Gilgamesh — the bina version of one of the oldest stories in history.
bina's retold myths
Twice a month we scour the globe in search of some of our favourite myths. We then write a short "bina" version of the story which you can read/listen below or watch on Instagram.
This episode, we travel to ancient Mesopotamia to hear a story about the demigod Gilgamesh, his friend Enkidu and their battle with Humbaba.
The main character of many legends from Mesopotamia. He was likely an ancient king of the historical city Uruk in Sumer. The 'Epic of Gilgamesh' is one of the oldest known surviving pieces of written literature in the world. The most complete collection we have today of these stories is on twelve clay tablets from the 7th-century bc. Tales tell that he was the son of the goddess Ninsun and the warrior king Lugalbanda. He was a demigod; gigantic, robust and loved to show off his strength.
Image adapted from: Clossal Statue of hero, Gilgamesh: Original in Khorsabad, late 8th century BCE
A the historical region situated between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates. It was roughly in today's Iraq and Kuwait, with the eastern parts of Syria and southeastern Turkey. This region shared myths and had four nations; Sumer, Akkad, Assur and Babylon. The earliest language written in Mesopotamia was Sumerian. Akkadian came to be the dominant spoken languages during the Babylonian times.
Hey kiddos, today I am going to tell you a story about Gilgamesh in the bina version.
Gilgamesh was strong and mighty. He was also a brute. Whenever life in the palace was a bore, he went to town and wrestled his people or lifted them in the air for his amusement.
The people of Uruk were thrilled to have such a powerful king to protect them. However, there are only so many times one can be thrown through the air with a smile. So they prayed to Aruru, the fertility goddess. 'Goddess, please, create someone as strong as our King, that can equal and rival his powers as we are tired of these games' Aruru threw onto a field a handful of dirt that magically turned into Enkidu.
Enkidu was gargantuan! Tall, powerful and fast as lightning, he drank from the rivers, lived with the deer and fought bears and lions. When he finally came to live with humans in Uruk, Gilgamesh challenged him to a fight. He had met his match. Gilgamesh was dancing around the palace saying 'finally I have a friend! Come on Enkidu, let's fight!'
"Do you want to wrestle, or are you still eating?' Enkidu teased. 'Not now! An adventure awaits us!' said Gilgamesh as he gazed into the distance. 'Enkidu, no man has been able to enter the cedar forest for fear of the monster Humbaba. I think it's time that you and I changed that.'
'Are you out of your mind?!?' Asked Enkidu. Humbaba is the scariest of monsters; his woods are dark; even his voice is as frightening as thunder!'
'Oh, Enkidu, are you shaking?' mocked Gilgamesh 'You, who has fought lions with his bare hands?'.
'Absolutely' said Enkidu.
'You should be ashamed of yourself!'
'No, I won't be! I will not be ashamed, nor will I fight this monster, I quite like being alive, thank you!'
'Fine, I will go alone' said Gilgamesh.
Enkidu sighed. 'Going alone is dangerous. But worse, going alone is boring. You know what my friend; I will join-- not because I think this is a good idea, but because I find it extremely silly and know that you will need my help.'
Just before they left, the King did what every hero should do before they leave on an adventure - he went to kiss his mother goodbye.
Gilga's mother was not only wise but also the powerful Goddess Ninsun. 'Hey Ma!' How about a blessing and a kiss before I go?' said the grinning Gilgamesh. Ninsun smiled back, hiding tears. 'I wish I had a normal son and not a stubborn brute that wants to fight Humbabas in his spare time' the Goddess thought.
Because she was wise, she knew that letting her child make their own mistakes was part of the whole mothering game. 'Good luck, my sweet Gilgul' She gave him a kiss 'I love you!'. As they turned to leave, she said 'Enkidu, please, take care of my baby, he is quite fond of mischief as you know. Here is a charm that will help and protect you both on this quest'.
After a long day of walking, Gilgamesh and his friend found a place to rest. Before he went to bed, Gilgamesh asked the god Shamash for a dream, a specific dream. 'just a very nice one that would indicate that I will win the battle please, nothing too complicated.' muttered Gilgamesh drowsily as he drifted off to sleep.
At midnight Enkidu awoke to Gilgamesh screaming. 'What happened?' he asked his friend.
'I dreamt the worst nightmare!' Gilgamesh told Enkidu 'There was an enormous mountain falling on us!'.
Enkidu laughed, knowing that Gilgamesh was not very good at interpreting messages from the gods. 'It sounds like a great dream to me, The mountain symbolises Humbaba, we will defeat him and he will falllllllll'. He yawned and went back to sleep.
The next day came, and the next night. Again Gilgamesh asked Shamesh for a lovely dream. Again, at midnight, Enkidu woke with the cries of Gilgamesh. 'What now?'
'This dream was even worse!' Panted Gilgamesh 'I dreamt about a wild bull which cracked the earth with its mighty bellows, and when he ran, he created such a dust storm that it covered the whole world!'
'Oh, don't worry about that!' Said Enkidu grumpily as he tried to get back to sleep 'the bull is the god Shamesh that will help us in battle, come here I'll give you a hug.'
On the third day, they reached the edge of the cedar forest; and were greeted by a great rumbling roar from the furious monster Humbaba.
'For the record, I didn't want to come here' said Enkidu. ‘Gilga, one last time- how about we forget this idea and keep our lives?'
'Don't worry my friend' Gilgamesh replied, 'we will win this battle, we have the charm, the favour of the god Shamash and each other. All is well!'
The companions started their walk deep into the dark forest. Their pounding hearts the only sound, until-
An enormous roar came through the trees. 'Rrrraahhhh!' The giant, hairy, ugly monster had found them. Humbaba had the face of a lion, a thorny, scaled body, horns of a bull, a terrible tail, long teeth and nails as sharp as swords.
The monster boomed 'Boasting Gilgamesh and silly loyal friend Enkidu, did you think you could defeat me?'
Enkidu muttered 'Well now you mention it; I didn't really...' Humbaba interrupted, roaring 'Step forward if you dare!'
Surprisingly, Gilgamesh held his friend tightly and whispered 'I am terrified!'
Enkidu shook him and said 'come on Gilga; you can defeat him! I've got your back! Together, we are unbeatable!'
Enkidu's voice filled Gilgameshed heart with courage. He charged at Humbaba with the help of the spirits, his mothers charm, Shamash and his loyal friend Enkidu. After a gruesome battle, Gilgamesh triumphed. The two friends embraced and cried in relief and joy.
'I am so proud of you for overcoming your fears!' Said Enkidu. 'I am proud of myself too' Said Gilgamesh 'but not because of that, or that we won, but because I have proven that I know how to pick the very best of friends'.