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Dreamed about 2800 BCE (about 4800 years ago) by King Gilgamesh.
Source: The Epic of Gilgamesh as recorded by Sîn-Leki-unninni about 1200 BCE, from earlier versions 1700-2100? BCE. English version by Stephen Mitchell, 2004


Gilgamesh (or Bilgamesh) was king of Uruk (later Erech; modern Warka), the greatest city-state in Mesopotamia, founded before 3800 BCE; the earliest known writing (34-3500 BCE) is from Uruk. In Gilgamesh's day (c. 2750 BCE; some scholars place him nearly a century earlier) the city wall was six miles round, making Uruk larger than any city until Rome under Hadrian, nearly three millennia later. He became a legendary, heroic figure; but not a spotless one. In his reckless youth Gilgamesh did not rule well--until the gods made him a soulmate, the wild man Enkidu...

...the people of Uruk cried out to heaven,
and their lamentation was heard, the gods
are not unfeeling, their hearts were touched,
they went to Anu, father of them all,
protector of the realm of sacred Uruk,
and spoke to him on the people's behalf:
"Heavenly Father, Gilgamesh--
noble as he is, splendid as he is--
has exceeded all bounds. The people suffer
from his tyranny, the people cry out
that he takes the son from his father and crushes him,
takes the girl from her mother and uses her,
the warrior's daughter, the young man's bride,
he uses her, no one dares to oppose him.
Is this how you want your king to rule?
Should a shepherd savage his own flock? Father
do something, quickly, before the people
overwhelm heaven with their heart-rending cries."

Anu heard them, he nodded his head,
then to the goddess, mother of creation,
he called out: "Aruru, you are the one
who created humans. Now go and create
a double for Gilgamesh, his second self,
a man who equals his strength and courage,
a man who equals his stormy heart.
Create a new hero, let them balance each other
perfectly, so that Uruk has peace."

When Aruru heard this, she closed her eyes,
and what Anu had commended she formed in her mind.
She moistened her hands, she pinched off some clay,
she threw it into the wilderness,
kneaded it, shaped it to her idea,
and fashioned a man, a warrior, a hero:
Enkidu the brave, as powerful and fierce
as the war god Ninurta. Hair covered his body,
hair grew thick on his head and hung
down to his waist, like a woman's hair.
He roamed all over the wilderness,
naked, far from the cities of men,
ate grass with gazelles, and when he was thirsty,
he drank clear water from the waterholes,
kneeling beside the antelope and deer.

One day a human--a trapper--saw him
drinking with the animals at a waterhole.
The trapper's heart pounded, his face when white,
his legs shook, he was numb with terror.
The same thing happened a second, a third day.
Fear gripped his belly, he looked drained and haggard
like someone who has been on a long, hard journey.

He went to his father. "Father, I have seen
a savage man at the waterhole.
He must be the strongest man in the world,
with muscles like rock. I have seen him outrun

the swiftest animals. He lives among them,
eats grass with gazelles, and when he is thirsty
he drinks clear water from the waterholes.
"I haven't approached him--I am too afraid.
He fills in the pits I have dug, he tears out
the traps I have set, he frees the animals,
and I can catch nothing. My livelihood is gone."

"Son, in Uruk there lives a man
named Gilgamesh. He is king of that city
and the strongest man in the world, they say,
with muscles like rock. Go now to Uruk,
go to Gilgamesh, tell him what happened,
then follow his advice. He will know what to do."

He made the journey, he stood before
Gilgamesh in the center of Uruk,
he told him about the savage man.
The king said, "Go to the temple of Ishtar,
ask them there for a woman named Shamhat,
one of the priestesses who give their bodies
to any man, in honor of the goddess.
Take her into the wilderness,
when the animals are drinking at the waterhole,
tell her to strip off her robe and lie there
naked, ready, with her legs apart.
The wild man will approach. Let her use her love-arts.
Nature will take its course, and then
the animals who knew him in the wilderness
will be bewildered, and will leave him forever."

The trapper found Shamhat, Ishtar's priestess,
and they went off into the wilderness.
For three days they walked. On the third day
they reached the waterhole. There they waited.
For two days they sat as the animals came
to drink clear water. Early in the morning
of the third day, Enkidu came and knelt down
to drink clear water with the antelope and deer.
They looked in amazement. The man was huge
and beautiful. Deep in Shamhat's loins
desire stirred. Her breath quickened
as she stared at this primordial being.
"Look," the trapper said, "there he is.
Now use your love-arts. Strip off your robe
and lie here naked, with your legs apart.
Stir up his lust when he approaches,
touch him, excite him, take his breath
with your kisses, show him what a woman is.
The animals who knew him in the wilderness
will be bewildered, and will leave him forever."

She stripped off her robe and lay there naked,
with her legs apart, touching herself.
Enkidu saw her and warily approached.
He sniffed the air. He gazed at her body.
He drew close, Shamhat touched him on the thigh,
touched his penis, and put him inside her.
She used her love-arts, she took his breath
with her kisses, held nothing back, and showed him
what a woman is. For seven days

he stayed erect and made love with her,
until he had had enough. At last
he stood up and walked toward the waterhole
to rejoin his animals. But the gazelles
saw him and scattered, the antelope and deer
bounded away. He tried to catch up,
but his body was exhausted, his life-force was spent,
his knees trembled, he could no longer run
like an animal, as he had before.
He turned back to Shamhat, and as he walked
he knew that his mind had somehow grown larger,
he knew things now that an animal can't know.

Enkidu sat down at Shamhat's feet.
He looked at her, and he understood
all the words she was speaking to him.
"Now, Enkidu, you know what it is
to be with a woman, to unite with her.
You are beautiful, you are like a god.
Why should you roam the wilderness
and live like an animal? Let me take you
to great-walled Uruk, to the temple of Ishtar,
to the palace of Gilgamesh the mighty king,
who in his arrogance oppresses the people,
trampling upon them like a wild bull."
She finished, and Enkidu nodded his head.
Deep in his heart he felt something stir,
a longing he had never known before,
the longing for a true friend. Enkidu said,
"I will go, Shamhat. Take me with you
to great-walled Uruk, to the temple of Ishtar,
to the palace of Gilgamesh the mighty king.

I will challenge him. I will shout to his face:
"I am the mightiest! I am the man
who can make the world tremble! I am supreme!'

"Come," said Shamhat, "let us go to Uruk,
I will lead you to Gilgamesh the mighty king,
You will see the great city with its massive wall,
you will see the young men dressed in their splendor,
in the finest linen and embroidered wool,
brilliantly colored, with fringed shawls and wide belts.
Every day is a festival in Uruk,
with people singing and dancing in the streets,
musicians playing their lyres and drums,
the lovely priestesses standing before
the temple of Ishtar, chatting and laughing,
flushed with sexual joy, and ready
to serve men's pleasure, in honor of the goddess,
so that even old men are aroused from their beds.
You who are still so ignorant of life,
I will show you Gilgamesh the mighty king,
the hero destined for both joy and grief.
You will stand before him and gaze with wonder,
you will see how handsome, how virile he is,
how his body pulses with erotic power.
He is even taller and stronger than you--
so full of life-force that he needs no sleep.
Enkidu, put aside your agression.
Shamash, the sun god, loves him, and his mind
has been made large by Anu, father of the gods,
made large by Enlil, the god of earth,
and by Ea, the god of water and wisdom.
Even before you came down from the hills,

you had come to Gilgamesh in a dream."
And she told Enkidu what she had heard.
"He went to his mother, the goddess Ninsun,
and asked her to interpret the dream.
'I saw a bright star, it shot across
the morning sky, it fell at my feet
and lay before me like a huge boulder.
I tried to lift it, but it was too heavy.
I tried to move it, but it would not budge,
A crowd of people gathered around me,
the people of Uruk pressed in to see it,
like a little baby they kissed its feet.
This boulder, this star that had fallen to earth--
I took it my arms, I embraced and caressed it
the way a man caresses his wife.
Then I took it and laid it before you. You told me
that it was my double, my second self.'
The mother of Gilgamesh, Lady Ninsun,
the wise, the all-knowing, said to her son,
'Dearest child, this bright star from heaven,
this huge boulder that you could not lift--
it stands for a dear friend, a mighty hero.
You will take him in your arms, embrace and caress him
the way a man caresses his wife.
He will be your double, your second self,
a man who is loyal, who will stand at your side
through the greatest dangers. Soon you will meet him,
the companion of your heart, Your dream has said so."
"Gilgamesh said, 'May the dream come true.
May the true friend appear, the true companion,
who through every danger will stand at my side.' "

When Shamhat had finished speaking, Enkidu
turned to her, and again they made love.


In many versions there are two almost identical dreams and interpretations. This is common in Gilgamesh; later, Enkidu and Gilgamesh seek the monster Humbaba in the cedar forests of Lebanon, and Enkidu has no less than five similar nightmares presaging death. They do defeat Humbaba, who begs for mercy, arguing the gods told him to guard the forest from loggers; but jittery Enkidu urges Gilgamesh to kill him. Soon after, Enkidu has two more dreams warning the gods will punish him for showing no mercy, and then contracts a fatal illness... and the stage is set for Gilgamesh's mythic quest to find the secret of immortality, 2000 years before Orpheus.

I chose this example of Babylonian dream-interpretation because its dream is the most detailed. But I love the context too--this early version of the Fall from Eden. Enkidu's fall into knowledge (and civilization) is so innocent, so happy! (In the next stanza, Shamhat introduces Enkidu to beer. That clinches it. He'll never drink pondwater again.) Sure beats snakes, apples, shame, jealous gods, and angels with flaming swords.

Speaking of flaming swords... Enkidu and Gilgamesh are not just best friends, but lovers. In some versions this is explicit.* In light of this, Gilgamesh's early excesses aren't just immaturity and arrogance, but partly loneliness; his sexual excesses were a hunt for an equal he could love.

Not that the gods' plan quite succeeds. Our heroic couple never settles down. They go on being almost comically reckless--enraging Ishtar, making trouble for themselves. But at least they pester gods, monsters and mythic figures, not the citizens of Uruk. And in the end Gilgamesh, sobered by the loss of Enkidu and his failure to defeat death, does become a good king; for he's learned love. And though he can't bring back Enkidu, he loves his city too.

--Chris Wayan

*"According to A. D. Kilmer, the symbols by which Enkidu is represented in the dream episodes make allusion to the Ishtar cult: the meteorite, kisru, evokes kezru, who would be a male counterpart of a kezertu woman (a kind of cultic prostitute), and the axe, bassinnu, evokes assinnu, a cultic performer who, typically as a eunuch, took the female role in the sexual act. By this analysis, what Gilgamesh sees in his dreams is a twofold prediction of the arrival of a close male friend who will also be his lover" (A.R. George, The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic, v.1, p.452).

"The repeated use of the verb hababu in this connection implies a sexual connection. If there is any doubt about the significance of this image... note also SB [Standard Version] VI 11 59, where, in death, Gilgamesh veils Enkidu 'like a bride.'

Graphic evidence for a sexual relationship now comes from SB XII 96-9, as understood in the light of a new manuscript of the text's Sumerian forerunner, "Bilgamesh and the Netherworld" 250-3 (ibid., p. 454, n. 48). These lines from Tablet XII describe the return of Enkidu's ghost from the underworld:

"If I am going to tell you the rules of the Netherworld that I saw, sit you down (and) weep!"
"[(So)] let me sit down and weep!"
"[My friend, the] penis that you touched so your heart rejoiced, grubs devour [(it) ... like an] old garment
[My friend, the crotch that you] touched so your heart rejoiced, it is filled with dust [like a crack in the ground.]"

(Tablet XI 1, 11. 93 ff, tr. George)

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