Sacred Texts  Ancient Near East 

Babylon, from D.W. Griffith's Intolerance [1916]--public domain image

Ishtar and Izdubar

by Leonidas Le Cenci Hamilton


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This is a Victorian poetic translation of the saga of Izdubar. Who is Izdubar? Izdubar is a literal translation of the ideograph for 'Gilgamesh', and was how the hero of the Gilgamesh saga was known when this book was written in the 1880s. A lexicographic tablet was finally discovered several decades later in which Izdubar was equated with Gilgamesh.

When this was written, only fragments of the epic had been found, and Hamilton had to supply continuity and motivation in several cases. The attentive reader will notice some differences here between the Gilgamesh epic as known today and Hamiltons' poem. In Gilgamesh the King's companion, Enkidu is originally a wild man, created to distract Gilgamesh. In Izdubar the equivalent character is a sage who is lured from the wilderness to interpret the King's dreams. Humbaba is a ogre in Gilgamesh, a supernatural being, who Gilgamesh and Enkidu battle using supernatural means. Here (called Khumbaba) he is a human being, a King whom Izdubar defeats in combat. Hamilton also embellished his version using extraneous material such as religious hymns and magical incantations (which, to be fair, he carefully cited sources for in the footnotes). Strangely enough, Hamilton left out one of the most interesting parts of the Gilgamesh saga and the first to be discovered: the story of the Deluge.

Nevertheless, this constitutes one of the earliest translations of the Gilgamesh saga and is the only complete one (such as it is) known to be in the public domain. Thanks to John Mark Ockerbloom of Online Books, who suggested that I scan this.

Title Page

Alcove I

Tablet I--Column I. Invocation
Column II. The Fall of Erech
Column III. The Rescue of Erech by Izdubar
Column IV. Coronation of Izdubar
Column V. Ishtar and Her Maids in the Favorite Haunt of Izdubar
Column VI. Izdubar Falls in Love with Ishtar, the Queen of Love
Tablet II--Column I. Ishtar's Midnight Courtship in the Palace of Izdubar
Column II. The King's Second Dream
Column III. Izdubar Relates his Second Dream to his Seers, who cannot Interpret it
Column IV. Heabani, the Hermit Seer
Column V. Expedition of Zaidu in Search of the Seer
Column VI. Heabani Resolves to Return to Erech
Tablet III--Column I. Heabani's Wisdom-Song of the Khau-ik-i
Column II. Songs in Praise of Izdubar and Heabani as Sung by the Khau-ik-i
Column III. Zaidu's Return, and His Instruction to Take Two Maids with him to Entice the Seer from his Cave
Column IV. The Two Maidens Entice the Seer
Column V. Festival in Honor of Heabani, who Arrives at Erech--Interpretation of the Dream
Column VI. Izdubar Slays The Midannu In The Festive Hall, And Heabani Declares Him To Be A God
Tablet IV.--Column I. The Annual Sale of the Maidens of Babylon
Column II. Council in the Palace
Column III. The King Worships at The Shrine of Ishtar
Column IV. The King Goes from Ishtar's Temple to the Temple of Samas
Column V. Expedition Against Khumbaba, and Battle in the Black Forest
Column VI. Hand-to-hand Conflict of the Rival Giants--Death of Khumbaba

Alcove II

Tablet V--Column I. Coronation of Izdubar and Appearance of Ishtar
Column II. The King's Answer and Ishtar's Rage
Column III. Ishtar Complains to Anu, King of Heaven, Who Creates a Winged Bull to Destroy Ishtar
Column IV. The Fight with the Winged Bull of Anu
Column V. The Curse of Ishtar, and Rejoicing of Erech over the Victory
Column VI. Ishtar Weaves A Mystic Spell over the King and Seer
Tablet VI--Column I. Ishtar's Descent To Hades--Her Fearful Reception
Column II. Effect of Ishtar's Imprisonment in Hades
Column III. Papsukul Intercedes for Ishtar.
Column IV. Release of Ishtar--Her Attempts to Bring to Life Tammuz, Her First Lover
Column V. Tammuz is Restored to Life by the Waters of Life--His Song of Love
Column VI. Escape of Tammuz from Hades
Tablet VII--Column I. The King And Seer Conversing On Their Way To Khasisadra
Column II. Contest with the Dragons in the Mountains
Column III. Heabani Reveals two Wonderful Visions to the King
Column IV. The Grief of the King over the Loss of his Seer
Column V. The King Buries his Seer in the Cave and Continues on his Journey
Column VI. Izdubar Enters Hades
Tablet VIII--Column I. The King's Adventure at the Gate of the Garden of the Gods with the Two Maidens
Column II. The King and Ur-Hea Build a Ship and Sail Through the Waters of Death
Column III. Izdubar Greeted by Mua, Daughter of Khasisadra
Column IV. The King is Cured and Made Immortal by Khasisadra
Column V. Izdubar Falls in Love with Mua, and Offers her his Hand
Column VI. Mua's Answer