What was the giant Humbaba like, who guards the mountain cedars in that pieced-together Assyrian epic Gilgamesh, which may be the world’s oldest poem? Georg Burckhardt has attempted to reconstruct it, and from his German version, published in Wiesbaden in 1952, we give this passage:
Enkidu swung his axe and cut down one of the cedars. An angry voice rang out: Who has entered my forest and cut down one of my trees?’ Then they saw Humbaba himself coming: he had the paws of a lion and a body covered with horny scales; his feet had the claws of a vulture, and on his head were the horns of a wild bull; his tail and male member each ended in a snake’s head.
In one of the later cantos of Gilgamesh, we are introduced to creatures called Men-Scorpions who stand guard at the gate of the mountain Mashu. ‘Its twin peaks [in an English version by N. K. Sandars] are as high as the wall of heaven and its paps reach down to the underworld.’ It is into this
mountain that the sun goes down at night and from which it returns at dawn. The Man-Scorpion is human in the upper part of its body, while its lower part ends in a scorpion’s tail.
Illustrator: Zura Mchedlishvili
Via: Penguin Books