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Wemics in Gilgamesh [26 Apr 16] Myths collide in Ancient Assyria

I first read the Epic of Gilgamesh many many years ago, and loved it. This passage in particular inspired me, in which Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu come to a thick wood:

Some called this forest "Hell," and others "Paradise";
What difference does it make? said Gilgamesh.
But night was falling quickly
And they had no time to call it names,
Except perhaps "The Dark."

That's from "Gilgamesh, A Verse Narrative," by Herbert Mason. Years later, when I went in search of this passage, I found it only in Mason's Gilgamesh. It turns out that his translation was very much a reconstruction, and not very literal. If you look at the work of other, more literal translators, the same passage is very different. You can actually follow the story from clay tablet to clay tablet. The passage above is found in the beginning of the fifth tablet, and here is a more literal translation from Reginald Campbell Thompson:

Stood they and stared at the Forest, they gazed at the height of the Cedars,
Scanning the avenue into the Forest: (and there) where Humbaba
Stalk’d, was a path, (and) straight were his tracks, and good was the passage.
(Eke) they beheld the Mount of the Cedar, the home of th’ Immortals,
Shrine [of Irnini], the Cedar uplifting its pride ’gainst the mountain,
Fair was its shade, (all) full of delight, with bushes (there) spreading,
Spread, too, the . . . . the Cedar the incense . . . .

And here's a translation of the same passage by Maureen Gallery Kovacs:

… They stood at the forest’s edge,
gazing at the top of the Cedar Tree,
gazing at the entrance to the forest.
Where Humbaba would walk there was a trail,
the roads led straight on, the path was excellent.
Then they saw the Cedar Mountain, the Dwelling of the Gods, the throne dais of Imini.
Across the face of the mountain the Cedar brought forth luxurious foliage,
its shade was good, extremely pleasant.
The thornbushes were matted together, the woods(?) were a thicket … among the Cedars,… the boxwood,
the forest was surrounded by a ravine two leagues long,
… and again for two-thirds (of that distance)
I have to say, although I see that the first translation took the most liberties, I still like it best, even if it is a retelling rather than a translation.

So the other day, when Doctor Google served me up a version of the Epic that mentioned liontaurs, or "Urmahlullu," as they were called back in Gilgamesh's day, I was super excited. The wemic reference appeared in section after Enkidu's death -- oh, spoiler alert, I guess -- in which Gilgamesh is preparing funerary gifts. Here's the passage

For the Attendants and Guardians:
To many others in the House of Death
Gilgamesh offered gifts:
Hushbisha the Stewardess, Bibbu the Butcher,
Urmahlullu, the lion-centaur, Neti, the gate-keeper:
each received a proper present, an offering
to earn Enkidu good-will.
When I went a-looking in other translations for this passage, I had no luck. It turns out that this translation, mentioning lion-centaurs, was created by Eric Quinn, and he added his urmahlullu to fill out a section of the original tablet that was broken and lost. Click for more on Eric Quinn's Gilgamesh. Thanks to Eric for his kind words in response to my inquiry.

But just as I prefer the "retold" passage with "Some call this forest hell," I think it is okay to prefer this retelling, in which Gilgamesh mourns his friend by offering gifts to the urmahlullu.

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