Death, Dying, Grief and Mourning

            "Death is always the same,
                               but each man dies in his own way."

Carson McCullers, Clock Without Hands, 1960


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Death, Dying, Grief, and Mourning

in Western Literature


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Author :Anonymous,  Gilgamesh: 3000 BCE

Death of Enkidu

Tablet VII

Translated from The Sin-LeqI-Unninni Version John Gardner & John Maier 1982

Presented by Alexander Heidel:

The following fragment contains a speech by Gilgamesh,  presumably addressed to his mother:

Column iv:

“[My] friend saw a dream with ominous [ meaning….].

The day on which he saw the dream was ended [….].

Enkidu  lay stricken, one day [….],

Which Enkidu on his couch [….].

A third day and a fourth day [….];

A fifth day, a sixth, a seventh, an eighth, a ninth, [and a tenth day].

Enkidu’s illness [grew worse and worse].

An eleventh and a twelfth day [….].

Enkidu [ lay ] upon  [his [ couch [….].

He called Gilgamesh [ …. ]:

‘[My] friend, [ …. ] has cursed me.

[I shall not die ] like one who [ falls] in [ battle ].

I was afraid of the battle and [ ….].

My friend, he who [ falls ] in bat [tle] is blessed( ?) ],

(But)  I  [ I shall die in disgrace ( ? ) ].’”


Tablet VIII 

                                       Column ii

[As soon as ] the first shimmer of [morning beamed forth],

Gilga [mesh opened his mouth and said to ] his  [ friend ]:

“ O En [kidu, …. like (? ) a gazelle;

And it was thou [ whom ….] ;

It was thou whom the [ …. ] reared.

And [ …. ] the pasture.

Moun [tains we ascended (?) and went down (/) to ]  the cedar forest.”


In the next fourteen lines, too fragmentary for  translation, Gilgamesh apparently continues the recital of the valiant deeds which the two heroes performed together. After that the text breaks off. Gilgamesh is steeped in sorrow at the death of his friend and turns to the elders of the city with these plaintive words:

Column ii

From the new English Translation Stephen Mitchell 2004

“Listen to me, Elders. Hear me out, me

I [have been] to [you], Enkidu, you mother, your father; I

 will weep for you in the wilderness.

For Enkidu, for my friend, I weep like a wailing woman,

howling bitterly.

[He was] the axe at my side, the bow at my arm,

the dagger in my belt, the shield in front of me,

my festive garment, my splendid attire . . .


An evil has risen up and robbed me.

Friend, you chased the driving mule, the wild ass of the

mountain, panther of the steppe.

Enkidu, you chased the driving mule, the wild ass of the mountain, panther of the steppe.

Then we came together, we went up into the mountains; we caught the Bull of Heaven, we killed it;

We brought down Humbaba who lived in the cedar forest. 

Now what is this sleep that has taken hold of you?

You’ve become dark. You can’t hear me.”

And he — he does not lift his head.

“I touched  his heart, it does not beat.”

He covered the friend’s face like a bride’s.


“Like and eagle I circled over him.”

Like a lioness whose whelps are lost he paces back and forth.

 He tears and messes his rolls of hair.  He tears off and throws down his fine clothes like things unclean.

As soon as the first shimmer of morning beamed forth Gilgamesh ….


                                    Column iii


“On a couch of honor I let thee recline I let thee sit on a seat of ease the seat at my left,

So that the princes of the earth kissed thy feet.

“Over thee I will cause the people of Uruk to weep                                          

Then Gilgamesh issued a call through the land: “Artisan!

Metalworker, goldsmith, engraver! Make for my friend . . .”

Then he fashioned an image of his friend’s own Stature.

“[Enkidu], of lapis lazuli is your chest, of gold your body.”


When something of light had dawned, Gilgamesh . . .


Tablet X

                                      Column iv

“My friend whom I love dearly underwent with me all hardships.

Enkidu whom I love dearly underwent with me all hardships.

The fate of mankind overtook him.  Six days and seven nights I wept over him until a worm fell out of his nose.

Then I was afraid.  In fear of death I roam the wilderness. The case of my friend lies heavy in me.

On a remote path I roam the wilderness. The case of my friend Enkidu lies heavy in me. On a long journey I

wander the steppe.  How can I keep still? How can I be silent? The friend I loved has turned to clay. Enkidu,

the friend I love,

Has turned to clay.

Me, shall I not lie down like him,

Never again to move?”



Adrienne Nater, 2008

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