In Ancient Mesopotamian religion, Humbaba (𒄷𒌝𒁀𒁀 Assyrian spelling), also spelled Huwawa (𒄷𒉿𒉿 Sumerian spelling) and surnamed the Terrible, was a monstrous giant of immemorial age raised by Utu, the Sun / justice / truth god.[a] Humbaba was the guardian of the Cedar Forest, where the gods lived, by the will of the god Enlil, who
- "When he looks at someone, it is the look of death."
- "Humbaba's roar is a flood,
- his mouth is death and his breath is fire!
- A hundred leagues away he can hear any [rustling?] in his forest!
- Who would go down into his forest!"[b]
Another description from Georg Burckhardt's translation of the Epic of Gilgamesh says,
- "he had the paws of a lion and
- a body covered in thorny scales;
- his feet had the claws of a vulture, and
- on his head were the horns of a wild bull;
- his tail and phallus each ended in a snake's head."
However, another description in a tablet sold to a museum in Sulaymaniyah in 2011 is more positive about Humbaba:
- "Where Humbaba came and went there was a track,
- the paths were in good order and the way was well trodden ...
- Through all the forest a bird began to sing:
- A wood pigeon was moaning, a turtle dove calling in answer.
- Monkey mothers sing aloud, a youngster monkey shrieks:
- Like a band of musicians and drummers daily
- they bash out a rhythm in the presence of Humbaba."
In this version of the story, Humbaba is beloved of the gods and a kind of king in the palace of the forest. Monkeys are his heralds, birds his courtiers, and his entire throne room breathes with the aroma of cedar resin. The tablet goes on to portray Gilgamesh as an aggressor who destroys a forest unnecessarily, and Humbaba's death is lamented by Enkidu.
Humbaba is first mentioned in Tablet II of the Epic of Gilgamesh. After Gilgamesh and Enkidu become friends following their initial fight, they set out on an adventure to the Cedar Forest beyond the seventh mountain range, to slay Humbaba (Huwawa):
- "Enkidu," Gilgamesh vows,
- "since a man cannot pass beyond the final end of life,
- I want to set off into the mountains,
- to establish my renown there."
Gilgamesh offers Humbaba a series of gifts while beseeching him to allow the king to find his hidden home in the cedar forest, saying,
- "Couldn't I get close to you and your family?
- Just hand over your terrors[c] to me!
- I want to become your kinsman!"
The gifts given by Gilgamesh were:
- his older sister, En-me-barage-si, to be Humbaba's wife
- his younger sister, Ma-tur, to be Humbaba's concubine
- [a gap in the text]
- eca-flour and a water-skin of cool water
- big shoes
- tiny shoes
- rock-crystal, nir stone, and lapis lazuli
While Gilgamesh distracts this spirit of the cedar forest, the crew of fifty unmarried young men he has brought on the adventure are felling cedar timber, stripping it of its branches
- "so as to lay them down at the foot of the hills"
to be hauled away. Thus the adventure reveals itself in the context of a timber raid, bringing seized cedar lumber to Mesopotamia, barren of timber.
Having lowered Humbaba's guard, Gilgamesh approaches him
- ... "from behind, as one does with a ... snake.
- He made as if to kiss him,
- but then punched him on the cheek with his fist."
Defeated, Humbaba appeals to a receptive Gilgamesh for mercy, but Enkidu convinces Gilgamesh to slay Humbaba. In a final effort, Humbaba tries to escape but is decapitated by Enkidu, or in some versions by both heroes together. His head is put in a leather sack, which is brought to Enlil, the god who set Humbaba as the forest's guardian. Enlil becomes enraged upon learning of his death and redistributes Humbaba's terrors / auras[c]:
- "He gave Humbaba's first aura[c] to the fields.
- He gave his second aura[c] to the rivers.
- He gave his third aura[c] to the reed-beds.
- He gave his fourth aura[c] to the lions.
- He gave his fifth aura[c] to the palace. [one text has debt slaves]
- He gave his sixth aura[c] to the forests. [one text has the hills]
- He gave his seventh aura[c] to Nungal."[d]
No vengeance was laid upon the heroes, though Enlil condemns their treatment of Humbawa:
- "He should have eaten the bread that you eat,
- and should have drunk the water that you drink!
- He should have been honored."
As his death approaches, and Gilgamesh is oppressed with his own mortality, the gods remind him of his great feats:
The iconography of the apotropaic severed head of Humbaba, with staring eyes, flowing beard and wild hair, is well attested from the First Babylonian dynasty, continuing into Neo-Assyrian art. It fades away during the Achaemenid rule, however, the image seems to have diffused into adjacent cultures:
The severed head of the monstrous Humbaba found a Greek parallel of the gorgoneion, the protective amulet depicting the gorgon's head from the Perseus myth. Perseus similarly employed the head of the gorgon Medusa (the original of the gorgoneion) which he kept hidden in a leather sack. Archaic Greek depictions of the gorgoneion (see picture, right) often render it bearded, an anomaly for the female gorgon.
Different Mesopotamian depictions of Humbaba:
Gilgamesh and Huwawa, version A:
- "Utu, I never knew a mother who bore me,
- nor a father who brought me up!
- I was born in the mountains
- – you brought me up!"
- Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet II.
- English "terrors" used for cuneiform 𒈨𒉈, Sumerian me-lem4, aura / dreadful glamour / frightening splendor.
- Nungal is the goddess of prisoners.
- Black, Jeremy A. (2000-06-26) [1999-12-26]. Zólyomi, Gábor; Robson, Eleanor (eds.). "Gilgamesh and Huwawa, version A". The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature. orient.ox.ac.uk (translation). Oriental Institute. Oxford, UK: University of Oxford. Archived from the original on 2006-12-30.
- Black, Jeremy A. (2000-05-05) [1999-12-27]. Zólyomi, Gábor; Robso, Eleanor (eds.). "Gilgamesh and Huwawa, version B". The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature. orient.ox.ac.uk (translation). Oriental Institute. Oxford, UK: University of Oxford. Archived from the original on 2007-06-29.
- Dalley, S. (1989). Myths from Mesopotamia. Oxford University Press;
- Smith, S. (1926). "The face of Huwawa". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. 26: 440–42.
- Burckhardt, Georg (1991) . Das Gilgamesch-Epos – Eine Dichtung aus dem alten Orient [The Gilgamesh-Epic – A poem from the ancient orient] (in German) (1st, Neudruck ed.). Berlin, DE: Rütten & Loening. ISBN 3352004315.
- Tharoor, Kanishk & Maruf, Maryam (9 March 2016). "The Genie of Nimrud". Museum of Lost Objects. BBC News. British Broadcasting Corporation.
- "The Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary Sign List". Babylonian Section. Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology (electronic ed.). University of Pennsylvania.
- "The death of Gilgamesh segment F from Me-Turan". Archived from the original on 2006-12-30.
- McKenzie, Judith S. (November 2001). "Keys from Egypt and the east: Observations on Nabataean culture in the light of recent discoveries". Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research. Nabataean Petra. 324: 97–112, esp. pp 107 ff. doi:10.2307/1357634. JSTOR 1357634. S2CID 164004570.
- Noted at an early date by Hopkins, Clark (1934). "Assyrian elements in the Perseus–Gorgon story". American Journal of Archaeology. 38: 341 ff. doi:10.2307/498901. JSTOR 498901. S2CID 191408685.
- McKenzie, Judith; Reyes, A.T.; Schmidt-Colinet, A. (1998). "Faces in the rock at Petra and Medain Saleh". Palestine Exploration Quarterly. 130: 37, 39 with references. doi:10.1179/peq.1918.104.22.168.
Not all decapitation scenes are identifiable as Gilgamesh and Humbaba: Opfer (1928) could find only one.
Opfer, C. (1928). "Der Tod des Humbaba" [The Death of Humbawa]. Altorientalische Forschungen (in German). 5: 207 ff.