Hirundu: 50 Days of...


The Epic of Gilgamesh - Tablet XII - Can we have our ball back?

Although the story of the Epic concludes with Tablet XI, incredibly the Epic of Gilgamesh comes with a built-in encore / hidden track.
At the beginning, revealed through the only exchange of spoken dialogue in the entire show, Gilgamesh bemoans that his ball has fallen through a crack and down into the Underworld, and asks who will go get it back for him. Enkidu volunteers, and Gilgamesh expresses surprise at Enkidu not being dead. But with that taken care of, they agree that Enkidu will go retrieve the lost item. (Different translations call the lost object a ball, a drum, or a harp, so we have a bit of fun with that in the dialogue.)
Gilgamesh gives Enkidu a list of rules to follow to ensure that he will be able to leave the Underworld once he has entered – don’t take a weapon, don’t wear bright clothes, don’t act happy, don’t sing or dance, etc. Enkidu takes all this in, but then proceeds to the Underworld and does all the things he was told not to do. As a result, the Underworld keeps him.
Gilgamesh is bereft at losing his best friend a second time, and appeals to the gods in turn to help him. Most refuse, but Shamash, with encouragement from Ea, agrees to help. He blasts a crack into the ground, and Enkidu’s ghost leaps out, thanking them for getting him out of such a horrible place.
Finally, Gilgamesh asks his friend what he has learned about the final fate of mortals.
Enkidu relates that those who have made the most of life find an easier death, and that the happiest in the afterlife were those who had forged strong friendships and family relations, and done fine deeds to be remembered by.


The Epic of Gilgamesh - Tablet XI - It's about time!

Gilgamesh suddenly realises that the old man is none other than Utanapishtim himself! Seeing that Utanapishtim seems to be an ordinary man, he asks why the gods would have granted him immortality.
By way of an explanation, Utanapishtim proceeds to relate the Story of the Flood:
Utanapishtim once resided in the ancient city of Shuruppak, where the gods still lived among the people. For unknown reasons, the gods determined to destroy the humans with a flood. (Ishtar blamed herself for this, for having said untold “evil things” about the humans in the Council of the Gods.)
But Ea, the “clever prince” of the gods, was friends with Utanapishtim, and warned him of the coming flood by talking aloud about it whilst on the opposite side of a reed wall from where he knew Utanapishtim to be. He instructed Utanapishtim to build a huge boat and take his family and animals inside.
Utanapishtim did so, and they rode out the flood for six days and seven nights, finally landing on the side of Mount Nimush. He then released in sequence three birds, and when the third did not return, he determined it was time to leave the ark. They did so, and sacrificed a sheep to thank the gods for their safe delivery. The gods came down, smelling this, and Belitili (Utanapishtim’s wife) said she would remember this day just like she would always remember her necklace of lapis lazuli.
Enlil then turned up (although informed by Belitili that he was unwelcome) and was mightily pissed off that the humans were still alive, having expected them to be wiped out by the flood. He rightly blamed Ea for orchestrating their survival, but Ea responded indignantly, telling Enlil that the punishment of wiping out the entire race was disproportionate.
Enlil suddenly regretted what they’d done, and to compensate, instructed that Utanapishtim and Belitili would be made immortal.
Utanapishtim concludes the story by asking Gilgamesh under what circumstances will someone convene the gods on his behalf to obtain eternal life.
Gilgamesh acknowledges the singular set of circumstances under which Utanapishtim became immortal, but at the same time believes he has earned something through all his trials to get here, and still enquires as to the odds of him getting what he’s after.
Utanapishtim sets Gilgamesh a challenge: stay awake for a whole week, just like they’d had to on the boat during the flood. If Gilgamesh can do this, Utanapishtim will deliver. (Clearly, though, Utanapishtim has no secret to share and no way to deliver on this promise, he just knows Gilgamesh will fail, and is in the mood to jerk him around.)
Gilgamesh says the challenge is an easy one, sits down to wait out the week, and immediately falls asleep.
Belitili says they should now just wake him up and send him home, but Utanapishtim insists they let him sleep, and instructs Belitili to bake a loaf of bread for each day Gilgamesh sleeps, as evidence, as he believes otherwise Gilgamesh will deny or disbelieve he has been asleep.
Belitili complies, and at the end of a week, as the seventh loaf is baked, Utanapishtim reveals the earlier loaves in their various states of decay, and touches Gilgamesh to wake him up. Gilgamesh believes he has just nodded off, but Utanapishtim shows him the bread. Dejected, Gilgamesh realises he has failed, and makes to leave on the boat with Urshanabi. As they make to leave, Utanapishtim tells Urshanabi not to bother coming back (presumably as punishment for bringing Gilgamesh there).
Just as they’re going, though, Belitili feels sorry for Gilgamesh, and asks her husband if there’s nothing they can do to help him. Utanapishtim responds to her kindness, and tells Gilgamesh of a plant, the Boxthorn, that grows on the bottom of the sea, and while not granting immortality, it does restore a person’s youth.
Gilgamesh is elated at this news, and he and Urshanabi set off to find it. Gilgamesh straps heavy stones to his feet and descends to the bottom of the ocean, retrieving the Boxthorn. He tells Urshanabi his plan, that they will return to Uruk, first allow an old man there to test the plant and make sure it works, and then Gilgamesh himself will have some and become young again.
On the way back to Uruk, they stop at a shady pool to rest and bathe, and while there, a snake swallows the Boxthorn, shedding its skin afterwards as its youth is restored.
Gilgamesh is crushed by the loss of the Boxthorn, wondering aloud to what end he has gone through all these trials. Urshanabi counsels him to get a grip on himself.
Suddenly, at his lowest ebb, Gilgamesh spies in the far-away distance the walls of Uruk-Haven, and has an epiphany that, although he cannot live forever, his walls and his city will live on long after he is gone, and he realises that what he has built with his people is his legacy.
Gilgamesh and Urshanabi return to Uruk-Haven, and Gilgamesh triumphantly exhorts Urshanabi to observe the finely built walls of the city, as the tale of the Epic comes to an end.


The Epic of Gilgamesh - Tablet X - So you say you are a king?

The small building spied by Gilgamesh at the end of the previous tablet is a small seaside tavern, run by Siduri, an Alewife (a minor deity of fermentation). She sees Gilgamesh approaching and, based on his dishevelled appearance, believes him to be some kind of murderer and bolts her door.
Gilgamesh hears her bolting the door, and demands entrance, telling her that he is king Gilgamesh. She asks why, if he’s a king, does he look like shit? He explains about the hard time he’s been having, the loss of his friend, and his determination to find Utanapishtim.
Siduri advises that the only way to cross the Waters of Death is with the aid of Urshanabi, the Ferryman, but warns that he is in the company of his “stony guardians.”
Gilgamesh rushes off to find Urshanabi, spies him and his “stony things,” and immediately, without question or warning, sets about smashing them. He then addresses Urshanabi, advising of his identity, and explaining his desire to cross the Waters of Death, and Urshanabi explains that Gilgamesh has just destroyed the stony things that he requires to make the crossing. He also enquires, as did Siduri, about Gilgamesh’s less-than-kingly appearance.
Gilgamesh tells him it’s too long a story to get into, and asks what they can do about crossing the Waters of Death. Urshanabi suggests going into the forest and making about 300 long punting poles which they can use to propel themselves across.
Gilgamesh collects up the punting poles, and they set off across the waters. Part way across they run out of poles, and Gilgamesh holds his shirt up against the mast as a sail.
We then see an old man on the far shore, peering out at the approaching boat, and wondering aloud who is with the Ferryman, why they’re punting so quickly across the waters, and about the curious mast of the boat.
Gilgamesh arrives on the beach, trailing Urshanabi behind him, tells the old man who he is, and demands to be directed to Utanapishtim, so he can obtain the secret to eternal life. The old man asks, as the others did, why Gilgamesh looks like shit, being a king and all. Gilgamesh explains the awful time he’s been having, how his friend died, and he’s determined not to do the same. He demands again to be directed to Utanapishtim.
The old man scolds Gilgamesh for his folly, telling him that mortality is the lot of mankind, and that that is pretty much the point to the whole thing.


The Epic of Gilgamesh - Tablet IX - Along the Road of the Sun

As promised, Gilgamesh now wanders the wilderness, disheveled, slightly mad, dressed in the skins of animals. He is no longer primarily upset by the loss of his friend, but is rather obsessed with fear of his own mortality, of which Enkidu’s death was a grim reminder.
He remembers hearing tell of a man who had been granted eternal life by the gods, a man called Utanapishtim, also known as “the Far Away.” He determines to find this man and obtain from him the secret of immortality. Utanapishtim is said to live at the Mouth of the Rivers, which lies beyond the Road of the Sun and the Waters of Death, and further, the Road of the Sun is meant to be guarded by terrifying creatures. But Gilgamesh is undeterred, and sets forth with determination.
At the mouth of the Road of the Sun (which is a long, dark tunnel) stand two guards, a male and female Scorpion Being. They see Gilgamesh approaching, and recognise that he is part god and part man. Gilgamesh advises that he must pass and travel along the Road of the Sun. They warn him that it is pitch black inside, but he insists, and they allow him to pass.
Gilgamesh travels through the stifling darkness, making it all the way through and emerging into a brilliant garden, where the sunlight shimmers off of trees that are adorned with all the most precious jewels of the world.
After a moment of elation at surviving this portion of the journey, he reminds himself that more lies ahead, and, spying a small building near the distant seashore, resolves to go there and seek advice on how to proceed.


The Epic of Gilgamesh - Tablet VIII - Dam up the river

In this, the shortest piece in the show, Gilgamesh laments the loss of Enkidu, exhorting every place or person Enkidu has known to mourn his passing. He instructs his artisans to create a statue of Enkidu using the finest and rarest materials, and declares that he will now wander the wilderness wearing skins, unable to bear continuing with normal life without his friend by his side.
Finally Enkidu is laid to rest, buried under the bed of the River Euphrates.


The Epic of Gilgamesh - Tablet VII - House of Dust

Enkidu awakens and tells Gilgamesh of a dream he’s just had, wherein a Council of Gods decided that one of them would have to die to atone for killing the Bull and Humbaba etc., and they had decided it would be Enkidu. Enkidu realises that, although it was only a dream, he’s genuinely feeling quite ill, and is certain he is not long for the world. He suggests they take a walk through Uruk, to revisit the places they’ve known before it's too late.
When he sees the door of the Temple of Enlil, he becomes bitter, and rages about his sad lot and how he has come to this end. He curses the Trapper who first told Gilgamesh of his presence, and curses Shamhat the harlot for bringing him to civilisation.
Shamash is then heard as he upbraids Enkidu for cursing Shamhat, reminding him that without her he would have done none of the great things he has done, and would never have met his treasured friend Gilgamesh. Enkidu recants, and blesses Shamhat, wishing her all good things.
As he nears his end, Enkidu relates another dream he’s had, about being dragged into the underworld, which is a House of Dust, where people drink dirt, eat clay, and dress in the feathers of birds, and those who were kings in the mortal world now wait on the gods as servants.
As he’s about to die, Enkidu bemoans that during his final 11 days, Gilgamesh has left his side, making him feel abandoned and alone; however, Gilgamesh arrives to comfort him just as Enkidu passes away.


The Epic of Gilgamesh- Tablet VI - To me grant your lusciousness

The opening section of this tablet features the only true narration in the entire show. E and G have returned to Uruk-Haven as conquering heroes, convinced now that they will be regarded forevermore for their deeds. Gilgamesh retires to his chamber, putting on his finest royal robes.
The goddess Ishtar enters. Gilgamesh’s prowess in defeating the demon Humbaba has filled her with desire for him, and she entices him to become her lover. However, Gilgamesh rebuffs her, listing off a litany of her previous lovers and the unfortunate fates that befell them.
Angry and dejected, Ishtar runs to her parents, Anu and Anrum, and complains of Gilgamesh’s slander. They basically tell her to get over it. She demands that they give her use of the Bull of Heaven, which she will use to seek revenge against Gilgamesh and Uruk-Haven; if they do not, she threatens she will kick down the gates of the underworld and release the living dead to devour the living upon the Earth. Her parents acquiesce.
The Children of Uruk sing the tale of the great battle between Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Bull of Heaven, while the scene is enacted on stage. The beast puts up a mighty battle, but the pair defeat him without godly intervention. They give the Bull’s heart to Shamash, and Gilgamesh hangs the beast’s horns on his bedroom wall.
Ishtar is stood up on the walls of Uruk, wailing away, bemoaning the destruction of the Bull, and further threatening Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Enkidu taunts her, saying the same will happen to her if she comes down from the wall. He tears the hindquarters off the Bull, and flings it at Ishtar, striking her in the face. She leaves, more enraged than ever, whilst Gilgamesh and Enkidu are carried along in drunken celebration by the people of Uruk, Gilgamesh bragging about his own awesomeness.
Finally, drunk and exhausted, they fall asleep.


The Epic of Gilgamesh - Tablet V - Nice place you've got here

The pair enter the Cedar Forest, and with false bravado begin to call out to Humbaba, taunting him. Humbaba comes into view, a terrifying, semi-robotic creature. He speaks to Gilgamesh, expressing surprise that a great king would listen to the advice of a wildman like Enkidu. He also speaks to Enkidu, reminding him that, during his time in the wilds, Humbaba easily could have come over and attacked him, but did not. He tries to dissuade them from their mission, reminding him that the god Enlil place him here for the purpose of protecting the Cedar Forest. Gilgamesh becomes quite frightened at Humbaba’s appearance – his face keeps changing, which Gilgamesh finds unnerving, and he begins to express doubt about proceeding. Enkidu, frustrated with Gilgamesh’s sudden reluctance, instructs him to man up, and they launch into the attack. A fierce battle ensues, with neither side gaining an advantage. Gilgamesh and Enkidu appeal to Shamash for his promised assistance, and he assures them he is there, unleashing the “13 winds,” a weapon which incapacitates Humbaba, allowing Enkidu to grab hold of him. Whilst in Enkidu’s grasp, Humbaba begs Gilgamesh for mercy. Enkidu says to hurry up and do it, before Enlil arrives and becomes angry. Humbaba, seeing that Gilgamesh listens to Enkidu, then appeals to Enkidu, imploring that he convince Gilgamesh not to go through with it. Enkidu tells Gilgamesh to go for it, and Gilgamesh chops off Humbaba’s head. Now that the battle is finished, the pair set about harvesting the trees of the Cedar Forest. Enkidu ironically intends to use the tallest tree to make a door for the Temple of Enlil. They chop down the trees, then use the huge door as a raft to ride down the River Euphrates, back to Uruk-Haven.


The Epic of Gilgamesh - Tablet IV - 50 leagues a day…

The stage lights become dazzlingly bright before returning to darkness.

“Tablet IV – 50 leagues a day…” are the words that appear…

 Desert winds and blowing sand – the lights turn a deep orange. Our heroes trudge across the stage looking parched and sunburned. Behind them the sky turns as many days pass.
Cartoon-like images appear; grainy black and white snapshots of G & E’s journey through the desert: making camp, reading a map, being chased by camels etc.

Whilst traveling across land towards the Cedar Forest, a trip of several weeks, Gilgamesh regularly climbs to the mountaintop, makes an altar, and prays to Shamash to give them a sign that their mission will be successful. Then each night after doing so, Gilgamesh has ominous, disastrous-sounding dreams, but each time Enkidu interprets a positive spin on the meaning of those dreams.
As they approach the Cedar Forest, they start to become nervous. They can hear Humbaba bellowing and stamping around in the distance. They call out to Shamash for help and guidance. He communicates back to them that this is a good time to attack, as Humbaba does not have all of his armour on and is therefore more vulnerable. The pair resolve to enter the forest and make their attack.
However, at the last minute, Enkidu gets cold feet, and voices strong reservations about the mission, even stating he regrets leaving the wilderness in the first place. Gilgamesh gives him a rousing pep talk and they again agree to enter.