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.