Once more the fates move. Now, while Gilgamesh steps beyond himself, he and Enkidu, Life and Death, Man and Nature, become the portal that guards the Veil of the Beyond. Each offers their gifts as the Companions, one by one, pass through the Veil. What each may find there is for them alone.
For three days, Gilgamesh wanders, lost in the labyrinth, until, by chance…if chance it be… he stumbles through the door that leads to the Holy of Holies. The room is empty, but ‘to breach that space and breathe in its silence is always to summon forth that which is most needful to the soul.’
The gods appear to Gilgamesh and Utu, the god of the Sun, requires the King to attend and to contemplate the vanities of his heart. In turn they speak, echoing the words of Shamhat when she had asked Gilgamesh why he had refused all the priestesses when they had offered their bodies as a portal to the gods. He had found them unworthy of himself. But now, the gods reveal what might have been had he had the courage to accept their gifts.
Nanna tells him that the dreams they offered might have saved Enkidu…and throws down the white Veil of the Moon. Ninurta tells him that the strengths of his priestesses might have taught Gilgamesh when to apply them…and when to withhold his hand. He throws down the black Veil of Saturn. Gugalanna speaks of the arts of resolving conflict…and throws down the red veil of Mars. Inanna, speaking of subtlety and understanding, throws down the green Veil of Venus. Enki speaks of the wisdom to see true and casts down the grey Veil of Mercury. Enlil speaks of seeing the divine through joy and throws the orange veil of Saturn at his feet.
“Thus,” says Utu, “do the lights of your soul speak, O King.”
Gilgamesh is distraught, seeing at last where his actions and attitudes have brought him. He looks for a way to make reparation… and decides that, as he cannot recall Enkidu from the dead, no other in his kingdom will ever die again!
The gods withdraw, knowing and seeing more than they will say. The Fates once more turn the wheels of destiny. Gilgamesh regains the sunlight and goes straight to his mother, the goddess Ninsun, seeking her blessing on a new quest, which, says Gilgamesh, he and he alone can encompass. His ego, so lately laid bare and humbled, has already begun to reassert itself.
“So soon?” asks Ninsun. Had he not slain the ‘demon, Humbaba’? Gilgamesh, rewriting events in his mind, to reflect glory upon himself, tells her that the Forest Demon is indeed dead, as is the Bull of Heaven whom he had found ‘skulking beneath the Temple’…
Should he and Enkidu not be at a victory parade? No, says Gilgamesh, holding out the amulet she had bestowed upon Enkidu and telling Ninsun that he is dead. Ninsun asks if the fallen should not then be honoured, but Gilgamesh replies that there can be no honour until he has banished death from his kingdom.
“But my dear child, all things are brought to birth, all things live, and all things must die. It is the natural order. Why even the Divine Council themselves will die, one day, in their turn.”
“There was one, who… defeated death… and gained immortality. The Old Tales tell of it. The tales that I read and re-read in my youth honour the name of Utnapishtim. He stole the Herb of Immortality from the denizens of the Underworld and he still lives to this day in a paradise beyond the mortal realms.”
“My dear boy, even if Utnapishtim is not some story-tellers whim, do you suppose you can find him?”
“I,” says Gilgamesh, drawing himself up to his full height “and no other!”
Ninsun is dubious about his motives, but grants her blessing…if he can assure her that he does this only for the people of Uruk, and has relinquished all thought of self-aggrandisement and his own glory. Gilgamesh, blinded once more by the walls of his own ego, assures her that it is so… and again the Fates move.
Gilgamesh prepares himself for his journey, bathing in the Great River, arraying himself in rich and gorgeous robes and placing his crown upon his head.
“Who,” says the man who has abandoned all thought of self-glory, “is the handsomest of men? Who is the bravest of heroes? Who slaughtered the Bull of Heaven? Who obliterated the Forest Demon? And who shall discover the whereabouts of Utnapishtim and bring back The Herb of Immortality for his people?”
Who indeed? The man that Gilgamesh, once again looking through the eyes of the ego, believes himself to be?