all the rest. Ea, who was present at their council, came to my house and, frightened by the violent winds that filled the air, echoed all that they were planning and had said. Man of Shurrupak, he said, tear down your house and build a ship. Abandon your possessions and the works that you find beautiful and crave and save your life instead. Into the ship bring the seed of all the living creatures.
”I was overawed, perplexed, and finally downcast. I agreed to do as Ea said but I protested: What shall I say to the city, the people, the leaders of the many tribes of whom only the peaceful sea peoples of the coast could I call my own?”
”Tell them,” Ea said, “you have learned that Enlil the war god despises you and will not give you access to the city anymore. Tell them for this Ea will bring the rains.”
”That is the way gods think,” he laughed. His tone of savage irony frightened Yilgamseh yet gave him pleasure, being his friend. “They only know how to compete or echo.”
”But who am I to talk?” He sighed as if disgusted with himself; “I did as he commanded me to do. I spoke to them and some came out to help me build the ship of seven stories each with nine chambers. The boat was cube in shape, and sound; it held the food and wine and precious minerals and seed of living animals we put in it. My family then moved inside and all who wanted to be with us there: The game of the field, the goats of the Steppe, and the craftsmen of the city came, a navigator came. And then Ea ordered me to close the door. The time of the great rains had come. There was ample warning, yes, my friend, but it was terrifying still. Buildings blown by the winds for miles like desert brush. People clung to branches of trees until roots gave way. New possessions, now debris, floated on the water with their special sterile vacancy. The riverbanks failed to hold the water back. Even the gods cowered like dogs at what they had done. Ninstar cried out like a woman at the height of labor: O how could I have wanted to do this to my people! They were hers, (notice, even her sorrow was possessive) her spawn that she had killed too soon. Old gods are terrible to look at when they weep, all bloated like spoiled fish. One wonders if they ever understand that they have caused their grief. When the seventh day came, the flood subsided from its slaughter like hair drawn slowly back from a tormented face. I looked at the earth and all was silence. Bodies lay like alewives dead and in the clay. I fell down on the ship's deck and wept. Why? Why did they have to die! I couldn't understand. I asked unanswerable questions a child asks when a parent dies — for nothing. Only slowly did I make myself believe — or hope — they might all be swept up in their fragments together and made whole again by some compassionate hand. But my hand was too small to do the gathering. I have only known this feeling since when I look out across the sea of death, this pull inside against a littleness — myself — waiting for an upward gesture.”
”Oh, the dove, the swallow and the raven found their land. The people left the ship. But I for a long time could only stay inside. I could not face the deaths I knew were there. Then I received Enlil, for Ea had chosen me; the war god touched my forehead; he blessed my family and said: Before this you were just a man, but now you and your wife shall be like gods. You shall live in the distance at the rivers' mouth, at the source. I allowed myself to be taken far away from all that I had seen. Sometimes even in love we yearn to leave mankind. Only the loneliness of the Only One who never acts like gods is bearable. I am downcast because of what I've seen, not what I still had hoped to yearn for. Lost youths restored to life, lost children to their crying mothers, lost wives, lost friends, lost hopes, lost homes, I want to bring these back to them. But now there is you. We must find something for you. How will you find eternal life to bring back to your friend?”
He pondered busily, as if it were just a matter of getting down to work or making plans for an excursion. Then he relaxed, as if there were no use in this reflection. “I would grieve at all that may befall you still if I did not know you must return and bury your own loss and build your world anew with your own hands. I envy you your freedom.”
As he listened, Yilgamseh felt tiredness again come over him, the words now so discouraging, the promise so remote, so unlike what he sought. He looked into the old man's face, and it seemed changed, as if this one had fought within himself a battle he would never know, that still went on.
They returned to Utnamishem's house and to his aged wife who seemed to Yilgamseh in her shuffling and her faithful silence like a servant only there to hold the door. He hardly knew her as a person, he had talked only to Utnamishem, been only with him. Was she all he needed as companion?
Yet when he fell asleep and Utnamishem remarked to his wife with hostile irony: Look at the strong man who wants life; sleep follows him like his shadow, she said to her husband: “Touch him again and wake him so he can return in peace to his home.”
She had learned to read her husband's moods.
”Men are deceitful and incapable of peace. I know,” he said. Can't he even stay awake with me? Sleep is like death only slothful people yearn for. Bake loaves,” he ordered her, “and put them at his head one for each day he sleeps. We'll see how long it is before he wakes.”
Over her frail protest the trial was set. After some days, Utnamishem woke the younger man who thought he had barely gone to sleep.
”You have slept for seven days,” he said. “Look at the dried out loaves my wife has baked. How will you bear eternal life? It is not easy to live like gods.”
”What can I do to win eternal life,” the younger pleaded. “Wherever I go - even here - I am drawn back to death.”
Austerely Utnamishem called out to the boatman on the other shore and scolded him for sending Yilgamseh across. “Return him to your shore,” he called. “Bathe him and burn these pelts he wears which can only remind him of his friend. Let him be fresh and young again. Let the band around his head be changed. Let him return to his city untried. His people need the sight of something new, and the appearance of success.” His words sounded bitter.
”I came for wisdom only,” shouted Yilgamseh.
”Don't hurt an old man further with your praise. I have nothing to give you that will save.”
Ursulababi crossed in his ship and obeyed. He took the pelts from Yilgamseh, and though the grieving man was too disheartened to protest, when they were taken from him and burned he cried out as if a festered wound had just been pierced. When it was over he stood in the bow to leave with only inner traces of his journey. Utnamishem contemplated him, unable to speak. As if he were afraid of some desire to retain, he looked down at the ground, away from Yilgamseh.
His wife whispered to him, saying: “He has come so far. Have you forgotten how grief fastened onto you and made you crave some word, some gesture, once?” Utnamishem's face grew tight, and then relaxed, as when one is relieved of inner pain by one who sees more deeply than oneself. He looked at the younger man who had come into his consciousness. “Youth is very cruel to an old face” he said in a hushed voice. “It looks into its lines for wisdom so touchingly but there is nothing there to find.”
Yilgamseh wanted to reach out to tell him he was wrong, sensing suddenly the hours one might spend alone in contemplating oldness as he himself had spent alone in his spoiled youth, seeing nothing there but time.
”I know your pain too well to lie,” said Utnamishem. “I will tell you a secret I have never told. Something to take back with you, something to guard. There is a plant in the river. Its thorns will prick your hands as a rose thorn pricks but it will give to you new life.”
He heard these words and tried to speak but rushed instead to the old man and embraced him. The two men held each other for a moment then Utnamishem raised his hands as if to say: “Enough.”
And Yilgamseh looked back at him then hurried off to find the plant. He tied stones to his feet and descended into the river. When he saw the plant of rich rose color and ambrosial shimmering in the water like a prism of the sunlight, he seized it, and it cut into his palms. He saw his blood flow in the water.
He cut the stones loose from his feet and rose up sharply to the surface and swam to shore. He was calling out, “I have it! I have it!”
Ursulababi guided the ecstatic man away to the other shore, and when they parted Yilgamseh was alone again, but not with loneliness or the memory of death. He stopped to drink and rest beside a pool and soon undressed and let himself slip in the water quietly until he was refreshed, leaving the plant unguarded on the ground.
A serpent had smelled its sweet fragrance and saw its chance to come from the water, and devoured the plant, shedding its skin as slough.
When Yilgamseh rose from the pool, his naked body glistening and refreshed, the plant was gone; the discarded skin of a serpent was all he saw. He sat down on the ground, and wept.
In time he recognized this loss as the end of his journey and returned to Urkai.
Perhaps, he feared, his people would not share the sorrow that he knew.
He entered the city and asked a blind man if he had ever heard the name Enduki, and the old man shrugged and shook his head, then turned away, as if to say it is impossible to keep the names of friends whom we have lost.
Yilgamseh said nothing more to force his sorrow on another.
He looked at the walls, awed at the heights his people had achieved and for a moment - just a moment - all that lay behind him passed from view.
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