The Great Myths #6: Enkidu in the Underworld (Mesopotamian)

Pythagoras: The Life & Times (new episode) Human Voices Wake Us

Tonight, I'm thrilled to read a poem that I began working on three years ago on the life, teachings, and mysticism of the Greek philosopher, Pythagoras (c. 570- c.495 BCE). I am also thrilled that the poem is being simultaneously published at The Basilisk Tree. Many thanks to its editor, Bryan Helton, for coordinating all of this with me. For anyone who wants to look closer at the earliest Classical accounts of Pythagoras, his life, and his teachings, check out: The History of Greek Philosophy Volume 1: The Earlier Presocractics and the Pythagoreans, by W. K. C. Guthrie, and The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library, ed. Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie. Don’t forget to support Human Voices Wake Us on Substack, where you can also get our newsletter and other extras. You can also support the podcast by ordering any of my books: Notes from the Grid, To the House of the Sun, The Lonely Young & the Lonely Old, and Bone Antler Stone. Any comments, or suggestions for readings I should make in later episodes, can be emailed to — Send in a voice message: Support this podcast:
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[Amid the long illness that leads to Enkidu’s death:]

As for Enkidu, his mind was troubled,
he lay on his own and began to ponder.
What was on his mind he told his friend:
     “My friend, in the course of the night I had such a dream!”

“The heavens thundered, the earth gave echo,
     and there was I, standing between them.
A man there was, grim his expression,
     just like a Thunderbird his features were frightening.

“His hands were a lion’s paws, his claws an eagle’s talons,
     he seized me by the hair, he overpowered me.
I struck him, but back he sprang like a skipping rope,
     he struck me, and like a raft capsized me.

“Underfoot he crushed me, like a mighty wild bull,
     drenching my body with poisonous slaver.
“Save me, my friend! …….” [tablet broken]
     You were afraid of him, but you…… [tablet broken]

     “He struck me and turned me into a dove.

“He bound my arms like the wings of a bird,
     to lead me captive to the house of darkness, seat of Irkalla:
to the house which none who enters ever leaves,
     on the path that allows no journey back,

“to the house whose residents are deprived of light,
     where soil is itself their sustenance and clay their food,
where they are clad like birds in coats of feathers,
     and see no light, but dwell in darkness.

“On door and bolt the dust lay thick,
     on the House of Dust was poured a deathly quiet.
In the House of Dust that I entered,

“I looked around me, saw ‘crowns’ in a throng,
     there were the crowned heads who’d ruled the land since days of yore,
who’d served the roast at the tables of Anu and Enlil,
     who’d proffered baked bread, and poured them cool water from skins.

“In the House of Dust that I entered,
     there were the en-priests and lagar-priests,
there were the lustration-priests and the lumahhu-priests,
     there were the great gods’ gudapsû-priests,

“there was Etana, there was Shakkan,
     there was the queen of the Netherworld, the goddess Ereshkigal.
Before her sat Belet-seri, the scribe of the Netherworld,
     holding a tablet, reading aloud in her presence.

“She raised her head and she saw me:
     “Who was it fetched this man here?
Who was it brought here this fellow?”

[The remainder of Enkidu’s vision of hell is lost. At the end of his speech he commends himself to Gilgamesh:]

“I who endured all hardships with you,
     remember me, my friend, don’t forget all I went through!”

The Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet 7,
translated by Andrew George

See also: Enkidu,Underworld Journey

Read the other Great Myths here