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Yale Oriental Series


Volume IV

Part III

Published from the fund given to the university in memory of Mary
Stevens Hammond

Yale Oriental Series. Researches, Volume IV, 3.

An Old Babylonian Version of the Gilgamesh Epic

On the Basis of Recently Discovered Texts


Morris Jastrow Jr., Ph.D., LL.D.
Professor of Semitic Languages, University of Pennsylvania


Albert T. Clay, Ph.D., LL.D., Litt.D.
Professor of Assyriology and Babylonian Literature, Yale University

Copyright, 1920, by Yale University Press

In Memory of
William Max Müller
Whose life was devoted to Egyptological research
which he greatly enriched
by many contributions


The Introduction, the Commentary to the two tablets, and the
Appendix, are by Professor Jastrow, and for these he assumes the sole
responsibility. The text of the Yale tablet is by Professor Clay. The
transliteration and the translation of the two tablets represent
the joint work of the two authors. In the transliteration of the two
tablets, C. E. Keiser's "System of Accentuation for Sumero-Akkadian
signs" (Yale Oriental Researches--VOL. IX, Appendix, New Haven, 1919)
has been followed.



The Gilgamesh Epic is the most notable literary product of Babylonia as
yet discovered in the mounds of Mesopotamia. It recounts the exploits
and adventures of a favorite hero, and in its final form covers twelve
tablets, each tablet consisting of six columns (three on the obverse
and three on the reverse) of about 50 lines for each column, or a total
of about 3600 lines. Of this total, however, barely more than one-half
has been found among the remains of the great collection of cuneiform
tablets gathered by King Ashurbanapal (668-626 B.C.) in his palace
at Nineveh, and discovered by Layard in 1854 [1] in the course of his
excavations of the mound Kouyunjik (opposite Mosul). The fragments of
the epic painfully gathered--chiefly by George Smith--from the _circa_
30,000 tablets and bits of tablets brought to the British Museum were
published in model form by Professor Paul Haupt; [2] and that edition
still remains the primary source for our study of the Epic.

For the sake of convenience we may call the form of the Epic in the
fragments from the library of Ashurbanapal the Assyrian version,
though like most of the literary productions in the library it not
only reverts to a Babylonian original, but represents a late copy of
a much older original. The absence of any reference to Assyria in
the fragments recovered justifies us in assuming that the Assyrian
version received its present form in Babylonia, perhaps in Erech;
though it is of course possible that some of the late features,
particularly the elaboration of the teachings of the theologians or
schoolmen in the eleventh and twelfth tablets, may have been produced
at least in part under Assyrian influence. A definite indication
that the Gilgamesh Epic reverts to a period earlier than Hammurabi
(or Hammurawi) [3] i.e., beyond 2000 B. C., was furnished by the
publication of a text clearly belonging to the first Babylonian
dynasty (of which Hammurabi was the sixth member) in _CT_. VI, 5;
which text Zimmern [4] recognized as a part of the tale of Atra-hasis,
one of the names given to the survivor of the deluge, recounted on
the eleventh tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic. [5] This was confirmed
by the discovery [6] of a fragment of the deluge story dated in the
eleventh year of Ammisaduka, i.e., c. 1967 B.C. In this text, likewise,
the name of the deluge hero appears as Atra-hasis (col. VIII, 4). [7]
But while these two tablets do not belong to the Gilgamesh Epic and
merely introduce an episode which has also been incorporated into the
Epic, Dr. Bruno Meissner in 1902 published a tablet, dating, as the
writing and the internal evidence showed, from the Hammurabi period,
which undoubtedly is a portion of what by way of distinction we may
call an old Babylonian version. [8] It was picked up by Dr. Meissner
at a dealer's shop in Bagdad and acquired for the Berlin Museum. The
tablet consists of four columns (two on the obverse and two on the
reverse) and deals with the hero's wanderings in search of a cure
from disease with which he has been smitten after the death of his
companion Enkidu. The hero fears that the disease will be fatal and
longs to escape death. It corresponds to a portion of Tablet X of
the Assyrian version. Unfortunately, only the lower portion of the
obverse and the upper of the reverse have been preserved (57 lines
in all); and in default of a colophon we do not know the numeration
of the tablet in this old Babylonian edition. Its chief value,
apart from its furnishing a proof for the existence of the Epic
as early as 2000 B. C., lies (a) in the writing _Gish_ instead of
Gish-gi(n)-mash in the Assyrian version, for the name of the hero,
(b) in the writing En-ki-du--abbreviated from dug--"Enki is
good" for En-ki-dú in the Assyrian version, [9] and (c) in the
remarkable address of the maiden Sabitum, dwelling at the seaside,
to whom Gilgamesh comes in the course of his wanderings. From the
Assyrian version we know that the hero tells the maiden of his grief
for his lost companion, and of his longing to escape the dire fate of
Enkidu. In the old Babylonian fragment the answer of Sabitum is given
in full, and the sad note that it strikes, showing how hopeless it
is for man to try to escape death which is in store for all mankind,
is as remarkable as is the philosophy of "eat, drink and be merry"
which Sabitum imparts. The address indicates how early the tendency
arose to attach to ancient tales the current religious teachings.

"Why, O Gish, does thou run about?
The life that thou seekest, thou wilt not find.
When the gods created mankind,
Death they imposed on mankind;
Life they kept in their power.
Thou, O Gish, fill thy belly,
Day and night do thou rejoice,
Daily make a rejoicing!
Day and night a renewal of jollification!
Let thy clothes be clean,
Wash thy head and pour water over thee!
Care for the little one who takes hold of thy hand!
Let the wife rejoice in thy bosom!"

Such teachings, reminding us of the leading thought in the Biblical
Book of Ecclesiastes, [10] indicate the _didactic_ character given to
ancient tales that were of popular origin, but which were modified
and elaborated under the influence of the schools which arose in
connection with the Babylonian temples. The story itself belongs,
therefore, to a still earlier period than the form it received in this
old Babylonian version. The existence of this tendency at so early a
date comes to us as a genuine surprise, and justifies the assumption
that the attachment of a lesson to the deluge story in the Assyrian
version, to wit, the limitation in attainment of immortality to those
singled out by the gods as exceptions, dates likewise from the old
Babylonian period. The same would apply to the twelfth tablet, which
is almost entirely didactic, intended to illustrate the impossibility
of learning anything of the fate of those who have passed out of this
world. It also emphasizes the necessity of contenting oneself with the
comfort that the care of the dead, by providing burial and food and
drink offerings for them affords, as the only means of ensuring for
them rest and freedom from the pangs of hunger and distress. However,
it is of course possible that the twelfth tablet, which impresses
one as a supplement to the adventures of Gilgamesh, ending with his
return to Uruk (i.e., Erech) at the close of the eleventh tablet, may
represent a _later_ elaboration of the tendency to connect religious
teachings with the exploits of a favorite hero.


We now have further evidence both of the extreme antiquity of the
literary form of the Gilgamesh Epic and also of the disposition to
make the Epic the medium of illustrating aspects of life and the
destiny of mankind. The discovery by Dr. Arno Poebel of a Sumerian
form of the tale of the descent of Ishtar to the lower world and her
release [11]--apparently a nature myth to illustrate the change of
season from summer to winter and back again to spring--enables us to
pass beyond the Akkadian (or Semitic) form of tales current in the
Euphrates Valley to the Sumerian form. Furthermore, we are indebted
to Dr. Langdon for the identification of two Sumerian fragments in the
Nippur Collection which deal with the adventures of Gilgamesh, one in
Constantinople, [12] the other in the collection of the University
of Pennsylvania Museum. [13] The former, of which only 25 lines are
preserved (19 on the obverse and 6 on the reverse), appears to be a
description of the weapons of Gilgamesh with which he arms himself
for an encounter--presumably the encounter with Humbaba or Huwawa,
the ruler of the cedar forest in the mountain. [14] The latter deals
with the building operations of Gilgamesh in the city of Erech. A
text in Zimmern's _Sumerische Kultlieder aus altbabylonischer Zeit_
(Leipzig, 1913), No. 196, appears likewise to be a fragment of the
Sumerian version of the Gilgamesh Epic, bearing on the episode of
Gilgamesh's and Enkidu's relations to the goddess Ishtar, covered in
the sixth and seventh tablets of the Assyrian version. [15]

Until, however, further fragments shall have turned up, it would
be hazardous to institute a comparison between the Sumerian and the
Akkadian versions. All that can be said for the present is that there
is every reason to believe in the existence of a literary form of the
Epic in Sumerian which presumably antedated the Akkadian recension,
just as we have a Sumerian form of Ishtar's descent into the nether
world, and Sumerian versions of creation myths, as also of the
Deluge tale. [16] It does not follow, however, that the Akkadian
versions of the Gilgamesh Epic are translations of the Sumerian,
any more than that the Akkadian creation myths are translations of
a Sumerian original.

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