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Gilgamesh Flood Myth

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The Gilgamesh flood myth is a flood myth in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Many scholars believe that the flood myth was added to Tablet XI in the “standard version” of the Gilgamesh Epic by an editor who used the flood story from the Epic of Atrahasis.[1] A short reference to the flood myth is also present in the much older Sumerian Gilgamesh poems, from which the later Babylonian versions drew much of their inspiration and subject matter.

The Gilgamesh flood tablet XI contains additional story material besides the flood. The flood story was included because in it the flood hero Utnapishtim is granted immortality by the gods and that fits the immortality theme of the epic. The main point seems to be that Utnapishtim was granted eternal life in unique, never-to-be-repeated circumstances.

Flood myth section

Lines 1-203, Tablet XI (note: with supplemental sub-titles and line numbers added for clarity)

Ea leaks the secret plan

  1. Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh a secret story that begins in the old city of Shuruppak on the banks of the Euphrates River.
  2. The “great gods” Anu, Enlil, Ninurta, Ennugi, and Ea were sworn to secrecy about their plan to cause the flood.
  3. But the god Ea (Sumerian god Enki) repeated the plan to Utnapishtim through a reed wall in a reed house.
  4. Ea commanded Utnapishtim to demolish his house and build a boat, regardless of the cost, to keep living beings alive.
  5. The boat must have equal dimensions with corresponding width and length and be covered over like Apsu boats.
  6. Utnapishtim promised to do what Ea commanded.
  7. He asked Ea what he should say to the city elders and the population.
  8. Ea tells him to say that Enlil has rejected him and he can no longer reside in the city or set foot in Enlil’s territory.
  9. He should also say that he will go down to the Apsu “to live with my lord Ea”.
  10. Note: ‘Apsu’ can refer to a fresh water marsh near the temple of Ea/Enki at the city of Eridu.[9]

Building and launching the boat

  1. Carpenters, reed workers, and other people assembled one morning.
  2. [missing lines]
  3. Five days later, Utnapishtim laid out the exterior walls of the boat of 120 cubits.
  4. The sides of the superstructure had equal lengths of 120 cubits. He also made a drawing of the interior structure.
  5. The boat had six decks [?] divided into seven and nine compartments.
  6. Water plugs were driven into the middle part.
  7. Punting poles and other necessary things were laid in.
  8. Three times 3,600 units of raw bitumen were melted in a kiln and three times 3,600 units of oil were used in addition to two times 3,600 units of oil that were stored in the boat.
  9. Oxen and sheep were slaughtered and ale, beer, oil, and wine were distributed to the workmen, like at a new year’s festival.
  10. When the boat was finished, the launching was very difficult. A runway of poles was used to slide the boat into the water.
  11. Two-thirds of the boat was in the water.
  12. Utnapishtim loaded his silver and gold into the boat.
  13. He loaded “all the living beings that I had.”
  14. His relatives and craftsmen, and “all the beasts and animals of the field” boarded the boat.
  15. The time arrived, as stated by the god Shamash, to seal the entry door.

The storm

  1. Early in the morning at dawn a black cloud arose from the horizon.
  2. The weather was frightful.
  3. Utnapishtim boarded the boat and entrusted the boat and its contents to his boatmaster Puzurammurri who sealed the entry.
  4. The thunder god Adad rumbled in the cloud and storm gods Shullar and Hanish went over mountains and land.
  5. Erragal pulled out the mooring poles and the dikes overflowed.
  6. The Annunnaki gods lit up the land with their lightning.
  7. There was stunned shock at Adad’s deeds which turned everything to blackness. The land was shattered like a pot.
  8. All day long the south wind blew rapidly and the water overwhelmed the people like an attack.
  9. No one could see his fellows. They could not recognize each other in the torrent.
  10. The gods were frightened by the flood, and retreated up to the Anu heaven. They cowered like dogs lying by the outer wall.
  11. Ishtar shrieked like a woman in childbirth.
  12. The Mistress of the gods wailed that the old days had turned to clay because “I said evil things in the Assembly of the Gods, ordering a catastrophe to destroy my people who fill the sea like fish.”
  13. The other gods were weeping with her and sat sobbing with grief, their lips burning, parched with thirst.
  14. The flood and wind lasted six days and six nights, flattening the land.
  15. On the seventh day, the storm was pounding [intermittently?] like a woman in labor.

Calm after the storm

  1. The sea calmed and the whirlwind and flood stopped. All day long there was quiet. All humans had turned to clay.
  2. The terrain was as flat as a roof top. Utnapishtim opened a window and felt fresh air on his face.
  3. He fell to his knees and sat weeping, tears streaming down his face. He looked for coastlines at the horizon and saw a region of land.
  4. The boat lodged firmly on mount Nimush which held the boat for several days, allowing no swaying.
  5. On the seventh day he released a dove that flew away, but came back to him. He released a swallow, but it also came back to him.
  6. He released a raven which was able to eat and scratch, and did not circle back to the boat.
  7. He then sent his livestock out in various directions.

The sacrifice

  1. He sacrificed a sheep and offered incense at a mountainous ziggurat where he placed 14 sacrificial vessels and poured reeds, cedar, and myrtle into the fire.
  2. The gods smelled the sweet odor of the sacrificial animal and gathered like flies over the sacrifice.
  3. Then the great goddess arrived, lifted up her flies (beads), and said
  4. “Ye gods, as surely as I shall not forget this lapis lazuli [amulet] around my neck, I shall be mindful of these days and never forget them! The gods may come to the sacrificial offering. But Enlil may not come, because he brought about the flood and annihilated my people without considering [the consequences].”
  5. When Enlil arrived, he saw the boat and became furious at the Igigi gods. He said “Where did a living being escape? No man was to survive the annihilation!”
  6. Ninurta spoke to Enlil saying “Who else but Ea could do such a thing? It is Ea who knew all of our plans.”
  7. Ea spoke to Enlil saying “It was you, the Sage of the Gods. How could you bring about a flood without consideration?”
  8. Ea then accuses Enlil of sending a disproportionate punishment, and reminds him of the need for compassion.
  9. Ea denies leaking the god’s secret plan to Atrahasis (= Utnapishtim), admitting only sending him a dream and deflecting Enlil’s attention to the flood hero.

The flood hero and his wife are granted immortality and transported far away

  1. Enlil then boards a boat and grasping Utnapishtim’s hand, helps him and his wife aboard where they kneel. Standing between Utnapishtim and his wife, he touches their foreheads and blesses them. “Formerly Utnapishtim was a human being, but now he and his wife have become gods like us. Let Utnapishtim reside far away, at the mouth of the rivers.”
  2. Utnapishtim and his wife are transported and settled at the “mouth of the rivers”.

Content retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilgamesh_flood_myth#Flood_myth_section.

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