The Flood Legend According to the Epic of Gilgamesh

In the Epic of Gilgamesh which originates epic_of_gilgamesh_IIIfrom Babylon, the main hero seeks the secret to immortality. He hears that one man named Utnapishtim has achieved immortality by surviving a Global Flood. Gilgamesh seeks him out and is told the following story:

Utnapishtim said to Gilgamesh, ”You are aware of Shurrupak. It is a city on the banks of the Euphrates. The city is old . . . ancient . . . and, once upon a time, the very gods lived in it. They reveled in its majesty. But, like most things, it soon lost its luster, and they decided to send a flood, such that would destroy all of mankind. Ea, the god of wisdom and subtlety, was part of their counsel and informed me of their decision. I heard him whistling through my thatched hat.” Utnapishtim remembered this, and chuckled. ”You see, he told me to look after myself and my belongings. ‘Construct a vessel thirty cubits long and thirty cubits wide. Gather a representative of every living thing. Stock it with food and waters, and then launch it upon the ocean.’

” ‘What am I to tell my neighbours?’ I asked.

” ‘Say that Enlil, the god of gods, is angry with you, and has banished you from the city. Tell them that you have decided to leave his realm, heading to sea (which belongs to Ea, anyway). Tell them I will take care of you.’

”I did as told, and designed the vessel, built it, and gathered food, water, and other necessities. When my provisions were collected, I coated the outside with pitch, and the inside with tar. Then I brought my family on board, alond with all of our possessions, the provisions for the trip, and two of every animal. That very night, the cloud warriors marched in, pouring down upon the earth a vicious rain, and stirring up a terrifying storm. Having chosen a captain, I place him at the helm and cut loose the mooring lines, allowing the craft to float free. At dawn, while the sky was still gray, a churning, ink-black cloud moved in from the west as the fury of the gods was unleashed. Adad, with his troops, thundered; Nergal came and tore their heavenly palaces were afraid; never before had a storm such as this been seen on earth.”

Gilgamesh, entranced, leaned forward as Utnapishtim continued. ”For nearly a week, the flood swept us on. On the seventh day, however, the raging and battling wind exhausted itself, died down, and, as suddenly as it had begun, the storm ceased. I looked out the window of the ship, to see what I could observe. There was no sound. Everything – including all life – had turned to mud and muck. Nothing could be seen but cloudy, murky water. With the daylight on my face and my heavy, sorrowful heart still beating in my breast, I wept. I wept for those lost. I wept for those of us who remained. Mostly, I wept because the earth was gone. All was water.

”On the twelfth day, I finally saw several small patches of land emerging from the waters. The ship eventually grounded on the slopes of Mount Nisir, where we remained another six days.

”On the seventh day, I let  a dove out of the window, to see if it would land. But it found nowhere to rest, and so returned to me. Next, I sent a swallow, but it too returned. Lastly, I sent out a raven, finding land, never returned.”

”At this point , I began to unload my cargo. The first thing I did, upon stepping on dry land was to give an offering to the gods. They smelled the pleasing aroma, and began to swarm around it like flies on honey. Eventually, Ishtar stepped forward and held up her necklace, a multi-colored present from the sky-god.

” ‘Behold these jewels! she called out. ‘Just as I will never forget these, so will I never forget what we have seen these last days! I say we all enjoy this feast . . . all of us except Enlil, for it was his idea!’

”Now, ” continued the old man, ”when Enlil saw that I had survived his flood, he was livid, and demanded the name of the traitor. Ninurta, I believe it was, commented that since Ea had the gift of foresight, it could only have been him. Besides Ninurta had argued, Ea was both shrewd and cunning. Ea interrupted at this point, reprehending Enlil for his monstrous brutality and callousness.

” ‘Only the guilty should have been destroyed, ‘he declared, ‘and not all of humanity.’

” ‘And how,’ Enlil asked, ‘would this have been accomplished?’

” ‘By sending vicious animals, or a plague,’ Ea suggested. ‘You needn’t have killed everyone. Besides, ‘he narrowed his eyes as he spoke these next words, ‘I merely gave a hint, like a dream. It’s not my fault Utnapishtim is so intelligent, and figured out a plan to survive.’

”Enlil nodded in agreement, for Ea was quite shrewd and persuasive. Then, having ascended to Ea’s point, he led both my wife and I back on board. Enlil blessed us both, and, as a reward, granted us eternal life. However, it would not do for the immortal to live among the mortal. So he gave us this island, away from all other humanity, where we could spend our days in peace and tranquillity.”  (Source: Martin, Charles. Flood Legends. p. 131-134)