display | more...

A monster from the epic of Gilgamesh. He guarded the Cedar Forest, where Ishtar dwelt. A terrible creature that mortally wounds Gilgamesh's best buddy Enkidu, whom the gods had created to keep the big G company. After smiting Humbabba, Gilgamesh spends the rest of the epic looking for the secret of eternal life to bring his friend back from the dead.

The origin of Humbaba is Elamite (ancient southwestern Iran), a form of the name of the chief god of the Elamite pantheon, Humpan, also Huwawa. (What Humbaba actually looks like has been lost from the epic.) The guardian of the Cedar Forest.

In an early section of the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh declares before Utu the Sun that he wishes to make his name remembered, by means of a lumber raid into the cedar-clad mountains up the river, where live the gods. He and Enkidu set forth with a number of men; they cross seven mountain ranges, and come to Cedar Forest, where they begin to fell the trees: Gilgamesh cuts the boles, Enkidu the branches, and the other men stack the lumber. (It is a point of contention, as I understand it, whether this narrative originally commemorated a real, specific lumber raid or is a narrative invention based on an archetypal heroic deed. I'd go with the latter, me.)

There as they are working they encounter Humbaba, the composite monster, guardian of Cedar Forest. His face is a lion's face; it is also a single line; it is also a good luck charm. His eyes cast a deadly ray, his mouth is the mouth of a dragon, his brow is impossible to approach because it eats the reeds, his chest is like a wave. If he shakes his head, it is a disapproving gesture. His tongue is forever wet with red blood. He has seven terrors, and seven auras.

Humbaba looses his terrors upon the men. Gilgamesh falls asleep; the men flop about him »like puppies«; Enkidu is overcome with yearning, we are not told for what. Yet from this he recovers, and he wakes Gilgamesh by goading him, whispering exhortations and mockery into his ear. Once Gilgamesh is roused, Enkidu urges him to return down the river; Gilgamesh refuses, saying that two people together cannot die. Enkidu continues to object as they follow Humbaba; as they reach him, his terrors overcome them, rooting Gilgamesh to the spot. Humbaba mocks Gilgamesh, who praises Humbaba in return, saying that he wishes to become his kinsman.

Gilgamesh gives his elder sister for a wife; he gives his younger sister for a concubine. He gives eca flour, the food that the gods eat; he gives big shoes for Humbaba's big feet, and little shoes for Humbaba's little feet; he gives precious stones; he gives... nothing at all, really. For each gift, Humbaba gives up one of his terrors to Gilgamesh; all the while the other men continue the logging. When Gilgamesh finally has all of Humbaba's terrors, he fears him no longer; feigning a kiss, he strikes the monster down; he binds him »like a captured wild bull«; the monster cries out to Utu for mercy.

Gilgamesh, who is noble despite his treachery, thinks to set Humbaba free again, but Enkidu convinces him that they would then be destroyed; instead, they chop Humbaba's head off. The god Enlil appears, greatly angered, grieving, saying, »Those should have been your bones lying there!¹ He should have sat above you! He should have eaten the bread that you eat, and drunk the water that you drink! He should have been honored by you!«. He curses Enkidu, who is to blame for convincing his friend and master; he distributes the seven auras among the features of nature; the last is given to Nungal, a goddess of the underworld. Such is the end of Humbaba.

In other words, the heroes are also the villains of this tale; they have done a black deed. More than the monster's unfathomable shape, perhaps, this shows the great difference between the myths and tales of Sumer and those Indo-European ones to which we are more accustomed — or those of completely different cultures, for that matter; not even the strange goblins of Japan, nor the remarkably named and numbered gods of the Maya, are so alien.

1: This sentence is questionable. I have a clear memory of reading it, I consider it the most striking in Enlil's lament, but it's missing from all sources currently available to me. I left it in for æsthetic reasons, but for Heaven's sake don't take my word for it for anything remotely important.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.