Home > 4. Gilgamesh > Audience Gifts from Tablet VIII

Audience Gifts from Tablet VIII

As the completion of Tablet VIII looms ever closer, it’s time for me to keep my promise and post an excerpt from the material. I’ve chosen the list of audience gifts (that is, burial goods) included in Enkidu’s tomb.

The list, which has been only partially reconstructed, is important not only for the individual items it lists, but also for the light it sheds on ancient attitudes towards death. In ancient Sumer,  one’s position in the afterlife very much depended on the tribute one received from the living; Hell, as Heaven, was a reflection of our earthly existence, and Gilgamesh’s concern with eternal fame was for him necessary if he was to continue receiving the sacrifices of material goods that ensured his well-being in the House of Dust. Then, as  now, our conduct in life was largely responsible for our fate in death.

And here it is, sections iv and v from Tablet VIII, the audience-gifts:


iv. Possessions of the Dead


When two weeks had passed since Enkidu’s death,

a worm dropped out of the rotting cadaver’s nose.

Sickened, the king resolved to master his dread,

entomb the body swiftly and with singular respect.

He must prepare Enkidu, convey him with rich gifts.

Gilgamesh could no longer delay his friend’s funeral.


Gilgamesh opened, ransacked his cavernous treasury;

he broke the seal and entered the enormous vault.

There were stored the booty of his many campaigns

and tribute from peoples far-distant and wealthy.

He selected the rarest luxuries for the departed,

items to win him honor and advantage in the shadows:


Gems unmatched, the most precious he provided—

carnelian, turquoise, agate, ruby, lapis lazuli,

pearls, quartz—all these he gave to his friend.

Neither did he keep back the most valuable gold,

reject objects useful for comfort and idleness,

begrudge objects needful for status and esteem:


   Ten rings of gold he gave his companion,

   a mask of the departed’s face in red gold,

   A belt of silver superbly worked and fitted,

   ten cups of glass rimmed with mountain rubies,

   a couch of oak, its cushions of fine wool:

   All these he gave with thanks to Enkidu.


   A dagger of obsidian, its shaft of bone;

   An axe of bronze, its handle ebony;

   A bow of polished ash, its grip of rope;

   A quiver of ostrich hide holding fifty arrows;

   A shield of five skins, studded with bronze:

   All these and more he gave with gratitude.


   An ostrich egg in gold; a lyre of wood and bone;

   A bull and a ram carved in oak and cedar,

     each with eyes of shell and lazurite, golden horns;

   Two snakes of wisdom, their teeth of crystal;

   A bear in filigree, its eyes of topaz:

   All these he dedicated with heartfelt tears.


v. Offerings for the Great


For the Morningstar:

For the radiant Queen Inanna:

   A javelin of boxwood, sleek and polished,

   pointed with bronze, gold, and copper.

The javelin he presented to the Sun, saying,

“May the Queen of Stars accept this javelin,

cherish and guide my friend.”


For the Queen of Dusk:

For Ereshkigal, Ruler of the Dead:

   A flask of lapis lazuli,

   patterned with gold, stopped with glass.

The flask he presented to his Champion, saying,

“May the blessed Ereshkigal accept this flask,

instruct and guard my friend.”


For the Shepherd:

For gentle Dumuzi, beloved of the Night:

   A slender flute of carnelian,

   its music sweet and wistful—

Presented to Utu the Hero:

“May Dumuzi accept this flute,

serenade and refresh my friend.”


For the Great Steward:

For wise Namtar, Steward of the Dead,

   A headman’s chair in silver;

   A staff of polished olivewood—

Presented to Utu the Just:

“May Namtar accept the chair and staff,

guide and guard my friend.”


For the Lady of Winnows:

For Qassu-Tabat, who holds the Flail of Death,

   A golden necklace, its clasp of silver,

   A silver bracelet with bangles also—

and to Utu the Great Friend:

“May Qassu-Tabat, the exalted, accept these gifts,

receive and esteem my friend.”


For the Lady of Rakes:

For Ninshuluhha, who cleans the House of Death,

   A chest of alabaster, inlaid with serpentine,

   its top patterned with sodalite and coral.

and to Utu the Far-Seeing:

“May Ninshuluhha the humble accept this chest,

acknowledge and honor my friend.”


For the Attendants and Guardians:

To many others in the House of Death

Gilgamesh offered gifts:

   Hushbisha the Stewardess, Bibbu the Butcher,

   Urmahlullu, the lion-centaur, Neti, the gate-keeper:

each received a proper present, an offering

to earn Enkidu good-will.


For the Gods Gilgamesh prepared the richest meat;

he slaughtered the fattest ox, the tender lamb;

he piled up the sizzling cuts for their feasting.

The Sun inspected, sampled the food, blessed it.

The priests of his several temples came at dusk,

carried the offering to the rulers of the Dead.


© 2011, Eric Quinn


Photo: Golden Funeral Mask from the Svetitsata  Tumulus (King Teres); National Archaeological Museum, Sofia; WikiCmns; CC 2; Author: Ann Wuyts.

  1. mj
    May 28, 2012 at 6:12 am

    thanks for this most enlightening post. It not only enlightens it is also very aesthetically presented – a great read indeed!

  2. November 4, 2014 at 9:25 am

    Clear, so the imagery stands out like jewels. Lovely stuff!

    • November 6, 2014 at 2:06 am

      shl: thanks for the encouragement. this passage currently is the only one not finished in tablet 8; the gifts have continued to change as i’ve read up on ancient middle eastern funeral rites, and the verbal music has gotten more intricate, in keeping with the subject matter. i am currently trying to give tablet 5 a similar polish, but am finding the monster more difficult to visualize than i had anticipated. RT

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