If you haven’t heard of or read the Epic of Gilgamesh, it has EVERYTHING. Kings, gods, epic monster battle, prophetic dreams, and more. But it also has surprising friendships, bad advice, and enough parallels to Frankenstein for Amanda to get use out of her literature degree. Join us as we talk about Gilgamesh’s dating profile, cocktails for when you’re visiting the realm of the gods, and a bull’s butt.
This week, Julia recommends the new Netflix show Russian Doll.
- Mrs. Fields - Get 20% off your order of Valentine’s Day treats with promo code SPIRITS
- Care/Of - Get 50% off your first month of personalized vitamins with code SPIRITS50
Find Us Online
If you like Spirits, help us grow by spreading the word! Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, & Goodreads. You can support us on Patreon to unlock bonus Your Urban Legends episodes, director’s commentaries, custom recipe cards, and so much more.
Amanda: Welcome to Spirits Podcast, a boozy dive into mythology, legends, and folklore. Every week, we pour a drink and learn about a new story from around the world. I'm Amanda ...
Julia: ... and I'm Julia ...
Amanda: ... and this is episode 115, The Epic of Gilgamesh Part One.
Julia: Can I just say, can I get it out of the way and say, that this episode is epic?
Amanda: I like it a lot. I had no idea. I think I was meant to read some of the Epic of Gilgamesh in World History, and then didn't.
Julia: That sounds right.
Amanda: But I should have, because this story is wild, and we're so excited to bring it to you.
Julia: We are very, very excited. At the moment of recording this, we are going to record this intro, and then record part two. Amanda, I'm so excited just for the whole story in general, it's going to be great.
Amanda: I can't wait. Also, welcome. You chose a great time, and a great episode to have your name read out to Paige and Ross Papa, the multitude super patron, for joining our Patreon.
Julia: Thank you. I recognized that name when it popped up in our email. I'm like, “Hello. Hello, friend.”
Amanda: We met Ross at our multitude live show, and he was awesome.
Amanda: Thank you as always to the supporting producers whose support is truly epic. Some of them actually, it's our three-year anniversary as patrons, because our first Patreon started three years ago.
Julia: Oh, I'm gonna cry now, no.
Amanda: So thank you: Philip, Julie, Eeyore, Kathy, Vinnie, Danica, Marissa, Sammy, Josie, Amara, Neil, Jessica, Phil Fresh, and Deborah; as well as our legendary, legend-level patrons, some of whom have been with us since month one: Jordan, Jess, Sarah, Zoë, Sandra, Audra, Mercedes, Jack-Marie, and Leanne Davis. Our love.
Julia: We know that someday there will be an epic written about you, and it'll be as old and as memorable as the Epic of Gilgamesh.
Amanda: Aw, so sweet. Julia, tell me what we were drinking this episode, because I'm going to have more of it for this one.
Julia: Yes, I made Cedar Smoked Old Fashioneds, which I know Old Fashioneds and Manhattans are some of your favorite drinks, and cedar plays such an important role in the story that I had to give it a little bit of a twist.
Amanda: I also super needed a drink with me on this epic adventure.
Julia: Yeah, it gets wild and it gets intense, and a little bit of alcohol never hurt anyone.
Amanda: Speaking of packing snacks for your journey, we'd love to thank our two sponsors this week. Mrs. Fields, who is the source that you need for your Valentine's Day gifts, it's next week, don't worry about it, the code “spirits” will get you 20% off at mrsfields.com. And Care/of which makes personalized vitamins super easy to order. Go to takecareof.com with code “spirits50” for half off your first month.
Julia: Amanda, you wanna know what I've been digging lately, besides podcasting? Because obviously I'm always digging podcasting.
Amanda: Ooh, please.
Julia: Jake and I sat down on ... What day was the first day of February? I don't know anymore.
Julia: On Friday, we sat down and we watched Amy Poehler and Natasha Lyonne's new show on Netflix called Russian Doll.
Amanda: Ooh, I didn't know Amy Poehler was in that.
Julia: Amy Poehler wrote it. She's not in it, but she wrote it, and it's very, very good. I am an absolute sucker for any kind of time loop or Groundhog's Day style TV show or film, and this scratched all of my itches and I loved it so much.
Amanda: Oh, that sounds awesome. I also wanted to mention that I was on a friend of the show, Emma Sherr-Ziarko's, podcast Pairing talking all about the Old Kingdom trilogy, Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen, Clariel, all kinds, and I realized I've been pronouncing those names wrong. So Emma just brings the research, brought the conversation, brought the wine metaphors, it was great, look at the podcast Pairing.
Julia: And you also might remember Emma from our Tolkien episode, so if you liked what Emma had to say on those topics, I'm sure you're going to love everything she has to say on Pairing. Also, you were fantastic in it, by the way, babe.
Amanda: Aw, thanks. We talked for about an hour and change, I could have talked for four hours about those books, God, I love it. But Garth Nix liked one of my tweets about it, so I think I've just completed my whole life's journey.
Julia: We just need him on the show now.
Amanda: If only.
Julia: Please add Garth Nix to tell him so he can come.
Amanda: We got Tim the Yowie Man, we can get Garth Nix. And finally, we would love to thank those of you who have been sending us gifts to the P.O. Box, we just got the most gorgeous embroidery from Luke and his wife (@thecraftymagpieuk). Oh my god, thank you so much.
Julia: Amanda sent me a picture of it and then I cried for about five minutes.
Amanda: Well, if you want to make us cry and send us cute boxes with skulls drawn on them, the clerk at the FedEx was like, “What's this?” As she saw the skulls drawn on the side of the box, and I was like, “I have a podcast about mythology, do you wanna hear about it?” It was great. Anyway, that's at spiritspodcast.com, you can find the address to our P.O. Box also on multitude.productions, our Multitude website lists all of the other shows in our collective and the mailing address for all of us.
Julia: Yeah. We're not asking you to send us stuff, but we also won't be mad if you send us stuff.
Amanda: If you're moved to do so, you may. But the way to show your love is to tweet us or tell a friend about Spirits.
Amanda: All right, well without further ado, enjoy Spirits Podcast episode 115, The Epic of Gilgamesh Part One.
Julia: Today, Amanda, I have a special treat for you. Back when I was reading Edith Hamilton's Mythology for the first time, which basically shaped me into the baby mythology queer that I am today, I came across another story in the same section of the library. I didn't really quite get it at the time. I think I saw the word epic and, being a child of the 90s, I knew that meant good, so I just dove right into it. I picked it up and I brought it home with me.
And now, the version of the Epic of Gilgamesh that I read as a kid definitely wasn't the original or even super accurate to the translation, but I loved it, I really did. The imagery was evocative, and the epic struggles really felt like something substantial and familiar to me, which makes sense given the fact that the imagery we see in the Epic of Gilgamesh can be found in basically all culture everywhere.
Amanda: I've never read it, but I do know that it was one of the foundational texts of humanity. So it is very exciting, and it makes a ton of sense that we would see a lot of echoes in other places in the world.
Julia: Yeah, my next line was, “Ask Amanda what she knows about the Epic of Gilgamesh”.
Amanda: There you go.
Julia: Just that. So, to expand on your points, the Epic of Gilgamesh is an epic poem, arguably the earliest surviving great work of literature as it dates back to 2100 B.C.
Amanda: Wow. That is freaking early.
Julia: There's actually only one surviving version of the combined epic, which is made up of five Sumerian poems. So these were several independent stories that were combined into the epic. There are 12 established tablets that make up the whole epic, though it is said by some historians that the 12th is more of a sequel than a direct connection to the story, and that it was added to the story at a later date.
Amanda: But that's pretty damn impressive, to have most of the text still today.
Julia: Also, physical tablets. Someone carved these into tablets.
Amanda: Wild. Like Dan Brown had a wet dream about old tablets that someone turned up in some cave, and that man happens to be a rakishly handsome American professor who doesn't listen to any women around him or any people from the place he discovered it ... only true.
Julia: Pretty much. Actually, I'll make a reference to the British academic from the University of London, Andrew George, who is the one that translated the version that we're gonna be talking about today ...
Amanda: What a name.
Julia: ... who's basically what you just described.
Amanda: No, I don't wanna defame this poor professor.
Julia: He translated it in the 50s, so he's probably old or dead at this point.
Amanda: Oh yeah, probably. Probably has some problematic opinions.
Julia: The translation we're discussing will be the Andrew George version, I'm sure there are other ones out there. This is the most widely circulated version of it, so if you have a better version, such as when Emily Wilson translated The Odyssey, it's better because you're not having the white male context of the story ... If you have a better version of the Epic of Gilgamesh, as translated, please let me know, I want to read it.
Amanda: Yeah, this is probably the beginning of our understanding and appreciation of Gilgamesh and not the end.
Julia: With that, I think we're gonna jump right into the story because there's a lot to cover.
Amanda: I'm ready.
Julia: So the story introduces, in the first tablet, Gilgamesh, who is the king of Uruk. Uruk ... By the way, if I mispronounce something it's because I don't speak Ancient Sumerian, I apologize.
Amanda: Doing her best.
Julia: If you do speak Ancient Sumerian fluently, come at me, but also I'm sorry. So Uruk was an ancient city of Sumer, and was located on the eastern shore of the Euphrates River. So anyone who has taken a world civilizations class knows that this is the Fertile Crescent, it's one of the most fertile places in the area and an area that is usually quite arid.
A side note, actually some historians believe that the city of Uruk was actually the same city as the biblical city of Erek, which is one of the cities that was founded by Nimrod.
Amanda: That is super exciting, and I am really here for ancient mysteries being solved, I think it's awesome.
Julia: I do love an ancient mystery. We should have a TV show where it's like, ancient mysteries, but it's not aliens and it's not racist.
Amanda: Oh, I mean, Julia, what is left then, if you judge by programming on the History Channel today?
Julia: If I'm saying what's left, it's actual depictions of history and not weird sensationalized versions of it.
Amanda: Yes, this is true.
Julia: History's interesting on its own, we don't need to add ancient aliens to it.
Amanda: No, we can just appreciate other people and realize that humanity isn't necessarily just on a 45-degree angle upward. We peaked on some things in the past, and maybe we will in the future.
Julia: Yes, I agree. This is one of the topics I get really frustrated about.
Amanda: Listen, we just want a TV show. We're not gonna lie. Just give us a TV show, please, let us travel, let us drink in local bars, let us talk about ghosts.
Julia: Gilgamesh, king of the city, was said to be two thirds god and one third man. I don't really know how that math works, I think it was like, father was a demigod, mother was an actual god.
Amanda: I just love it, I feel like it's a really good Tinder bio first line.
Julia: Two thirds god, one thirds man. Long walks on the beach. Hit me up.
Amanda: Got a cute dog. What more do you need to know?
Julia: And so Gilgamesh was not a good dude.
Julia: He oppressed his people, he was not a kind king, and in particular one of the things that they mention that he abused was the quote-unquote “lord's right”. Do you know what that is?
Amanda: No, but it sounds bad.
Julia: It's the idea that a king or lord can sleep with a bride on their wedding night before their husband does.
Amanda: Oh, nurts. That's no good.
Julia: Yeah, and so Gilgamesh, according to the tablet, abused liberally.
Amanda: And for them to call that an abuse of that right, which is itself already abusive, that must be ... Yikes.
Julia: Sumer knew what was up. For young me, Gilgamesh forced them into tests of strength and games and forced them into laborious projects. Basically, by exhausting them this way, they were less likely to rise up and try to overthrow him.
Amanda: Yikes, man.
Julia: Yeah, it's not good. We're starting off with a not good dude here.
Amanda: But hopefully there's some kind of redemption journey.
Julia: Eh, we'll see. So Gilgamesh, not a good dude, and as such the people called out to the gods asking them for help. And because it wouldn't be much of an epic if they didn't, the gods responded. The gods decided the best way to handle Gilgamesh was to create a man that was equal to Gilgamesh so that he could challenge the king. The man they created was Enkidu, a man that lived in the wild with the animals and, according to the story, was covered in hair, which, like, Enkidu Bigfoot confirmed.
Amanda: Oh yeah, interesting.
Julia: I'm just kidding, he was just a wild dude who didn't know how to shave and is uncivilized.
Julia: So Enkidu was described as a primitive man compared to Gilgamesh, who was in this story the epitome of civilization. We find out about Enkidu after a hunter reports that a wild man has been pulling up his traps. And he doesn't tell the king, because the king is kind of an asshole. Instead, he tells the sun god, Shamash. Shamash is also known as Utu, and you might remember him as being the twin brother of our goddess, Inanna.
Amanda: Inanna! Top ten, man.
Julia: She back.
Amanda: She's great.
Julia: So he's also the god of injustice and morality. So Shamash decides he's going to send Shamat, a temple prostitute, which is an actual role in the temple associated with sexual rite and religious worship, they were a sex worker that would do sex work to appease the gods, basically. A lot of religions tend to be a little slut-shamey with their priestesses and stuff like that, but there was a specific role in the temple that was designated for sex work.
Amanda: And this is the words that are used in the translated, I guess?
Julia: Yes, it is.
Julia: A temple prostitute, I could talk about this a little bit more if we want to, but basically a role in which ritualistic magic or ritual was done through sex.
Julia: Yeah. So he decides to send that woman, Shamat, to sleep with Enkidu. And that is exactly what happens. Six days and seven nights, or two weeks, depending on which scholar translated it, Shamat slept with Enkidu and taught him the ways of civilization. So we're using sex to teach a man about civilization.
Amanda: There's just a lot here, there's just a lot here.
Julia: Yeah, it's basically the gif of John Mulaney going, “Well, we don't have time to unpack all of that ...”
Amanda: That's very true. I do think it's really interesting, though, that this is predicated on justice ... Human justice and governance has failed the people, so they need to reach up to the gods. That's just an interesting worldview, because a lot of the time spirituality is considered to be outside the state, or sometimes spirituality legitimizes and powers the state. So this is really interesting, where maybe ... Obviously I'm just guessing, but maybe the perfect situation is that human beings can take care of their own affairs unless the gods really need to intercede. And in this case, it sounds like they really do.
Julia: There are many instances in history where basically they use the divine right as a reason why either people are overthrown or why a certain person comes into power and someone else loses it. So I think that this is one of those instances where the people are basically relying on the divine right to intercede on their behalf. Which is very, very interesting, I like that a lot. We're gonna have some great conversations about this episode, I can tell already.
When they are done, Shamat takes Enkidu to a shepherd's camp for more civilized man training. It's like, “Now that you've slept with me for about a week, we can take you to other people and you can learn how to be a person.”
Amanda: Man, I don't know, there's just ... Okay, I'm gonna meditate on that.
Julia: So Gilgamesh, up until this point, is unaware of Enkidu. But he's having these weird dreams about how there's a new beloved companion that was to come to him soon.
Julia: And he's like, “That seems strange. You know who I should talk to this about? My mom.” So, upon waking, they have left Gilgamesh intrigued, and so he goes to his mother, Ninsun, to help him understand what the dreams meant. Side note, Ninsun is also a goddess and the reason that Gilgamesh is part god.
So we move on to tablet two, that's all tablet one.
Julia: There are 12 tablets.
Amanda: Lot of exposition, lot of stuff happening.
Julia: There's lots happening here. So we move on to tablet two which opens with Shamat at the shepherd's camp with Enkidu. Enkidu is learning how to, quote, “eat a human diet”, because he's been living in the woods and hunting and gathering, I suppose. So he's been acting as the night watchman for the shepherds as well, and it's at this camp that Enkidu hears about all the shitty things that Gilgamesh has been doing in Uruk. And he is pissed. He is particularly pissed about the lord's right thing.
Amanda: So I guess the gods created and introduced him with a sense of morality, which is awesome, because that seems to be the very thing Gilgamesh is lacking.
Julia: Exactly, I like it. Just instinctively he's like, “This is wrong, and I need to stop it.”
Amanda: I wonder if Mary Shelley was familiar with the Epic of Gilgamesh, because the creature is born without language, without morality, without feeling or love, and learns that over the course of the novella, and then makes his creator, Frankenstein, look immoral and un-human because the creature feels, and loves, and is, and appreciates so much more than his creator did. I'm just seeing echoes here that I think are really interesting.
Julia: That is such an interesting point, and I feel like we should talk about it a little bit more towards the end of the episode.
Amanda: Oh yeah.
Julia: Enkidu, super pissed about the lord's right thing, so he decides to leave the camp angrily and that he's gonna intervene in a wedding in Uruk.
Julia: So, when Gilgamesh arrives at a wedding and tries to enter the bride's bedchamber, Enkidu is there blocking his path.
Amanda: Hell yeah.
Julia: And they fight. It's a very dramatic moment because this once wild man decides he's gonna go ahead and fight the king of the goddamn city over moral issues. So they fight for a while and it's super fierce, but Enkidu acknowledges Gilgamesh's superior strength. Enkidu is just a man, whereas Gilgamesh is still two thirds god, so gonna have that kind of ... more strength there. And strangely enough, in classic man stuff I guess, they become friends.
Amanda: Okay, didn't see that one coming.
Julia: It's like, “Hm, you're stronger than me, I accept that. We're gonna be friends now.” And thus Gilgamesh's dream comes true, because now he's got a brand new friend.
Amanda: Okay. Does he teach him better ways of living?
Julia: Well, their first foray into their friendship, Gilgamesh decides that they need to journey to the nearby cedar forest to slay a demigod.
Amanda: I mean, that's one way to bond. I feel like instead you'd usually, like, go to the mall, but we can do that too.
Julia: The demigod's name is Humbaba, and Gilgamesh wants to kill him in order to gain notoriety and fame. And despite Enkidu and his council of elders telling him this is a bad idea, Gilgamesh insists they go anyway.
Julia: Gilgamesh crushing it, it's all great. Quick side note about Humbaba. In other Mesopotamian stories, Humbaba is the guardian of the forest, not just some terrifying creature. He works with the will of Enlil, who is the storm god. Enlil did tell Humbaba to be a terror to human beings, and it is said that he, quote, “When he looks at someone, it is the look of death,” and “Humbaba's roar is a flood, his mouth is death, and his breath is fire. He can hear 100 leagues away any rustling in his forest.” Who would go down into his forest? The answer is Gilgamesh.
Amanda: This god sounds amazing, and I wanna hang with him, please don't tell me he dies.
Julia: We'll get there, we'll get there, it's all good.
Amanda: All right, listen, I bet there's Epic of Gilgamesh fanfic on A03, so I will just use that to soothe my soul.
Julia: Hey bud, there 100% is.
Amanda: Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah.
Julia: I wanna talk about this probably ... Spoiler alert, this is gonna be two episodes ... I wanna talk about this later in episode two. But Enkidu and Gilgamesh are very much seen as queer-aligned characters.
Julia: We're on tablet three now, somewhat shorter actually. It basically starts with the council of elders giving Gilgamesh advice on his journey, like a council should do, you counsel.
Amanda: True, thank you, doing your jobs.
Julia: Gilgamesh also visits his mother for advice. For her son, Ninsun reaches out to Shamash for protection as he makes his journey. Also, to be safe and gain protection for him as well, Ninsun adopts Enkidu as her own son.
Julia: It's very, very sweet. Imagine your child came home and was like, “Hey Mom, this is my new best friend and we're gonna go on a wild adventure without any protection. Okay, see you later.” You're just like, “No, stop one second, let me adopt this child so he too can be safe.”
Amanda: Man, nothing pulls at my heartstrings like stories of people adopting their kid's friends because they are in need. I think that's just awesome.
Julia: Yeah, this is some straight up Molly Weasley shit.
Amanda: Oh yeah.
Julia: For sure. She's like, “Oh, this child makes my child happy? This is mine now.”
Amanda: The best Weasley for sure.
Julia: “I must protect.”
Amanda: As an oldest child, I'm pretty partial to Bill, and I think his character journey's really interesting, but yeah, I would go Molly, Bill, Charlie, George, Fred ... Fred, George? I'm not gonna take-
Julia: I was gonna say, ooh wow.
Amanda: I'm gonna say Fred/George, I'm not gonna take a stand there. Ginny, Ron, Percy, cool.
Julia: Yeah, all right, I feel it.
Amanda: Arthur's okay, Arthur's in the middle somewhere. All right, moving on.
Julia: Gilgamesh also leaves instructions to the council of elders, basically telling them how to run the city while he's gone. Which is, again, super great ruler, just leaving some people in charge, being like, “Hey, while I'm gone on this really dangerous journey, just assume I'm alive and run the business until I get back.”
Amanda: You know, I'm gonna take it back, I think it's Molly, Ginny, Bill, Charlie, Fred/George, Arthur, Ron, Percy. That's gonna be my ranking.
Julia: I'm glad we established this. Real important to the story of Gilgamesh.
Amanda: I was like ... Sorry, but I didn't want people to think that I don't value Ginny as she is due.
Julia: I appreciate it, it's all right. So yeah, that's tablet three, we're done with that.
Julia: I'm gonna get into the rest of the ... Or at least halfway through our tablets for this episode. But, Amanda, why don't we go ahead and take a refill?
Amanda: Let's do it.
Julia, we are actually gonna be together on Galentine's Day and Valentine's Day as we travel to Portland for our live show, which is very funny and I think it's very suitable.
Julia: There's no one I'd rather spend a romantic day with, Amanda, except for my husband, but ...
Amanda: Yeah, you know, we make sacrifices for our art. But I can think of one way that you can bring the holiday with you, which is with a delicious treat that maybe Jake would buy for you as a little Valentine's Day gift.
Julia: To be fair, I don't have much of a sweet tooth, but Jake loves anything sweet, cookie-related, brownie-related, anything like that, so he would flip if I got him some Mrs. Fields cookies for Valentine's Day, yo.
Amanda: Mrs. Fields is the absolute way to get to someone's heart, which is through their stomach, that's how it's supposed to work. And this Valentine's Day, you could maybe order something, get it sent to the house, have Jake open it when you're not there, it'd be very sweet.
Amanda: But Mrs. Fields is the source for delicious treats. They have chocolate chips, melt-in-your-mouth brownies, I had a blondie that I absolutely loved that I told you about last time. Everything is baked fresh, prepared daily, so they always arrive fresh and flavorful, they're not all preservative BS. It is super easy to order, and they can ship your gift anywhere in the U.S.
Julia: Amanda, did you know that they're doing chocolate covered strawberries for Valentine's Day this year?
Amanda: No. I may have to use our promo code “spirits” for 20% off to get myself some of those, because oh my goodness I love them so much.
Julia: I'm thinking about it now for sure. And like Amanda said, right now you can get 20% off your order when you go to mrsfields.com and enter the promo code “spirits”, that is 20% off any gift for Valentine's Day at mrsfields.com, promo code “spirits”.
Amanda: That's mrsfields.com, promo code “spirits”. Thank you.
Julia: So you know that 2019, in my mind, is 20-fight-teen, the year that-
Amanda: Oh, I sure do.
Julia: The year that Julia's going to learn how to professional wrestle. It's true, I'm doing it, it's very, very cool. But you know what's been really helping me, both with staying active and my recovery? It's been Care/of.
Amanda: Ooh, Care/of, tell me what that's all about.
Julia: Care/of is a monthly subscription vitamin service that delivers completely personalized vitamin and supplement packs right to your door. You get a 30-day subscription, they get 30 little packs that are stacked up in a little box that gets sent right to your house, and it's absolutely fantastic. I've made the decision, “2019 is gonna be my year to get healthy and fit, and also be able to throw dudes over my shoulders.”
Amanda: That is the most important reason to pursue any fitness regime.
Julia: Yeah. So I set out and I built a vitamin routine that was designed to help me recovery from my workouts, increase my energy, get my sleep back in order, and it was really easy because Care/of has this fun online quiz that asks you about your diet, your health goals, your lifestyle choices, and it only takes like five minutes to do, and then you get a personalized pack of vitamins based on what you're looking for. They're just like, “Oh yeah, you seem like you need some Vitamin D, here you go, Vitamin D.”
Amanda: I think most people could use Vitamin D, but that sounds really great. It's one thing to walk to a drug store and look at all the options and be like, “I don't know,” but having someone help guide your purchases sounds like a really, really good idea. And those little tiny packets, so cute.
Julia: They have little inspirational quotes on them too.
Amanda: Oh man.
Julia: And I will say, when I was taking the quiz and when they made the supplement suggestions for me, you could click through to articles to read the science behind why these things are good for the thing that they're suggesting it for.
Amanda: That's awesome.
Julia: So I really, really liked it.
Amanda: Well, if you wanna try Care/of, you can go to takecareof.com and enter the code “spirits50” for 50% off your first month of personalized Care/of vitamins.
Julia: So go to takecareof.com and enter the promo code “spirits50” for 50% off your first month.
Amanda: Thanks so much. Now let's get back to the show.
Julia: All right, tablet four. We are heading to the Cedar Forest, which, by the way, I forgot to mention this earlier, it's not just a cedar forest, the Cedar Forest is the realm of the gods.
Amanda: Oh boy.
Julia: Forgot to mention that before. So our boys, they're just gonna go head to the realm of the gods to kill a demigod.
Amanda: I feel like this is definitely the tablet subtitled “Cedar Drift”.
Julia: This is the Tokyo Drift of the Gilgamesh franchise.
Amanda: It is, and it smells really good.
Julia: It smells delicious. Gonna go kill that demigod in the realm of the gods, cool, fine, totally okay.
Amanda: Okay, whatever, bond however you need to. Masculinity's hard.
Julia: Definitely something we should be doing. So the Cedar Forest is located to the east of Uruk. The speculated real-world location of the Cedar Forest is probably the Zagros Mountains in Iran, modern-day Iran. As they travel, they camp and every few days they perform this dream ritual, basically so they can kind of have foresight into how the journey is going to go.
They perform it five times, and Gilgamesh has five completely horrifying dreams. They feature falling mountains, thunderstorms, wild bulls, a huge bird that breathes fire. And now these themes and imagery are all super similar to how Humbaba is described. But Enkidu is like, “Hey man, it's all good. Falling mountains? Thunderstorms? That just means we're gonna go and kick some butt.”
Amanda: I don't think so.
Julia: Gilgamesh is like, “I don't know about that, I'm not entirely sure.” But Enkidu's like, “How could it be about Humbaba? It's fine, we're gonna kill him, it's all good.” So basically he tells Gilgamesh that he's worrying too much. Like a good friend, he tells you, “Your anxiety is nothing to worry about,” and your feelings are invalidated.
Amanda: I mean, except for when it is something to worry about.
Julia: I think in this situation the anxiety is well-placed.
Amanda: It's not even anxiety, it's just a logical conclusion from the data you're receiving from, I don't know, your divine dreams.
Julia: I don't know, maybe. So they finally make their way to the Cedar Forest, and as they approach the edge they can hear Humbaba bellowing from below. Because again, like we said, he can hear anyone in his forest from 100 leagues away. So the tablet ends with the two men assuring each other that everything will be fine and they should not be afraid.
Amanda: This is a great epic poem, lots of ups and downs here.
Julia: So they head into the forest, and immediately of course they run into Humbaba. Just find your target right off the bat. It's like when you enter ... In a video game, when you enter a certain area, and all of a sudden the music hits and you're like, “Aw shit, I'm getting the boss level right away.”
Amanda: I thought you were gonna say in laser tag where somebody employs the age-old strategy of just fading back a little bit right outside the entrance, and then they can go after you.
Julia: I haven't played laser tag in so long, we should do a multitude outing of laser tag.
Amanda: That would be awesome, there's a place in Queens.
Julia: I was gonna say, there's probably some really good places in New York. Run into Humbaba, the demigod throws insults at them and threatens them immediately. First interaction, it's like, “Yo, by the way, y'all suck.”
Amanda: I'm gonna establish my dominance with my words first.
Julia: Which is funny, because he's like a monstrous demigod, but let's throw insults instead. So he even accuses Enkidu of betrayal, basically alluding to the fact that Enkidu had been chosen by the gods to challenge Gilgamesh.
Julia: He also lets Gilgamesh know that he's planning to disembowel him and feed his body to the birds.
Amanda: I mean, yeah, seems like a fitting end.
Julia: Gilgamesh is rightly afraid, but Enkidu encourages him and the fight between the king and the demigod begins. During the battle, it is so violent that the mountains shook and the sky itself turned black.
Julia: That's how epic this battle is. When things begin to look bleak for Gilgamesh, Shamash comes through like he promised. He sends 13 winds to bind Humbaba, capturing him.
So Gilgamesh kinda starts to pity Humbaba, who's captured at this point, and he's pleading for his life, and he offers to make Gilgamesh the king of the forest, to be his servant, to cut down the sacred cedar trees for him. But Enkidu is basically like, “Hey, that's nice and all, but if you kill him you'll have notoriety forever.”
Amanda: No, why'd this guy stray from the path? The gods made you.
Julia: And this pisses Humbaba off, and he curses the two men, and Gilgamesh kills him with a blow to the neck.
Amanda: Oh no.
Julia: Basically making the decision for Gilgamesh.
Julia: And those cedar trees that Humbaba offered to cut down for them, Gilgamesh and Enkidu do themselves.
Julia: They build a raft to take them home down the Euphrates, and Enkidu reserves one for himself so that he can create a gate for the temple of Enlil. It's not mentioned exactly why he chooses to build a gate for Enlil for his temple, but I'm assuming that it's because Enkidu is tied to Enlil, and also because they slayed Humbaba who was created by Enlil and in his service, Enkidu wants to make sure to honor that god and win back his favor.
Amanda: The one smart decision that's been made this whole freaking bonding trip.
Julia: Thanks for making good decisions for once.
So now the heroes have managed to do the big fight, win the battle, return home, so you would think that would be the end of things, right?
Amanda: I think we're only on tablet four.
Julia: Yeah, there are ... Well we're on tablet five, but they got seven tablets left, this is not the end of the story, we are at the halfway point, buds.
Amanda: That is the one advantage to eBooks, which is when you're reading and you're like, “Oh, seems like we're done. Oh no.” You're not halfway through the book conspicuously on your lap, where you're like, “Well, clearly things can't be right, this can't be the right fork in the path to take because there is still half of this book left.”
Julia: There's so much left here, oh no. So we're gonna touch on tablet six, which is where we're up to, because things were not chill when they got back to Uruk.
Amanda: Oh no.
Julia: Gilgamesh returns home only to be approached by our girl, Inanna.
Amanda: What does she say?
Julia: Inanna, as we remember, is the goddess of love and sexuality, but also civilization and war. Badass lady, we love her. But she heard what was going on and what happened to Humbaba, and so she propositions Gilgamesh. But Gilgamesh rejects her, knowing that she's mistreated her lovers in the past. As you can remember with her husband, Dumuzi, who did not mourn her when she apparently died, she had demons drag him down to the underworld to replace her.
Amanda: Oh, I remember. Well, Gilgamesh, sounds like a freaking double standard, my guy.
Julia: So Inanna is rightfully pissed, and so she goes to her father to have him send the Bull of Heaven to avenge her, since Gilgamesh's slight is egregious. It is not good, you don't do that to a goddess, that's fucked up.
Amanda: The Bull of Heaven sounds great, though.
Julia: Yeah. Her father, Anu, disagrees, and rejects her demands for vengeance, and Inanna, still being the goddess of death and all, threatens to raise the dead so that they outnumber the living and will begin to devour them.
Amanda: I feel like this is Inanna's favorite threat. Didn't she do this when her husband-
Julia: No, that's Izanami and Izanagi.
Amanda: Oh, shit. Well, anyway, they're learning from each other because this is a great threat.
Julia: So basically she's like, “Yo, I'm gonna bring some zombies up here.” We have zombie lore in this Mesopotamian/Sumerian myth.
Julia: How cool is that?
Amanda: Who needs The Odyssey?
Julia: This scares Anu, and he yields to his daughter, and Inanna takes the Bull of Heaven to Uruk. He promptly wrecks the place, basically like that scene with the Titans at the end of Disney's Hercules.
Amanda: Don't remember, but I believe you.
Julia: Oh, Amanda, no.
Amanda: I watched it once when I was like nine.
Julia: We gotta rewatch it, we could do it for the patrons, that would be nice.
Amanda: I know, we should.
Julia: All right, so she also manages to dry up the Euphrates, killing the crops and ruining the marshes, and causing a sinkhole that swallows 300 men.
Julia: Yeah, this is intense. Inanna's fury is not to be dealt with.
Amanda: And very ... Embody isn't the right word, but very placed in the geography. We're hearing a lot about the settings of all of these myths, and that to me always makes it feel so much more real.
Julia: Gilgamesh and Enkidu just got back, and now they have to deal with this bullshit. Get it? Bull, bullshit? Bull of Heaven?
So they do, of course, manage to deal with this bullshit, and they slay the Bull of Heaven on their own, offering its heart up to Shamash. Inanna witnesses this whole thing and begins to go into a rage, which Enkidu answers by tossing the Bull's butt at her. The story says hindquarters, but it's the Bull's butt. He cuts off the Bull's butt and just throws it at Inanna.
Amanda: I mean, okay. I see how it's insulting, if not particularly effective.
Julia: Inanna leaves, and the city of Uruk celebrates because wow, their king saved them, and seems like less of a dick than usual. That's pretty nice.
Amanda: For the average person, sinkhole aside, things are kinda looking up.
Julia: Yeah. So, awesome. But the tablet ends, not with celebrations and festivities, but with the fact that Enkidu has an ominous dream about his future while the rest of the city feasts and celebrates.
Amanda: Ooh, what a good mid-act break.
Julia: I will say, we're gonna pause the episode, don't worry. We're gonna be back in two weeks for the second half of the Epic of Gilgamesh. It involves some death, a trip to the Underworld, and more of our favorite goddess.
Amanda: I feel like I really do need this break, because there is so much to think about and unpack with just the first half, and I definitely wanna mull on that a little bit before we figure out what happens next.
Julia: Okay, absolutely. Let's talk a little bit more about those Frankenstein comparisons that you were seeing, because I think that's really, really interesting given that Enkidu is almost a Gollum-esque creature in that all of the hopes of the gods are put upon him but he still becomes his own person, and is basically ... I won't say corrupted by Gilgamesh, but his sense of morality shifts from sleeping with Shamat, and also meeting Gilgamesh and then fighting with him and spending this great journey with him and then coming back.
Amanda: Yeah, and that I think is the aspect that reminds me most of Frankenstein, because Frankenstein's creature is really just looking for love and acceptance. And his creator, Frankenstein, doesn't want to give that to him, he doesn't wanna give him language, he doesn't want to teach him and make him companionship and be there for him. The creature is really rejected. There's lots of ways to interpret this, but my reading was always that Frankenstein wanted to see if he could do this as a personal accomplishment, but didn't think about what he was creating.
So I'm hearing similarities, too, where Enkidu wants to be his own person, he's almost overcome with the joy of recognition and friendship and acceptance, and so his loyalties will shift to the person who is giving him the most. And it sounds like the gods created him but maybe didn't necessarily get that involved in his upbringing.
Julia: Right. Because they sent a surrogate in their place, in the form of Shamat. Being almost a little hands-off with it. It becomes kind of a weird nature versus nurture conversation, which is problematic in its own sense, the nature versus nurture argument is a little bit ridiculous. But the idea that, “Oh, we can take this clean slate of a man who has never experienced civilization before and turn him into something that is going to fight our battles for us,” is such an interesting concept, you know what I mean?
Amanda: Yeah, but individuals are individuals. People have will, and they have desires, and they're susceptible to flattery and the real draw of companionship.
Julia: Yeah. Human beings are corruptible in a lot of ways. The right outside influences can completely change a person, no matter what their upbringing was or where they came from.
Amanda: Yeah, and most of the time what people need is love, acceptance, empathy, understanding, and that can often, or should at least, have the chance to redeem a person.
Julia: So do you think that, say, if the gods had had more of a hands-on approach with Enkidu, do you think that he probably would have become more of the champion that they wanted to? He wouldn't have gotten corrupted by Gilgamesh in that way?
Amanda: I don't know, I feel like my story-reading brain wants the answer to be that, if they had given him a choice instead of just giving him a mission, then he would have better understood. They obviously sent an emissary to try to educate him and contextualize him in the world, but it feels like they never really expected him to do anything except for accept his mission.
So I'm probably just reading individualistic, post-Freudian character analysis into this, but listen, that's what we're here for. And I think you can have a birthright, but being able to at least have the feeling of choice is really necessary.
Julia: This is interesting to me, because the assumption is Enkidu wasn't completely civilized yet. Shamat had taken him to the shepherds' camp so that he could learn to interact with people more, but he ends up, before he's finished his quote-unquote “training”, hears about Gilgamesh and the shit that he's doing in Uruk, and takes off in the middle of the night.
So my thing is, would Enkidu, would the path be different if he had finished his training and gotten the actual full mission that the gods wanted him to have, rather than just his own moral compass setting him off and telling him, “Oh no, I need to go and I need to make this right now.”
Amanda: Yeah, it sounds like it. But that's the kind of irony and tragedy of it, is that he was so enthusiastic that he ends up compromising his own mission.
Julia: Yeah, I just find that so interesting, the idea of the incomplete hero. It's like ... I'm gonna do a Star Wars thing real quick ... It's like when Luke finds out that Han and Leia are in trouble so he leaves his training with Yoda before he's completely trained as a Jedi. That's such a good comparison.
Amanda: No, it's really true. That to me was the experience of adolescence and being a teen also, where I felt like, “Okay, yes, can we fast forward through all this stuff to the point where I can do what I need to do, what I know that I want to do?” I felt like a full person, I felt like I had the agency, and yet I know that being forced to sit through all that, what felt like bullshit, really ... Now I'm gonna just think of throwing a bull's butt forever whenever I say that word, thank you ...
Julia: You're welcome.
Amanda: But no, I felt like I was so eager that, if I could have, I would have zoomed right out of my life at 14 to live an adult life. But that wouldn't have given me the grounding and patience and understanding of myself that going all the way through high school gave me.
Julia: Yeah, there's a certain wisdom that comes with a lived experience, and it's very clear from how quickly Enkidu's values change that he doesn't have that lived experience, and he kinda rushed into things and it's only made matters worse for him.
Amanda: Yeah, and it sounds like he also wanted companionship. Being raised in solitude is hard, and again, another line between Frankenstein and Gilgamesh, the Epic of Gilgamesh, if I were to read this story, I would think and wonder how he felt growing up in that forest alone, and then meeting this woman who represents and is from a completely different situation. It must feel like your whole ... Think of that hero's journey, it's such an interesting inciting incident, and I can definitely understand how ...
I'm sure people have written fascinating speculative fiction about this throughout history. But that, to me, is the problem and the question of Frankenstein's creature, is what happens when you grow larger than your circumstances? What happens when a plan that you make only thinking of yourself ends up having consequences way beyond what you could imagine?
Julia: Yeah, and you bring up Shamat as an emissary. It's really interesting to me because I think that, from a historical perspective, we don't see that kind of connection between sex and religion to often. It's very much sanitized nowadays.
Amanda: Right, just based on the narrative that ended up becoming dominant.
Julia: Right. But I'm kinda struck by, and this is kind of a weird pull ... You've seen Firefly, right Amanda?
Julia: The character that is played by ... I'm gonna forget the actress' name and also the character's name ... But basically the trained sex worker ...
Amanda: Her name is Inara.
Julia: Oh, it is Inara. Aw, Inara. So Inara's character is very much a diplomatic character, but they use sex as diplomacy, which is very interesting to me because I think that it's something that we don't consider nowadays, especially from a western culture, but is something that I think was used much more in other cultures that aren't predominantly white.
Amanda: But yeah, I'm sure people much more trained than us in these topics could have a career's worth of conversations about them, and people have before. But just relating to my experience, because that's the thing I have at the end of the day to see the world through, that was the experience of starting to have sex for me. It is such a ...
It was world-opening in a way, being able to be the most vulnerable that you can be with somebody else, and really be forced to see the world from their perspective or to realize, “Oh wow, wait, if I'm feeling all these feelings, so is somebody else.” I don't know, it was a layer of growing up that I don't mean to imply is mandatory, is not required to be a full person.
Julia: No, of course not.
Amanda: But in my particular experience, I definitely see it as a chapter in my journey of becoming an adult, seeing the world differently, seeing other people differently.
Julia: Which absolutely fits in with Enkidu's situation, I think. The whole aspect of Shamat's role in the story, to teach civilization through sex, is such ... I read that and I was like, “Oh, that is so interesting.” That's not something that would ever really play into my mind, but once it's established in there, once it's ingrained in there, it makes absolute sense to me, you know what I mean?
Amanda: It's almost ironic too, because the term civilization is so loaded, but so often societal rules are mostly about or are based on the policing of sex, and who gets to have it and who doesn't, who gets to decide what's right and wrong and what's owed and legal and illegal. The fact that this is ... It's just so unexpected to me, that sex would be, not just an accepted and integrated part of religious worship or of diplomacy, but also that it's a way to ... It's not viewed as animalistic, it's viewed as having structure and value and a way to impart the lessons of a society to someone who grew up without them.
Julia: I will say, in reference to how we use the term civilization and civilized in the context of the Mesopotamian and Sumerian stories, we did talk about how basically civilization and city-building came to be in these cultures in the Inanna episode. So if you haven't listened to that one, please go ahead and listen to it, it's a really fascinating story and it kind of gives the context of what we're talking about with civilization and civilized in the terms of the Epic of Gilgamesh.
Amanda: I feel like this is Spirits 3.0, where we can build on the context we've learned in our initial 119 episodes to inform more detailed discussions of these cultures and myths.
Julia: And that's the goal of the podcast, is to be able to build a substantial understanding of these cultures so that we can have conversations like these.
Amanda: Yeah, through our own studies, through experts, through other people's voices. This is what we're here for.
Julia: Yeah. It's all about the lens, baby.
Amanda: All right, well I feel like I will be waiting on tenterhooks until we get to part two, but ... Wow, I'm so curious for listeners, if you grew up with this as a text that you studied at home, at school, or just in your cultural milieu, please let us know what you think and link us to any writings or interpretations that you really enjoy. I have a feeling that I'm gonna be reading about Gilgamesh's broader world for a long time to come.
Julia: I'm very excited for it. Yes, please send those things to us, and remember, listeners, to stay creepy.
Amanda: Stay cool