Sir Francis Bacon

Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtle; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend.

--Of Studies--

Gilgamesh: the roots civillization?

~ 700 words

crofter - n - British, a person who rents and works a very small farm

prolepsis - n - 1. the anticipation of possible objections in order to answer them in advance. 2. the assigning of a person, event, etc. to a period earlier than the actual one: prochronism.

vesper - n - 1. the evening star (Venus) 2. evening bells, songs, or religious services. 3. (Archaic) evening.

As most of you have probably not noticed, I have not posted for a while. I was online recently and noticed that despite this fact the site had still drawn a considerable amount of traffic, and in fact continues to on an ongoing basis. I found this at once curious and heartening, so much so that I've decided not to play as many video games and take back the mantle of blogging. I have read a few books in my absence, so I have plenty to write about, including another by Dostoevki. It seems that my articles on Dostoevski have been the main draw for people, so I will without a doubt mention the book I've read at some point.

But today I would like to talk about the Epic of Gilgamesh, which I must do by first introducing Mesopotamia. Mesopotamia is one of the most ancient cultures ever to have existed on this planet, though in this case I'm speaking mostly about Sumeria, a particular subset of Mesopotamia generally. The geography of the region (where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flow into the Persian Gulf) provided the ancient sumerians extremely fertile land for agriculture, which may have led to the first real accumulation of population, which would have led to culture blossoming in the heart of the ancient world. We're talking before Greece, before Egypt, before Israel, Even before Babylon (same spot, different civilization). please see map.

The epic of Gilgamesh, like so many of the world's oldest stories, started off in an oral culture, and was subsequently transcribed, in this case onto clay tablets in cuniform language, a written language made by pressing a triangular stylus into wet clay to form characters.

The first half of the epic details Gilgamesh's friendship and adventures with Enkidu, a man born from the wilderness and a metaphor for "wild man." This book is so old that one of the great acts of the hero is capturing the wild man and civillizing him. It is interesting to think about this, because the implication is that the creators of the epic had some difficultly trying to transition people from being cave-people to a civillized, agricultural society. Granted this is probably a distant memory for the city of Uruk (Gilgamesh's city), but a temptingly rational outlook, even if the story is mythical. This interesting theme has a number of uncomfortable parrallels in recent history as well, and I'm thinking about Rudyard Kipling when I say that.

At any rate, Enkidu dies, and Gilgamesh sets out on a fantastical journey to find the herb of life that grants immortality. He encounters many gods and beasts, such as the scorpion-man pictured above, two such beasts guard a tunnel into the mountain where the sun rises. In order to gain the knowledge of where the plant grows he has to cross a very large body of water (which is most likely the Indian ocean) to the island belonging to Utnapishtim, the only king ever to be made a god. He tells the story of the flood, which is fascinating in it's parallel to the story of Noah's Ark. That, my friends, is for another post, because I could go on about that for several hundred words at least.

At any rate, he manages to obtain the herb, but it is then eaten by a serpent, which gains the ability of self-renewal, which is why snakes shed their skins. Gilgamesh bemoans this loss, because he was bringing it back to Uruk to share with his people, rather than immediately scarfing it down. He subsequently dies, and we get something that looks like his funeral rights as the last tablet in the epic. Speaking of which, and in case any of you were wondering how easy this story was to translate, the clay tablets look like this:

This is the tablet containing the story of the flood in the Epic of Gilgamesh. You may notice that bits are missing. Fortunately there remain more than one copy of most of these tablets (in various languages) so archeologists can cross reference the tablets and produce a more or less complete story.

Today's image credit goes to MythAdvocate of DeviantArt. Not terribly many people concern themselves with ancient mesopotamian myth and their visual interpretations, so thanks!