The portal through which all the others have passed – except ghostly Enkidu and forlorn Gilgamesh – shimmers and fades. My brother – his twin – fades… And he and I… and then only I am left alone in the middle of the most threatening inner space I can imagine…
There is the dominating sense of ‘nowhere else to go’; and yet I know that there is only ‘me’ in here… until I look at the walls, made gently visible by the light that is not light in this atmosphere of total darkness.
The feeling of ‘shimmering outline’ comes again, as it had when I chased Shamhat through the labyrinthine passageways. In the dimness, I can see carved images in the stone all around me. The recognition of these strengthens their form, and I can make out that they are the figures and faces of the Divine Council of Elders of Uruk… Those whom I scorned as ‘effete’ only a short while ago.
I expect them to look down on me in my disgrace, in my dirt and sweat; but they do not. Their kind eyes seem to reach into my misery. With this thought the air in the chamber changes, taking on a lightness.
A voice speaks without sound, “Gilgamesh! You have found your way to the Holy of Holies, Attend now to the vanities of your heart and contemplate them well.”
Vanities… I consider the word. It’s a subtle, insidious thing that creeps into life and weakens a man’s purpose. In my youth I despised those who displayed it, and, if they would not learn from my words, I would show them them the power of the sword that has no name…
The fingers of my right hand clutch in reflex at the empty air of my waist.
Have I become vain in my victories, in my glory? The wall images are coming to life … Utu had spoken the words, but I also recognise around me the rest of the powers that convey the energies of the seven planets to us all: Nanna, Ninurta, Gugalanna, Inanna, Enki and Enlil. For long minutes their quiet words burn me as no fire ever has. Each in their turn tells me that the gentle gifts I refused, one by one, in my hatred of Shamhat, would have been sufficient to change the course of all of the disasters I created in my vanity.
It is too painful to bear… and yet, there is nowhere else to go but to remain within that fire. And in that sense of ‘not going’ I begin to see another Gilgamesh; one who would embrace, instead, ‘nowhere else to be…”
“I am sorry,” I say, meaning it. “I was blind but now I see.” My head falls, but I raise it, again, to continue staring into the mysterious air of the chamber – air that had become fire is becoming something for which there is no name…
“I will make recompense to the people of Uruk…”
An energy from my youth fills my consciousness. I know what I must do…
The feet that carry me from that place are not entirely my own. The Fate Dancers are moving in the square as I finally escape from the confines of the Ishtar Temple and out into the glorious sun. They part to let me pass. There are half-smiles on their faces. A bath, sacred oils and my best robes await, but first, I must be with someone else; and she will not mind my dirty and unkempt appearance, she knows me for what I am…
“O Lady Ninsum, mother and goddess,” I say, kneeling before her. “I am resolved to set out on the quest of my life, and, as always, I seek your blessing.”
There is a coldness about her manner. I did not expect this; it chills my heart.
“So soon, my son? Should you not rest awhile?” She leans forward in her ornate chair to study me more closely. “Surely killing the fearsome demon of the Cedar Forest was magnificent, my son?” She pauses. “You and my other son, Enkidu, have a right to celebrate your victory…”
She knows… I know she knows, but she is making me pay for the loss of her adopted son, Enkidu. I tell her that it is because of Enkidu’s death that I must leave to fight the greatest battle of my life – to rid Uruk of the power of death: to kill death!
She waits and watches. “Life and death are part of the same cycle, my son. Even those in the Divine Council will one day die.”
I am ready for this, for my future depends on the answer. “There is one who did not die, Ninsun – you taught me this when you told me the story of the great flood, in the days when I sat on your knee and listened and learned.”
“Utnapishtim…” she whispers, her gaze directed far away. “You will journey to find if Utnapishtim is real… and if he still lives?”
“And I will end death, itself, when he guides me, for never has such a king made this quest… a quest to honour my lost brother and your lost son.”
“You go to steal the Herb of Immortality from the denizens of the deep, then?”
“Yes, mother and goddess Ninsum.”
I can sense the sea-change in her mood. There is a slight turning of the mouth. She sees the value of this challenge and I press my advantage. “I and only I can do this…”
Her eyes are suddenly bright, she gets to her feet and comes to stand over me.
“There must always be a choice, Gilgamesh. Remember that. If there is no choice there can be no victory.”
I do not understand, but I nod my head as though I do.
I, Gilgamesh have already made my choice…
Ninsum lays her left hand upon my head. In a world become desert it is the kindest thing anyone has done for me in a long time. My face – the King’s face – is wet with tears as he gazes up through the waters into the loving but challenging eyes of his mother.
“Go, then! And with my blessing, but remember this,” she places her other hand on my head. “If the truth were what we thought it was, then it would contain no power to change us…”
She smiles and kisses where her hands are. “It must always be deeper than our search… Now leave and learn to embrace that deep.”
She holds my head in a way she has never done, before. My left leg feels suddenly stiff and heavy in this kneeling position. There is a resistance. My hand flies to where my sword should be… and finds it.
Other parts in this series:
(opens in a new tab)”>Part Seven> This is part Eight
©Copyright Stephen Tanham
This narrative is a personal journey through that ritual drama in the persona of King Gilgamesh.
Header image by Sue Vincent, © Copyright.
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.
The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.