1. Utnapishtim

(Akkadian, Mesopotamia)

Utnapishtim said to Gilgamesh: “You know the city of Shuruppak situated on the bank of the river Euphrates. That city was already old when the great gods decided to send down a Deluge, at the initiative of the god Ellil. Father Anu was there and various other gods. They all swore an oath of secrecy. And so did Water god Ea, but he warned me by repeating their words to a reed hut: ‘Reed hut, o reed hut, brick wall, o brick wall. Listen, reed hut, pay attention, o wall, to this message. Man of Shuruppak, son of Ubara-Tutu, dismantle your house, and build a boat.  Abandon your possessions and seek survival. The boat you are to build shall have dimensions in equal proportion, her width and length in harmony. Cover the boat with a roof, just like the ocean covers the depths. And take on board the boat the seed of all living things.’ 

As soon as I understood, I spoke to Ea: ‘I have listened to your words, master, and will obey you.  But how can I explain myself to the people in the city, the crowd and the elders?’ 

Ea opened his mouth and said to me, his servant: ‘You will tell them that, for sure, the god Ellil has rejected you, so you cannot stay in the city any more which is Ellil’s ground. That is why you are leaving for the watery realm of your master Ea who will shower a rain of plenty upon them, a wealth of fowl and fish, a harvest of riches.’ 

At the first glimmering light of dawn workers gathered around me, the carpenter with his axe, the reed-worker with his stone, the young men and the old, and we collected the needed material. By the fifth day I laid down the form of the boat. One acre was her extent, ten rods each the height of her walls, and her roof was also ten rods on all sides. Once the boat’s body was ready, I gave her six decks, dividing her into seven. I drove the water pegs into her middle, saw to the paddles, and took care of all that was needed. I sacrificed sheep every day, and gave the workers ale and beer to drink, oil and wine, as if they were river water. They made a feast, like the New Year’s festival.  Finally the boat was ready, and I loaded her with everything I owned, all the silver and the gold, all the seed of living things. I put on board all my kith and kin, cattle and wild beasts, and all kinds of craftsmen.  

I looked at the weather, a terrifying storm took shape. The time fixed by the Sun God had come. I went aboard and closed the door. With the first light of dawn a black cloud rose on the horizon with Adad, the storm god, bellowing inside. Over mountain and land Shullat and Hanish came marching as the storm’s chamberlains. Gods rose from the depths: Nergal uprooted the mooring poles, Ninurta the warrior-god marched on and made the weirs overflow. The Annunaki (gods of the netherworld) with their torches, lit up the land with scorching flashes. The stillness of the Storm God came over the sky, and all light turned into darkness. The rising tempest raged like a bull, en passant smashing things to pieces, until the Deluge passed over the people, as destructive as a battle.

No man could see his fellow men due to darkness and down-pouring rain.  Even the gods were afraid of the Deluge. They took shelter in Anu’s highest heaven, cowering like dogs in the open field. Ishtar, the sweet voiced Queen of Heaven, was wailing like a woman in childbirth: ‘Have olden times returned to clay, because I spoke evil in the gods’ assembly? How could I have ordered a battle to destroy my people? I was the one who gave birth to them, they are mine. And now they fill the ocean, like fish spawn. Wet-faced with sorrow the Annunaki were weeping along with her, their lips parched and covered with scab. 

For six days and seven nights tempest and downpours continued, while the Deluge flattened the land. When the seventh day arrived, storm and downpour relented. The Deluge came to an end and the ocean grew calm. Silence reigned. All people had returned to clay. The flood plain was as flat as a roof. I opened a porthole and sunlight fell on my cheeks. I bent down, and tears ran down my face. I looked for banks, for the edge of the ocean. Here and there areas of land were emerging. Mount Nimush where the boat came to rest held the boat fast, without motion, for six days.  

On the seventh day I released a dove. The dove went and came back: it found no place to perch. I released a swallow, it went and came back: the swallow found no place to perch. I released a raven. The raven went and saw the waters receding, it found food, flew around and did not come back to me. Then I put everything out to the four winds, and made a sacrifice. I placed incense on the mountain peak, arranging the flasks seven and seven, and piled reed, pine and myrtle beneath them.

The gods smelled the pleasant fragrance and gathered like flies over the sacrifice. As soon as the great mother Goddess arrived, she lifted the fly-shaped lapis lazuli beads that Anu had made to please her, and said: ‘Behold, o gods, as much as I shall never forget the great beads in this lapis lazuli necklace of mine, I shall always remember these days and never forget. Let other gods come to the sacrifice, but Enlil should not, because he lacked counsel and brought on the Deluge which brought destruction upon my people.’ 

As soon as Ellil arrived and saw the boat, he flew into a rage against the gods: ‘From where escaped this living one? No one was meant to survive the destruction!’

Ninurta opened his mouth and spoke to the warrior Ellil: ‘Who other than Ea would have done such a thing? Ea is the one who knows how things need to be done.’

Ea spoke to the warrior Enlil: ‘You, the sage of the gods, the hero, how could you be so unwise as to bring on the Deluge? Punish a sinner for his sin, punish a criminal for his crime. Instead of your causing the Deluge, a lion could have diminished the people. Instead of your causing the Deluge, a wolf could have diminished the people. Instead of your causing the Deluge, a famine could have slaughtered the land. Instead of your causing the Deluge, the plague god could have slaughtered the land. I did not disclose the secret of the great gods. I showed Utnapishtim, the wise one, a dream, and thus he got to know the secret. And now, decide what to do with him.’ 

Enlil took my hand and brought me and my wife aboard. He made us kneel down, touched our foreheads and, standing between us, he blessed us: ‘In the past Utnapishtim was a mortal man, but henceforth he and his wife shall be like us gods. Utnapishtim shall dwell far away, at the place where the rivers flow forth.’ 

So, Gilgamesh, this is how I came to live here.”