FOREWORD

Those who are interested in such things as epics are likely to know that The Epic of Gilgamesh "is, perhaps, the oldest written story on Earth. It comes to us from Ancient Sumeria, and was originally written on 12 clay tablets in cunieform script," the Academy for Ancient Texts avers on its Web page. "It is about the adventures of the historical King of Uruk [Erech, modern Iraq] (somewhere between 2750 and 2500 BCE)." In fact, however, it is an amalgamation of two stories, the older having to do with the adventures of a most likely mythological person named "Enkidu," and the second about an ancient King of Erech.

Over the course of no one knows how many centuries, the two tales of Enkidu and Gilgamesh became intertwined and it is in this form that Gilgamesh has come down to us in various versions and languages. In order to blend the earlier tale of Enkidu with the later doings of Gilgamesh, apparently in order to ascribe to the latter many of the feats of the former, the pair came to be seen as in some essential ways twins, even to the point where they look alike, for the King is a bit taller, it seems, and his close companion Enkidu shorter and broader.

What I have attempted to do here is to cut away from the Gilgamesh epic those actions and events that can quite clearly be ascribed to the older Enkidu and to write his own tale in the manner of the author of the anonymous Medieval epic titled Gawain and the Green Knight, that is to say, in cantos of the strong-stress metric line called Anglo-Saxon prosody with appended five-line accentual-syllabic metrical tails called "bobs-and-wheels."

I do not claim to have restored the Enkidu epic, nor am I writing history: I am still writing fiction, like the original author(s), and I could not absolutely separate Gilgamesh and his companion. What I do claim is that I have given back to Enkidu what pretty clearly is his tale, and I hope I have written it in a comprehensible and interesting way for modern audiences.

My sources are few and select. I used primarily An Old Babylonian Version of the Gilgamesh Epic, etc., by Morris Jastrow Jr., and Albert T. Clay, New Haven: Yale, 1920, supplemented by "Monsters from Mesopotamia," an illustrated essay by Robert Lebling, in my favorite periodical of many years' standing, Saudi Aramco World, Vol. 63, No. 4, July-August 2012, which gave me the idea for my endeavor.

Lewis Turco
October 14, 2013



PROLOGUE

From a clump of clay   Aruru created
The hero Enkidu,   molded him
In the image of Anu.   God of the Sky,
Free as a fawn   in the forest of cedars,
Noble offspring    of the host of Ninib.
She threw him into   an open meadow
Among the beasts   where he would be
One of them,   fully feral,
Hirsute and bearded   like the awns of barley,
Built to be   a mighty warrior.
Enkidu knew   neither folk nor land,
But like the gazelles   browsed on herbs,
Drank his fill,   delighting his heart
                                                      at the flowing spring,
                                bathing in its balm,
                                        beneath the cedars sleeping
                                in dreamless dark and calm
                                        where there is no weeping.



CANTO I: NIMROD AND LILITU

Nimrod entered   the fertile forest
And found the traps   that he had dug
Had all been filled   with soil and scrub;
That all the springes    he had set
Had been sprung,   had trapped no game.
He wondered who   it was had dealt
So meanly with   his weal and fare -
Then he saw   the wolf-man
Hairy and naked    among the herds
Like one of them,   lion-strong,
Panther-quick,   quiet afoot!
Nimrod stood   to draw his bow,
But with a roar   Enkidu saw him,
Began to attack,   wild as a werewolf,
But when he saw    the hairless creature
Standing before him   Enkidu stopped,
To stare, astonished,   at this wonder,
 then stood in sorrow,
                                    in agony and woe
                                             to see this man aglow
                                    with manliness as though
                                             he were godlike crown to toe.

Enkidu knew    now he was naked
And Nimrod clothed.    He understood
And cried aloud    at his condition,
Compared it with   Nimrod's grace.
Never had he   known his shame
Before this day,   only the brutish
Beasts of woodland   and savannah.
He paused a moment   then turned and ran.
Nimrod could not   overtake him,
Returned instead   upon his steed
Safely home    to his sire Cush,
Grandson of Noah,  the Flood's sailor
And survivor.   When he arrived
He said, "Father,  I have found
What it was   that tore my nets
And foiled me there   in the cedar forest --
The greatest beast    beneath the sun;
                                                        he looks much like a man,
                                             but moves upon four feet
                                                      and covers a greater span
                                             than the cheetah, quick and fleet,
                                                           or the prideful lion can.

Cush replied,    "Go, my son,
Take with you    a courtesan,
She who is best,   most beautiful
Among the hetaera   who are for hire.
Return to the woodland   and wait for him
To appear again   among the herds
Who gather to drink   at the fluid spring.  
When he comes forth   to slake his thirst
She must shed   her mantle to show
Her beauteous body.   He shall espy her
Be entranced,  approach and embrace her.
                                                                         When he does
                                             the beasts shall all forsake him,
                                                      both the bucks and ewes,
                                             those that fly and swim--
                                                      if he calls, all will refuse."

Nimrod procured   the prostitute
Cush had advised:  Lilitu  
Was her name.   He ventured forth
With her to return   to his traps and woods.
Three days they wended   their way abroad,
Until at last   they found the forest,
Waited in the cedars'    silence and shade.
A pair of days   passed till the beasts
Came to slake   their thirst at the spring,
And with them Enkidu   to delight his heart
With laving water.   There the doxy
Beheld the lusty   desert-monster.
"He is the one,   my bountiful beauty,"
Nimrod said.   "Show him your comeliness,
That loveliness   which he may possess.
Reveal your body   in all its glory,
Let him be ravished   when his eyes' arrows
Fall upon you.   Free your mantle
From your flesh;   ply him with ploys
And the wiles of woman.    Let him clasp you
To his breast."   The girl was shameless.
She loosened her mantle.   Enkidu came
Straightway to clasp her,   to ravish her.
He took her there   in rapture rare.
The sweet Lilitu   lay laughing,
Kissed his face    and fondled him;
Enkidu gladly   welcomed her kindness,
Admired her garb,   her glorious hair,
Faultless features    and radiant hue.
Gladness arose    out of his heart.
Lilitu shaved   Enkidu's body,
Braided his beard   and combed his hair.
                                                        Again and again they mated,
                                    six days and a final night,
                                             until the lust was sated
                                    in him. His herds took flight -
                                             there were no beasts that waited.

From the depths of dream   Enkidu awakened,
Fought his way    from the fens of slumber,
Rose fleetly    to attend his fate
In ecstasies   of blissful song.
"Handsome Enkidu,   like a god are you!
Why with the cattle    do you roam?
Come, arise   from this cursed forest
And we will journey    to walled Erech."
Enkidu had lost   his innocence,
Achieved the growth   of his true manhood,
Broadened his wisdom.   He sat at the feet
Of this woman who scanned   his face and eyes.
"Up!" she said, "up!   Away to Erech
To the temple of Anu,   the altar of Ishtar!
There you shall meet    your doppelgänger,
Gilgamesh   who rules like an aurochs.
I will summon him,   challenge him boldly.
Cry through Erech,   'Here is he
Who is mighty also,   who will alter fate,
Born in the desert. His vigor is greatest.'
Enkidu, come!   Erech is waiting
Where people array   themselves in attire
Gay and festive,   each day a revel,
The eunuch priests   clash their cymbals,
Dancing houris   are gleeful and wanton -
They keep the nobles   out of their divans!
Come, Enkidu,   love life fully,
Taste its sweets,   Erech awaits
As does its ruler,   great Gilgamesh,
                                                               your mirror image,
                                             mightiest warrior living,
                                                      full of pride and courage,
                                             yet generous and giving.
                                                      No longer need you forage."