Friday, September 29, 2017

An Early Akkadian Historical Argument

I have often felt that the initiation rite that Gilgamesh does not pass in Tablet XI of the standard Akkadian version (right after the flood narrative of Utanapishtim) of the Epic is one of the earliest historical arguments that we have (ca 1200BC, from the Library of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh). It is unclear to me whether the older Babylonian versions contained this section.

The context of the story is the challenge that the "Akkadian Noah" Utanapishtim gives to Gilgamesh to show that he is worthy of eternal life; he must not fall asleep for a week. Utanapishtim and his unnamed wife had earlier received, as an exception, immortality from Enlil, because they had overheard the secrets of the Gods; cf. L190ff.
(L198) [Utanapishtim said:] "Now then, who will convene the gods on your behalf,
that you may find the life that you are seeking!
Wait! You must not lie down for six days and seven nights."
soon as he [Gilgamesh] sat down (with his head) between his legs
sleep, like a fog, blew upon him. 
Gilgamesh falls asleep immediately, and Utanapishtim complains to his wife that Gilgamesh failed, but she asks for mercy, that he may wake up and return home. 
(L202) Utanapishtim said to his wife:
"Look there! The man, the youth who wanted (eternal) life!
Sleep, like a fog, blew over him."
His wife said to Utanapishtim the Faraway:
"Touch him, let the man awaken.
Let him return safely by the way he came.
Let him return to his land by the gate through which he left." 
Utanapishtim is concerned that Gilgamesh will deny falling asleep altogether, so he sets up a temporal trap, asking his wife to mark off the days on the wall and place fresh loaves of bread next to him.
(L208) Utanapishtim said to his wife:
"Mankind is deceptive, and will deceive you.
Come, bake loaves for him and keep setting them by his head
and draw on the wall each day that he lay down."
She baked his loaves and placed them by his head
and marked on the wall the day that he lay down.
The first loaf was dessicated,
the second stale, the third moist(?), the fourth turned white,
its ..., the fifth sprouted gray (mold), the sixth is still fresh. [...]"
One suspects that the earlier version had just marks on the wall, and the later version then fixed the fact that the marks show no temporal progression per se, but could be made together. This is independently interesting, if my suspicions are correct.
(L218) The seventh--suddenly he touched him and the man awoke.
Gilgamesh said to Utanapishtim:
"The very moment sleep was pouring over me
you touched me and alerted me!"
As Utanapishtim predicted, Gilgamesh tries to deny it by claiming that he ad been sleeping for just a moment (i.e. was not really asleep yet). But the evidence makes that story unsupportable.
(L222) Utanapishtim spoke to Gilgamesh, saying:
"Look over here, Gilgamesh, count your loaves!
You should be aware of what is marked on the wall!
Your first loaf is dessicated,
the second stale, the third moist, your fourth turned white,
its ...
the fifth sprouted gray (mold), the sixth is still fresh.
The seventh--at that instant you awoke!"
Gilgamesh said to Utanapishtim the Faraway:
"O woe! What shall I do, Utanapishtim, where shall I go!
As far as the translation is concerned, the problem is the rotting away of the bread. E.A. Speiser had "soggy" instead of moist.

Colophon: Tablet XI translated by Maureen Gallery Kovacs, electronic version by Wolf Carnahan, line numbers according to ANECT, 3rd edition with Supplement, (pp.95-96).

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