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KES Classical Society

Achilles & Gilgamesh
4th November 2010

Iliad tr. Samuel Butler
Gilgamesh tr. Andrew George (Penguin 1999)

The 'Epic of Gilgamesh'
Sumerian legends > Akkadian epic
(“standard version”)
Written in cuneiform script
Collected & 'edited' onto 12 clay tablets,
by Sin-liqe-unninni, 1,300-1,000 BC
Found in library of Ashurbanipal (C7th BC),
at Nineveh
Known in editions by 'incipit':
'He who Saw the Deep' (Sha naqba īmuru)
'Surpassing All Other Kings' (Shūtur eli sharrī)
Gilgamesh a real king? (2,500s BC?)
Uruk, Mesopotamia

Akkad & Sumer, Mesopotamia (modern Iraq)
cities of Uruk & Nineveh

Influence of 'Gilgamesh'...
Martin West (1997) The East Face of Helicon (Oxford), Ch.7, 334-47
“... a man of abnormally emotional temperament, with a solicitous goddess
for a mother and a comrade to whom he is devoted, is devastated by the latter's
death and plunges into a new course of action in an unbalanced state of mind,
eventually to recover his equilibrium... [a] heroic man brought face to face
with issues of life and death, railing against mortality but coming to understand
and accept it” 338
“... the Iliad is primarily about Achilles, that splendid, doomed figure who stands
out above the rest... μῆνις... tearful self-pity... fretful longing... overwhelming
grief... implacable fury... It is this suite of emotions and mood-changes
that gives the Iliad its basic structural unity” 334

Homer's Iliad
'Oral' tradition of poetry
Presumes knowledge of myths in the 'Trojan cycle'; alludes to 'Theban cycle' warriors
of previous generation (Diomede < Tydeus).
Oral dictated(?) text? (Lord, Janko)

1. Goddess-Mothers
... αὐτὰρ Ἀχιλλεὺς
δακρύσας ἑτάρων ἄφαρ ἕζετο νόσφι λιασθείς,
θῖν᾿ ἔφ᾿ ἁλὸς πολιῆς, ὁρόων ἐπ᾿ ἀπείρονα πόντον·
πολλὰ δὲ μητρὶ φίλῃ ἠρήσατο χεῖρας ὀρεγνύς·
Μῆτερ, ἐπεί μ᾿ ἔτεκές γε μινυνθάδιόν περ ἐόντα...
Then Achilles went all alone by the side of the hoar sea,
weeping and looking out upon the boundless waste of waters.
He raised his hands in prayer to his immortal mother,
"Mother," he cried, "you bore me doomed to live but for a little season...”
Iliad 1.348-52

[Enkidu] had not fallen where men do battle, the Netherworld had seized him!
Then the goddess Ninsun's son went weeping for his servant, Enkidu,
he went off alone to Ekur, the house of Enlil...
Gilgamesh 12.54-6

Ὤ μοι, τέκνον ἐμόν, τί νύ σ᾿ ἔτρεφον αἰνὰ τεκοῦσα;
αἴθ᾿ ὄφελες παρὰ νηυσὶν ἀδάκρυτος καὶ ἀπήμων 415
ἧσθαι, ἐπεί νύ τοι αἶσα μίνυνθά περ οὔ τι μάλα δήν·
νῦν δ᾿ ἅμα τ᾿ ὠκύμορος καὶ ὀϊζυρὸς περὶ πάντων
ἔπλεο· τώ σε κακῇ αἴσῃ τέκον ἐν μεγάροισι.
Thetis wept and answered, "My son, woe is me that I should have borne or suckled you. Would indeed
that you had lived your span free from all sorrow at your ships, for it is all too brief; alas, that you should
be at once short of life and long of sorrow above your peers: woe, therefore, was the hour in which I
bore you...”
Iliad 1.414-8

Scattering incense, [Ninsun] lifted her arms in appeal to the Sun God:
“Why did you afflict my son Gilgamesh with so restless a spirit?
For now you have touched him he will tread
the distant path to the home of Humbaba.
He will face a battle he knows not,
he will ride a road he knows not...”
Gilgamesh 3.44-50

2. “hadi-u' a amelu” - The 'Depressive' Hero
μῆτερ ἐμή, τὰ μὲν ἄρ μοι Ὀλύμπιος ἐξετέλεσσεν·
ἀλλὰ τί μοι τῶν ἦδος ἐπεὶ φίλος ὤλεθ᾽ ἑταῖρος
Πάτροκλος, τὸν ἐγὼ περὶ πάντων τῖον ἑταίρων
ἶσον ἐμῇ κεφαλῇ; τὸν ἀπώλεσα...
Achilles groaned and answered, "Mother, Olympian Jove has indeed vouchsafed me the fulfilment of
my prayer, but what boots it to me, seeing that my dear comrade Patroclus has fallen- he whom I valued
more than all others, and loved as dearly as my own life? I have lost him...
Iliad 18.79-82

Said Gilgamesh to her, to the tavern-keeper:
“Why should me cheeks not be hollow, my face not sunken,
my mood not wretched, my visage not wasted...
... my friend, whom I loved so dear,
who with me went through every danger...
... the doom of mortals overtook him.
Six days I wept for him and seven nights...”
Gilgamesh 10.46-8, 55-6, 57-9

αὐτίκα τεθναίην, ἐπεὶ οὐκ ἄρ᾽ ἔμελλον ἑταίρῳ
κτεινομένῳ ἐπαμῦναι· ὃ μὲν μάλα τηλόθι πάτρης
ἔφθιτ᾽, ἐμεῖο δὲ δῆσεν ἀρῆς ἀλκτῆρα γενέσθαι.
νῦν δ᾽ ἐπεὶ οὐ νέομαί γε φίλην ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν,
οὐδέ τι Πατρόκλῳ γενόμην φάος οὐδ᾽ ἑτάροισι
τοῖς ἄλλοις...
... ὣς καὶ ἐγών, εἰ δή μοι ὁμοίη μοῖρα τέτυκται,
κείσομ᾽ ἐπεί κε θάνω· νῦν δὲ κλέος ἐσθλὸν ἀροίμην
"I would die here and now, in that I could not save my comrade. He has fallen far from home, and in his
hour of need my hand was not there to help him. What is there for me? Return to my own land I shall
not, and I have brought no saving neither to Patroclus nor to my other comrades... so I too shall lie
when I am dead if a like doom awaits me...
Iliad 18.98-103, 120-1

“Then I was afraid that I too would die,
I grew fearful of death, and so wander the wild.
What became of my friend was to much to bear...
... Shall I not be like him, and also lie down,
never to rise again, through all eternity?”
Gilgamesh 10.61-4, 70-1

τοῖσι δὲ Πηλεΐδης ἁδινοῦ ἐξῆρχε γόοιο
χεῖρας ἐπ᾽ ἀνδροφόνους θέμενος στήθεσσιν ἑταίρου
πυκνὰ μάλα στενάχων ὥς τε λὶς ἠϋγένειος,
ᾧ ῥά θ᾽ ὑπὸ σκύμνους ἐλαφηβόλος ἁρπάσῃ ἀνὴρ
ὕλης ἐκ πυκινῆς· ὃ δέ τ᾽ ἄχνυται ὕστερος ἐλθών, 320
πολλὰ δέ τ᾽ ἄγκε᾽ ἐπῆλθε μετ᾽ ἀνέρος ἴχνι᾽ ἐρευνῶν
εἴ ποθεν ἐξεύροι· μάλα γὰρ δριμὺς χόλος αἱρεῖ·
... and the son of Peleus led them in their lament. He laid his murderous hands upon the breast of his
comrade, groaning again and again as a bearded lion when a man who was chasing deer has robbed
him of his young in some dense forest; when the lion comes back he is furious, and searches dingle and
dell to track the hunter if he can find him, for he is mad with rage...
Iliad 18.316-23

“Hear me, O young men, hear me! Hear me, O elders of teeming Uruk, hear me!
I shall weep for Enkidu, my friend, like a hired mourner woman shall I bitterly wail...
... Now what is this sleep that has seized you? You've become unconscious, you do not hear me”.
But he, he lifted not his head. He felt his heart, but it beat no longer.
He covered, like a bride, the face of his friend, like an eagle he circled around him.
Like a lioness deprived of her cubs he paced to and fro, this way and that.
His curly hair he tore out in clumps, he ripped off his finery, like something taboo he cast it away”
Gilgamesh 8.42-5, 55-64

3. The Fallen Comrade
… ἀλλὰ μάλ᾽ αἰνῶς
δείδω μή μοι τόφρα Μενοιτίου ἄλκιμον υἱὸν
μυῖαι καδδῦσαι κατὰ χαλκοτύπους ὠτειλὰς
εὐλὰς ἐγγείνωνται, ἀεικίσσωσι δὲ νεκρόν,
ἐκ δ᾽ αἰὼν πέφαται, κατὰ δὲ χρόα πάντα σαπήῃ.
"... but I much fear that flies will settle upon the son of Menoetius
and breed worms about his wounds, so that his body, now he is dead,
will be disfigured and the flesh will rot.
Iliad 19. 23-7, 30-4

“Six days I wept for him, and seven nights.
I did not surrender his body for burial
until a worm dropped from his nose”
Gilgamesh 10.59-60
“The horrid realism of the older story has been refined away by the Greek poet.
He has banished the appalling worm, but not forgotten it” West 343

ἀλλ᾽ ἄγετε φράζεσθε θεοὶ καὶ μητιάασθε
ἠέ μιν ἐκ θανάτοιο σαώσομεν, ἦέ μιν ἤδη
Πηλεΐδῃ Ἀχιλῆϊ δαμάσσομεν ἐσθλὸν ἐόντα.
τὸν δ᾽ αὖτε προσέειπε θεὰ γλαυκῶπις Ἀθήνη:
ὦ πάτερ ἀργικέραυνε κελαινεφὲς οἷον ἔειπες:
ἄνδρα θνητὸν ἐόντα πάλαι πεπρωμένον αἴσῃ
ἂψ ἐθέλεις θανάτοιο δυσηχέος ἐξαναλῦσαι;
ἔρδ᾽: ἀτὰρ οὔ τοι πάντες ἐπαινέομεν θεοὶ ἄλλοι.
Consider among yourselves and decide whether we shall now save him or let him fall, valiant though he
be, before Achilles, son of Peleus." Then Athena said, "Father, wielder of the lightning, lord of cloud
and storm, what mean you? Would you pluck this mortal whose doom has long been decreed out of the
jaws of death? Do as you will, but we others shall not be of a mind with you."
Iliad 22.174-181

“These, because they slew the Bull of Heaven, and slew Humbaba that guarded the mountains densewooded with cedar”, said Anu, “between these two, let one of them die!”.
And Enlil said “Let Enkidu die, but let not Gilgamesh die!”
Celestial Shamash began to reply to the hero Enlil: “Was it not at your word that they slew him, the
Bull of Heaven – and also Humbaba? Now shall innocent Enkidu die?”
Gilgamesh, 7 (init. fr.)

4. In Love with Immortality
ἀλλά μοι ἆσσον στῆθι· μίνυνθά περ ἀμφιβαλόντε
ἀλλήλους ὀλοοῖο τεταρπώμεσθα γόοιο.
ὣς ἄρα φωνήσας ὠρέξατο χερσὶ φίλῃσιν
οὐδ᾽ ἔλαβε· ψυχὴ δὲ κατὰ χθονὸς ἠΰτε καπνὸς
ᾤχετο τετριγυῖα...
“... draw closer to me, let us once more throw our arms around one another, and find sad comfort in
the sharing of our sorrows." He opened his arms towards him as he spoke and would have clasped him
in them, but there was nothing, and the spirit vanished as a vapour, gibbering and whining into the
Iliad 23.97-101
He made an opening in the Netherworld
by means of his phantom he brought his servant up from the Netherworld.
He hugged him tight and kissed him,
in asking and answering they made themselves weary:
'Did you see the way things are ordered in the Netherworld?
If only you could tell me, my friend, if only you could tell me!'
[Gilgamesh 12] – Bilgames and the Netherworld, 242-47

5. mortal 'Perspective'
ὣς φάτο, τῷ δ᾽ ἄρα πατρὸς ὑφ᾽ ἵμερον ὦρσε γόοιο·
ἁψάμενος δ᾽ ἄρα χειρὸς ἀπώσατο ἦκα γέροντα.
τὼ δὲ μνησαμένω ὃ μὲν Ἕκτορος ἀνδροφόνοιο
κλαῖ᾽ ἁδινὰ προπάροιθε ποδῶν Ἀχιλῆος ἐλυσθείς,
αὐτὰρ Ἀχιλλεὺς κλαῖεν ἑὸν πατέρ᾽, ἄλλοτε δ᾽ αὖτε
... the heart of Achilles yearned as he bethought him of his father. He took the old man's hand and
moved him gently away. The two wept bitterly - Priam, as he lay at Achilles' feet, weeping for Hector,
and Achilles now for his father and now for Patroclus...
Iliad 24.507-12

Said Gilgamesh to him, to Uta-napishti the Distant:
“I look at you, Uta-napishti:
your form is no different, you are just like me,
you are not any different, you are just like me.
I was fully intent on making you fight,
but now in your presence my hand is stayed...”
Gilgamesh 11.1-6

West 338, “... detailed parallels which establish beyond any question that we are dealing not with merely
coincidental analogies between the two great epics but with historical connections”

• What constitutes a source for the Iliad?
• Can correspondences be accounted for in other ways?
• Does Gilgamesh have any influence on other (early) Greek literature?

the 'ancient near east'
Michael Wood (1992) In Search of the First Civilizations (BBC Books), Ch.1: “Iraq: The Cradle of Civilization”
Stephanie Dalley (1989) Myths from Mesopotamia (Oxford World's Classics)