Gilgamesh Part 5 -The Great Flood

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Babylonian Flood

Gilgamesh Part 5
The Great Flood

Read by Richard.
Proofed and audio edited by Jana.
Adapted by Bertie.

Hello, this is Richard,
And here we rejoin Gilgamesh as he crosses the seas to meet with Ut-Naphishtim, the far distant.

Ut-Napishtim, the far distant, the only human to have conquered death, was sitting on a jetty by his home in the mouth of a great river. He watched his trusty sea captain bring his boat up along the water, and he saw that he was bringing a passenger - a great hulk of a man, dressed in rags. When the boat was near, the sea captain leapt onto the jetty with the rope to moor it and was shortly followed by his passenger.

Ut-Napishtim looked the strange man up and down and said:

“My, my Look at you! What a sorry state you are in! Your face is pale and you are wearing nothing but the skin of an old lion. What has happened to you?”

And Gilgamesh replied:

“What hasn’t happened to me? My friend Enkidu was so powerful that he killed mountain lions with his bare hands. He fought the bull of heaven, but even he could not avoid death and now has turned to clay. For seven days and seven nights I wept for him - but what good did that do? What hope have I, Gilgamesh, King of splendid Uruk when death awaits me every day? I have travelled a great and dangerous distance to find you because I am told that you are the one human being who knows the secret of immortality. And now that I look at you, you seem just like any other man. You seem no different from me. How come the gods chose you for immortality:

Ut-Napishtem looked at the King and smiled:

“You really do look dreadful,” he said, “and I can only believe that you have suffered much. Well Gilgamesh, since you have come all this way, I will tell you everything although it is a secret. There was a time when I lived in the city of Shuruppak on the banks of the river Euphrates. In those days, the gods often strolled along the streets of Shurappak. They enjoyed the beautiful temples, the broad avenues, the green squares, the processions, and the feasts held in their honour.

Over time, more and more people came to live in the city, and Shurappak became dirtier and dirtier, and noisier and noisier.

And the gods liked the city, less and less. They were disgusted by the stink and the pollution and the heaps of rubbish.

The father of the gods, Anu, said he could stand it no longer. He called all the immortals to a council and declared that he wanted to wipe out the people of the earth before they made the entire world as ugly and horrible as the city of Shuruppak. The only question was how best to destroy humankind. After much discussion of plagues, wars, and famines, the gods decided in their wisdom to send a great flood.

But there was one god, Ea the wise, who did not want to wipe out humanity - well not all of it, anyway. He had sworn an oath not to breathe a word of the gods’ plans to any human. He was careful not to break his promise. One night, he sat outside my house in the city and whispered to the walls:

“Listen up, you walls,” he said, “a great flood is coming. Tell your master to abandon his life of luxury and seek survival for himself and his family. He must take you walls apart and rebuild you into a boat. The sides of the boat should be equal in length, and large enough to take on board a pair of every living type of animal, not to mention every type of plant seed, and enough food to last a month. And the boat needs a good roof, with a hatch in it, to keep out the rain. There isn’t much time, tell him to hurry.”

“We hear you, wise Ea,” replied the walls. “And what will the people of the city say when he does this? They will think he has lost his mind.”

“Your master,” said Ea, “must say that he has done something to displease the mighty god Elil, and that he must leave the City. He is ordered to take his house apart and move with all his possessions to live on the river with Ea the wise. ”

In the morning the walls whispered to me all that Ea the wise had told them during the night. I listened, and I said, “I must do as the god has ordered.”

I called together my family and my servants and told them to begin the task. They must take apart the house, and rebuild the poles and the reeds into a boat, big enough to fit a pair of every animal and examples of all the seeds on earth, as well as enough food for a month.

The carpenters and the craftsman began to work and my children hated up tar to make the wooden poles watertight, and build nine different living spaces inside the boat, and built a good roof on top with a hatch to keep out the rain.

Every night I gave the workmen all the food and drink they could desire, no less than on the great feast of New Year. And when the sun rose, they got up and set to work again.

And when the elders of the city came by and asked me if I had lost my mind, I told them that I had done something to displease the wise god Elil and that I had been ordered to leave the city. I was going to the river to live with Ea the wise. The elders nodded and left us to work in peace.

We made a boat 120 meters square with six decks and nine separate living quarters.

When the boat was finished we rolled the boat on polls down to the river. It was very heavy and difficult to move, I tell you. Eventually, when we heaved it into the river, two-thirds of the boat stood above the waterline. We gathered every type of animal and type of seed and took them onto the boat. Then we fetched enough food to last a month. Then took all my silver and gold and stored it safely on board. Finally, I saw a black cloud coming through the skies, and I led all my family, my servants, and my workers onto the boat, and we tightly buttoned down the hatches.

Soon there was an almighty rumble. Daylight turned to darkness, save for the flashes of the gods’ torches as they crossed the skies.

The wind came like an army hurtling into battle. The goddess Ishtar screamed like a woman giving birth.

And every human being, every dog, and every insect trembled with dread.

Next Ninurta, the god of war, broke down the walls of the dams. The waters burst out, pouring over the cities and fields, the animals, plants, and people. The flood covered the houses, then the treetops, and then the peaks of the mountains. Our ship tossed and spun with the winds and the waves, and our stomachs heaved with seasickness, but we were dry inside our ark.

Ishtar wailed:
“What have we done? I wanted this, but why? We gods sent all the people to the bottom of the sea like fishes?”

All the great gods of heaven and hell wept and the tears from their eyes only increased the rain and the flood.

Our boat rose upon the waters and tossed up and down, and this way and that for six long days, heading in whichever direction the winds chose to blow.

As daylight broke on the seventh day, the storm ceased and the seas fell calm. The world was silent. Our ship came to a halt on the very peak of mount Nisir.I opened a hatch in the roof and let a dove free. She flew out, but finding no place or branch to rest on, she returned. The next day I let loose a small pigeon but she, finding no resting place, returned as well. And on the third day, I let a swallow free, and he flew away and did not return. Then I knew he must have found a place to rest.

Then I threw open the doors and made a sacrifice to the gods. They smelt the burnt offering and Enlil cried out:

“Who let some of the humans escape death?”

And Ea replied, “How could you in your wisdom ever think of destroying all living things on the face of the Earth? Let the sinners pay for their sins, but let the innocent live and go free. That is justice.”

Then Enlil came down to the place where my boat had come to rest. He made me and my wife kneel down. He placed his hands on our foreheads and said:

“In the past, Utnapishtim was a mortal man. Now let him and his wife live for all time in the mouth of this river.”

All the time that Utnapishtim was telling the story, Gilgamesh sat on his haunches, listening, nodding, and fighting off sleep. He had travelled a long way, for many days, and the mists of sleep were gathering around his temples.
And that is how I became immortal.

And that was Gilgamesh and the great flood. Join us next time where I’ll be reading the final part of this epic adventure.

For now, from me, Richard, goodbye!