Read by Richard.
‘Woman at the Inn’ by Jana.
Adapted and illustrated by Bertie.
Proofed and audio edited by Jana.
Hello, This is Richard, and this is the fourth part of the Story of Gilgamesh, an epic story from ancient Mesopotamia. If you heard the earlier stories, you will know that King Gilgamesh and his friend, the strongman Enkidu, defeated Humbaba the dragon. When they then killed the Bull of Heaven, the gods took their revenge by making Enkidu die. Gilgamesh was grief-stricken, and left the city and his Royal life behind him to set out on a journey.
King Gilgamesh roamed through the countryside, sleeping out in the open, and hunting for food. Everyday he wept bitterly for his lost brother, Enkidu, and also for his own fate and the destiny of all human beings. He called out into a rocky ravine:
“My brother is dead, and one day I shall join him. What is the point of life if it ends in death?”
The rocks gave back no answer, only the echo of his own question. But he knew what he must do in his heart. He must travel to the ends of the Earth to the Garden of the Sun, the home of Ut -Napishtim, the only man to whom the gods had granted everlasting life. He would speak to this unique man and learn his secret.
And so Gilgamesh set out towards the East where the sun rises. At night he lay down and prayed to the Moon-god, Sin, to protect him from lions. In the morning, he awoke and saw that three lions were prowling in a circle around where he lay. He drew his sword and shot at them like an arrow from a bow, cutting at them, and sending them scattering.
After many days walking, he came to the mountains of Mashu, behind which rests the sun when it is not in the sky. Its twin peaks are as high as heaven, and its roots reach down into the underworld. Shamash the sun god passes through the passage between the two mountains on his way up into the heavens each morning. The entrance to that passage is guarded by scorpio men, whose brilliance is terrifying, whose stare means death. Gilgamesh covered his eyes with his hand and approached. A scorpio man called out to a scorpio woman: “Here comes a man who has the flesh of the gods!” And the scorpio woman replied, “He is two-thirds god but one-third man.”
Then the Scorpio man called out to the bold stranger: “Why have you come to this distant and dangerous place?”
And the king replied: “I am Gilgamesh and I have come to seek Ut-Napishtim the far-away, who stood before the gods in their palace and demanded eternal life.”
The Scorpio man looked Gilgamesh up and down and saw that he was strong but mortal. And he replied:
“Before you can see Ut-Napishtim, you must pass through the sun god's passage between the two mountains of Mashu, and that is not possible for a mortal man. It is 12 miles long and dark all the way. There is no dawn and no dusk, only darkness and cold.”
And Gilgamesh replied:
“I and my beloved brother Enkidu fought and killed the dragon Humbaba whose voice was the flood, whose mouth was fire, whose breath was death. I am not afraid of the dark like a child.”
And the Scorpio man stood aside from the entrance to the passage of the sun god and said: “Go, Gilgamesh, and may you reach your destination safely.”
Gilgamesh entered the passage between the two mountains, and all was dark. Soon a howling wind began to blow down the tunnel. He held his hand in front of his face for the wind was bitterly cold. On he walked, for mile after mile through the darkness, until at last, he saw the light of the sun before him. He stepped out into the open world. All around him was incredibly bright and dazzling, as the sunlight danced on the grass, and the fruit of the trees, and the lapis lazuli that lay between the rocks.
And Gilgamesh walked down to the sea and found an inn that was kept by a woman who was busy brewing beer in great vats.
The woman looked at him with wonder. Here was a traveller, dirty, ragged, and covered in cuts. All he wore was the skin of a lion, and that was filthy. In her heart, she was afraid that he had come to kill her and steal her beer. She retreated inside her inn and bolted the door three times.
Soon Gilgamesh reached the inn and hammered on the door calling out: “Woman! Why did you look at me, and then go back into your inn and bolt the door as if you fear that I might kill you and steal your beer! Open up, or I will smash the door down with my fist.”
And he beat the door like he meant to break it.
“Who are you?” called out the woman from within.
“I am King Gilgamesh, with my friend Enkidu, we destroyed Humbaba, and we slaughtered the Bull of Heaven, and we strangled lions with our bare hands. There is no need to fear me, for I am truly he.”
“If you really are King Gilgamesh,” said the woman, “How come you are so dirty and cut all over, and only wear the filthy skin of a lion?”
“My heart is wasted with sadness by the death of my dear brother and friend Enkidu,” replied Gilgamesh. “And now I am afraid of death, and I have left the glistening city of Uruk, to roam the world and to seek the secret of immortality. How could I stay at home, silently waiting for my fate, when Enkidu whom I loved is turned to clay?”
On hearing this, the woman opened the door of the inn and allowed him to enter and sit down at a table.
“Thank you,” said Gilgamesh, “Now please tell me, how can I find Ut-Naphistim the far-away who demanded the secret of everlasting life from the gods in their palace?”
“Gilgamesh, it isn’t possible for a mortal to reach Ut-Naphistim. He lives on the other side of the ocean. Who beside Shamash the sun god has crossed the ocean?”
When she saw the look of anger in his face, she added: “But if you are determined to try to cross the ocean, then you must go down to the woods and find the ferryman of Ut-Naphistim the far-away. It is possible that he will carry you across the waters.”
Gilgamesh immediately picked up his sword and ran down to the woods. There he found the ferryman chiselling a stone into the shape of a serpent for the prow of his boat.
The ferryman looked up from his work and stared at the stranger: “Who are you?” he asked, “And why do you look so weary, like one who has made a long journey? You are dirty, and your skin is cut all over and you are dressed in the filthy skin of a lion? What kind of a man are you to appear like this, with your eyes popping out of your head, like you’ve gone completely mad or something?”
And the eyes of Gilgamesh burned in his head as he over-boiled with rage:
“Why does everyone keep asking me all these questions?” he demanded. Then picking up the axe he smashed and smashed the boat of the ferryman until it was broken into splinters.
Eventually, when the rage of Gilgamesh had subsided, he sat down with his head between his knees and wept:
“My heart is wasted with sadness by the death of my dear friend Enkidu, who killed the dragon Humbaba and slaughtered the Bull of Heaven. He is turned to clay, and now I am afraid of death, and I have left the glistening city of Uruk, to roam the world and to seek the secret of immortality. Please, carry me across the water to Ut-Naphistim the far-away, who demanded the secret of everlasting life from the gods in their palace.”
“Well now,” said the Ferryman. “It would have been a lot easier if you hadn’t just gone and smashed my boat to smithereens. But here’s what you must do. Take that axe and go into the forest. You must cut 120 poles, sixty feet long, and bind them together into a boat, seal them with tar, set them on rollers, and drag them back here. ”
When Gilgamesh heard this he went deep into the wood and cut 120 poles, sixty feet long, bound them together, and sealed them with tar. Then he set the boat that he had made onto rollers and dragged it back to the ferryman. Together they rolled it down to the sea with some difficulty.
When they had pushed it into the water, Gilgamesh stripped off his lion skin, strung it over a pole, and held it up for a mast and sail. They then set out across the ocean to the home of Ut-Napishtim, the faraway, who had demanded the secret of immortality from the gods in their palace.
And that was the fourth part of Gilgamesh, The Journey, read by me Richard Scott for Storynory. And thanks to Jana for playing the female part. In the next episode, we will hear a tale that may sound familiar to you from elsewhere.
And before I go, here’s Bertie, with a special message.
And of course, there are loads more stories of every type at Storynory.com. If you feel like some entertainment and education, do drop by soon.
For now, from me, Richard, at Storynory.com, goodbye.