The Ancient Epic of Gilgamesh and the Precession of the Equinox
In stellar terms, the allusion is again quite plain: the axe in the right hand; the bow in the left hand; the sword hanging from his prominent belt. Surely Gilgamesh was not a king, but this was instead the Sumerian name for the constellation of Orion. Take a look at a diagram of Orion, and see the similarities. Quite obviously Orion has all the attributes ascribed to Gilgamesh, and so the Gilgamesh epic just has to be a story about a cosmic battle of the constellations.
Fig 2. Orion as Gilgamesh, with his axe, bow, belt and sword.
Thus Gilgamesh was written as an epic of the heavens, an impending battle of the constellations; and the greatest of all the constellations, Orion, was arming himself to do battle with the cosmos. But Gilgamesh (Orion) does not know the way, so it is only fitting that he needs Enkidu (the meteor or perhaps Sirius, the dog star) to lead the way:
Let Enkidu lead the way, he knows the road to the forest
[of stars] ... the mountain of cedars, the dwelling place of
The ancient tale then goes on to describe the purpose of Gilgamesh’s (Orion’s) quest – it is to slay the constellation of Taurus the Bull. In stellar terms, this is perfectly logical. It is the constellation of Orion who is armed with the axe, the bow and has a sword hanging from his prominent belt. It is Orion who had drawn his bow and has aimed it at the adjacent constellation of Taurus.
Fig 3. Orion the Hunter, battling with Taurus the bull. In this 19th century depiction, the axe has become a club and the bow has become the skin of the Nemean lion. Thus Orion is also being associated here with Hercules.
And so it would appear that the precessional change in the constellations, from Taurus to Aries, that is also alluded to in both the Egyptian and biblical texts, is about to unfold once more. But here in Sumer it is the hero Gilgamesh, in the guise of Orion, who is reported as killing the 'Bull of Heaven' – the constellation of Taurus. But first, Gilgamesh has to seek out the watcher of the forest (the stars), a fearsome beast called the Humbaba:
At the third blow Humbaba fell ... Now the mountains were moved and
all the hills, for the guardian of the forest was killed ... the seven
splendours of Humbaba were extinguished.
For a 4,000-year-old story, the prose is still as clear today as when it was written, if you know the subject matter. There is only one guardian of the constellation of Taurus and that is the Pleiades, the constellation known as the ‘seven sisters’, a small group of seven stars that are visible to the naked eye and reside on the back of Taurus. From this elevated position, the Humbaba (the Pleiades) could watch over the constellation of Taurus and protect it. Thus if Taurus were to be attacked, the Humbaba had to be dealt with first. With the Humbaba ‘extinguished’, Taurus’ back was exposed and vulnerable - here was the weak-spot for the hero Gilgamesh (Orion) to attack.
‘Now thrust in your sword between the nape and the horns.’
So Gilgamesh followed the Bull, he seized the thick of its tail,
he thrust the sword between the nape and the horns and slew the
Bull. When they had killed the Bull of Heaven they cut out its
heart and gave it to Shamash (the Sun), and the brothers rested.
Thus Gilgamesh had slain the constellation of Taurus, and the era of Aries the Ram could now begin. This may be a rather radical interpretation of the Gilgamesh epic, but the reasoning here is further reinforced by the king-lists of Sumer; these show the successor to Gilgamesh as being the king Lugulbanda, who is known as a Shepherd King. The era of Taurus was now over and so accordingly King Lugulbanda became known as a 'Shepherd' – just like the Egyptian Hyksos Shepherd pharaohs, he became a follower of the new ruling constellation of Aries.
Thus Gilgamesh (Orion) had ended the reign of the constellation of Taurus, and ushered in the rule of Aries and the Shepherd Kings. However, the Sumerian tale indicates that some of the gods were angry with this, and:
Ishtar ... uttered a curse: ‘Woe to Gilgamesh, for he has scorned me
in killing the Bull of Heaven’. When Enkidu heard these words he tore
out the bull’s right thigh and tossed it in her face saying, ‘If I could
lay my hands on you, it is this I should do to you ...’