The Flood

Excerpted from S. Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), pp. 109-16.

(In his quest to avoid the death that consumed Enkidu, Gilgamesh seeks out Ut-napishtim to find the secret of his immortality. At first glance, Ut-napishtim seems no different than Gilgamesh.)

Gilgamesh spoke to him, to Ut-napishtim the far-distant,
'I look at you, Ut-napishtim
And your limbs are no different-you are just like me.
Indeed, you are not at all different-you are just like me.
I feel the urge to prove myself against you, to pick a fight
... you lie on your back.
... how you came to stand in the gods' assembly and sought eternal life?'

Ut-napishtim spoke to him, to Gilgamesh,
'Let me reveal to you a closely guarded matter, Gilgamesh,
And let me tell you the secret of the gods.
Shuruppak is a city that you yourself know,
Situated on the bank of the Euphrates.
That city was already old when the gods within it
Decided that the great gods should make a flood.
There was Anu their father,
Warrior Ellil their counsellor,
Ninurta was their chamberlain,
Ennugi their canal-controller.
Far-sighted Ea swore the oath of secrecy with them,
So he repeated their speech to a reed hut,
"Reed hut, reed hut, brick wall, brick wall,
Listen, reed hut, and pay attention, brick wall:

(This is the message:)

Man of Shuruppak, son of Ubara-Tutu,
Dismantle your house, build a boat.
Leave possessions, search out living things.
Reject chattels and save lives!
Put aboard the seed of all living things, into the boat.
The boat that you are to build
Shall have her dimensions in proportion,
Her width and length shall be in harmony,
Roof her like the Apsu."

I realized and spoke to my master Ea,
"I have paid attention to the words that you spoke in this way,
My master, and I shall act upon them.
But how can I explain myself to the city, the men and the elders?"
Ea made his voice heard and spoke,
He said to me, his servant,
"You shall speak to them thus:
'I think that Ellil has rejected me,
And so I cannot stay in your city,
And I cannot set foot on Ellil's land again.
I must go down to the Apsu and stay with my master Ea.
Then he will shower abundance upon you,
A wealth of fowl, a treasure of fish.
... prosperity, a harvest,
In the morning cakes/"darkness",
In the evening a rain of wheat/"heaviness" he will shower upon you.' "

When the first light of dawn appeared
The country gathered about me.
The carpenter brought his axe,
The reed-worker brought his stone,
The young men ...
... oakum (?)
Children carried the bitumen,
The poor fetched what was needed
On the fifth day I laid down her form.
One acre was her circumference, ten poles each the height of her walls,
Her top edge was likewise ten poles all round.
I laid down her structure, drew it out,
Gave her six decks,
Divided her into seven.
Her middle I divided into nine,
Drove the water pegs into her middle.
I saw to the paddles and put down what was needed:
Three sar of bitumen I poured into the kiln,
Three sar of pitch I poured into the inside.
Three sar of oil they fetched, the workmen who carried the baskets.
Not counting the sar of oil which the dust soaked up,
The boatman stowed away two more sar of oil.
At the . . . I slaughtered oxen.
I sacrificed sheep every day.
I gave the workmen ale and beer to drink,
Oil and wine as if they were river water
They made a feast, like the New Year's Day festival.
When the sun rose I provided hand oil.
When the sun went down the boat was complete.
The launching was very difficult;
Launching rollers had to be fetched from above to below.
Two-thirds of it stood clear of the water line
Iloaded her with everything there was,
Loaded her with all the silver,
Loaded her with all the gold
Loaded her with all the seed of living things, all of them.
I put on board the boat all my kith and kin.
Put on board cattle from open country, wild beasts from open country, all kinds of craftsmen.

Shamash had fixed the hour:
"In the morning cakes/"darkness",
In the evening a rain of wheat/"heaviness"
I shall shower down:
Enter into the boat and shut your door!"
That hour arrived;
In the morning cakes/"darkness", in the evening a rain of wheat/"heaviness" showered down.
I saw the shape of the storm,
The storm was terrifying to see.
I went aboard the boat and closed the door.
To seal the boat I handed over the (floating) palace with her cargo to Puzur-Amurru the boatman.
When the first light of dawn appeared,
A black cloud came up from the base of the sky.
Adad kept rumbling inside it.
Shullat and Hanish were marching ahead,
Marched as chamberlains over mountain and country.
Erakal pulled out the mooring poles,
Ninurta marched on and made the weir(s) overflow.
The Anunnaki had to carry torches,
They lit up the land with their brightness.
The calm before the Storm-god came over the sky,
Everything light turned to darkness.
. . . . . .

On the first day the tempest rose up,
Blew swiftly and brought the flood-weapon,
Like a battle force the destructive kashushu-weapon passed over the people
No man could see his fellow,
Nor could people be distinguished from the sky.
Even the gods were afraid of the flood-weapon.
They withdrew; they went up to the heaven of Anu.
The gods cowered, like dogs crouched by an outside wall.
Ishtar screamed like a woman giving birth;
The Mistress of the Gods, sweet of voice, was wailing,
"Has that time really returned to clay,
Because I spoke evil in the gods' assembly?
How could I have spoken such evil in the gods' assembly?
I should have ordered a battle to destroy my people;
I myself gave birth to them, they are my own people,
Yet they fill the sea like fish spawn!"
The-gods of the Anunnaki were weeping with her.
The gods, humbled, sat there weeping.
Their lips were closed and covered with scab.
For six days and seven nights
The wind blew, flood and tempest overwhelmed the land;
When the seventh day arrived the tempest, flood and onslaught
Which had struggled like a woman in labour, blew themselves out.
The sea became calm, the imhullu-wind grew quiet, the flood held back.
Ilooked at the weather; silence reigned,
For all mankind had returned to clay.
The flood-plain was flat as a roof.
I opened a porthole and light fell on my cheeks.
I bent down, then sat. I wept.
My tears ran down my cheeks.
I looked for banks, for limits to the sea.

Areas of land were emerging everywhere
The boat had come to rest on Mount Nimush.
The mountain Nimush held the boat fast and did not let it budge.
The first and second day the mountain Nimush held the boat fast and did not let it budge.
The third and fourth day the mountain Nimush held the boat fast and did not let it budge.
The fifth and sixth day the mountain Nimush held the boat fast and did not let it budge.
When the seventh day arrived,
I put out and released a dove.
The dove went; it came back,
For no perching place was visible to it, and it turned round.
I put out and released a swallow.
The swallow went; it came back,
For no perching place was visible to it, and it turned round.
I put out and released a raven.
The raven went, and saw the waters receding.
And it ate, preened (?), lifted its tail and did not turn round.
Then I put everything out to the four winds, and I made a sacrifice,
Set out a surqinnu-offering upon the mountain peak,
Arranged the jars seven and seven;
Into the bottom of them I poured essences of reeds, pine, and myrtle.
The gods smelt the fragrance,
The gods smelt the pleasant fragrance,
The gods like flies gathered over the sacrifice.
As soon as the Mistress of the Gods arrived
She raised the great flies which Anu had made to please her:
"Behold, O gods, I shall never forget the significance of my lapis lazuli necklace,
I shall remember these times, and I shall never forget.
Let other gods come to the surqinnu-offering
But let Ellil not come to the surqinnu-offering,
Because he did not consult before imposing the flood,
And consigned my people to destruction!"

As soon as Ellil arrived
He saw the boat. Ellil was furious,
Filled with anger at the Igigi gods.
"What sort of life survived? No man should have
lived through the destruction!"
Ninurta made his voice heard and spoke,
He said to the warrior Ellil,
"Who other than Ea would have done such a thing?
For Ea can do everything!"
Ea made his voice heard and spoke,
He said to the warrior Ellil,
"You are the sage of the gods, warrior,
So how, O how, could you fail to consult, and impose the flood?
Punish the sinner for his sin, punish the criminal for his crime,
But ease off, let work not cease; be patient, let not . . .
Instead of your imposing a flood, let a lion come up and diminish the people.
Instead of your imposing a flood, let a wolf come up and diminish the people.
Instead of your imposing a flood, let famine be imposed and lessen the land.
Instead of your imposing a flood, let Erra rise up and savage the people.
I did not disclose the secret of the great gods,
I just showed Atrahasis a dream, and thus he heard the secret of the gods."
Now the advice that prevailed was his advice.
Ellil came up into the boat,
And seized my hand and led me up.
He led up my woman and made her kneel down at my side.
He touched our foreheads, stood between us, blessed us:
"Until now Ut-napishtim was mortal,
But henceforth Ut-napishtim and his woman shall be as we gods are.
Ut-napishtim shall dwell far off at the mouth of the rivers."
They took me and made me dwell far off, at the mouth of the rivers.

So now, who can gather the gods on your behalf, Gilgamesh,
That you too may find eternal life which you seek?