The Cedar Forest is the glorious realm of the gods of Mesopotamian mythology. It is guarded by the demigod Humbaba and was once entered by the hero Gilgamesh who dared cut down trees from its virgin stands during his quest for fame. The Cedar Forest is described in Tablets 4-6 of the great Epic of Gilgamesh.
Early translators of the Epic assumed that the “Cedar Forest” refers to the Lebanon Cedars.
Gilgamesh is the semi mythical king of Uruk best known as the main character in the Epic of Gilgamesh (written c. 2150-1400 BCE), an Akkadian poem that is considered the first great work of literature, and in earlier Sumerian poems. In the epic, Gilgamesh is a demigod of superhuman strength who builds the city walls of Uruk to defend his people and travels to meet the sage Utnapishtim, who survived the Great Flood.
Tablet four tells the story of the journey to the Cedar Forest. On each day of the six-day journey, Gilgamesh prays to Shamash; in response to these prayers, Shamash sends Gilgamesh oracular dreams during the night. The first is not preserved. In the second, Gilgamesh dreams that he wrestles a great bull that splits the ground with his breath. Enkidu interprets the dream for Gilgamesh: the dream means that Shamash, the bull, will protect Gilgamesh.
At the entrance to the Cedar Forest, Gilgamesh begins to quake with fear; he prays to Shamash, reminding him that he had promised Ninsun that he would be safe. Shamash calls down from heaven, ordering him to enter the forest because Humbaba is not wearing all his armor. The demon Humbaba wears seven coats of armor, but now he is only wearing one, so he is particularly vulnerable. Enkidu loses his courage and turns back; Gilgamesh falls on him and they have a great fight. Hearing the crash of their fighting, Humbaba comes stalking out of the Cedar Forest to challenge the intruders. A large part of the tablet is missing here. On the one part of the tablet still remaining, Gilgamesh convinces Enkidu that they should stand together against the demon.
Gilgamesh and Enkidu enter the gloriously beautiful Cedar Forest and begin to cut down the trees. Hearing the sound, Humbaba comes roaring up to them and warns them off. the two begin their epic battle with Humbaba. Shamash intrudes on the battle, helping the pair, and Humbaba is defeated. On his knees, with Gilgamesh’s sword at his throat, Humbaba begs for his life and offers Gilgamesh all the trees in the forest and his eternal servitude.
Gilgamesh, with a great sweep of his sword, removes Humbaba’s head. But before he dies, Humbaba screams out a curse on Enkidu: “Of you two, may Enkidu not live the longer, may Enkidu not find any peace in this world!” Soon later Enkidu becomes sick and dies.
Gilgamesh and Enkidu cut down the cedar forest and in particular the tallest of the cedar trees to make a great cedar gate for the city of Nippur. They build a raft out of the cedar and float down the Euphrates to their city.
After these events, Gilgamesh, his fame widespread and his fame resplendent in his wealthy clothes, attracts the sexual attention of the goddess Ishtar, who comes to Gilgamesh and offers to become his lover. Gilgamesh refuses with insults, listing all the mortal lovers that Ishtar has had and recounting the dire fates they all met with at her hands. Deeply insulted, Ishtar returns to heaven and begs her father, the sky-god Anu , to let her have the Bull of Heaven to wreak vengeance on Gilgamesh and his city