Dead Names, Dead Dog: The Head of Huwawa, Part 2

Have you ever restarted an old project, only to find that you left it at a place like this?

His breath is the stench of dung, and no incense can banish the odor from where HUMWAWA has been…

As a reminder, here’s what “Simon” says in Dead Names about this dung:

A close reading of the Epic of Gilgamesh tells a different story, for therein we read that Humwawa was a monster who had to be defeated—and beheaded – by Gilgamesh, and that his breath was loathsome [sic] and stank of decay.

In an ideal world, I could read the texts in their original tongues and give you the context. I don’t – but, then again, neither does “Simon.” (If you do, feel free to comment.) Thus, the next best thing to do is to examine a number of Gilgamesh translations and see how they handle what appears to be the applicable passage in context. Here are a number in no particular order:

Mitchell, 2004:

His breath spews fire/ his voice booms like thunder, his jaws are death…

Foster, 2001:

Humbaba’s cry is the roar of a deluge / His maw is fire, his breath is death.

Sanders, 1960:

When he roars it is like the torrent of the storm, his breath is like fire, and his jaws are death itself.

Kovacs, 1989:

Humbaba’s roar is a Flood, his mouth is Fire, his breath Death!

Gardner, 1984 (I couldn’t find this one online):

Humbaba: his shout is the storm-flood, his mouth, fire, his breath is death.

From this passage, we can see a broad range of different possible interpretations of Huwawa’s breath. For example, we might classify it with the nature of his voice, which is unlikely to be read as literal. On other words, his “breath being death” is metaphorical. The Mitchell translation suggests another possibility: that Huwawa’s breath is fiery. Indeed, the frequent descriptions of his mouth would seem to support this, whether we take this aspect as literal or figurative, as Sanders suggests.

Nowhere in any of these is any suggestion that Huwawa’s breath “was loathesome and stank of decay.” Indeed, in the battle between Gilgamesh and Huwawa, we see that the giant has many powers, but not one mentions a bad case of halitosis.

Really, though, “Simon” should know this already. The very edition of the Gilgamesh Epic quoted in the Necronomicon, the poetic adaptation by Herbert Mason, describes Huwawa’s breath as follows:

I have learned that from his mouth springs fire

That scorches the earth and in a moment

There is nothing left alive,

No tree, no insect, as in a dream

That makes one wake and cry…

Published in: on September 26, 2006 at 8:23 pm  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] or Humwawa, or Humbaba in the Necronomicon? Just to be different, we have Part 0, Part .5, Part 1, Part 2, and Part […]

  2. […] or Humwawa, or Humbaba in the Necronomicon? Just to be different, we have Part 0, Part .5, Part 1, Part 2, and Part […]

  3. […] or Humwawa, or Humbaba in the Necronomicon? Just to be different, we have Part 0, Part .5, Part 1, Part 2, and Part […]

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