Jump to content

Menu
  • 0

Can we talk about Gilgamesh?


Sleep-Deprived
 Share

Question

I will admit that my first read through Gilgamesh was not particularly careful.  I felt contempt for the hero, and hoped not to find much to relate to in his character or journey.  I read it from the outside looking in; from an opposing worldview and morality.  I was surprised this week when I revisited my snarky annotations and ran head-first into a part of Gilgamesh’s journey that resonated with me.  It begins in Book VIII, when for the first time Gilgamesh meets the circumstance he cannot control– the loss of Enkidu, or more specifically, what the loss of Enkidu reveals about his own condition.  In the midst of his grief, Gilgamesh cries out, “Must I die too?  Must I be as lifeless as Enkidu?  How can I bear this sorrow that gnaws at my belly, this fear of death that restlessly drives me onward?†(p. 159).  The restless warrior turns into a restless wanderer driven into a tunnel of total darkness, seeking a way of escape.

 

It is not that I had walked through life untouched by death, but it was not until my dad died unexpectedly that I had to bear the relentless burden of, “How can I bear (carry) this sorrow that gnaws at my belly?†and still be present for my family and my young children?   I also felt embarrassed by how inadequate my compassion for others in the same circumstance had previously been, not because I showed no compassion, but because I had not known the excruciating weight of the burden. 

 

Gilgamesh’s journey through the tunnel rings true to me – both the heartache and the understanding gained from the journey.  Though my worldview conflicts with Gilgamesh’s fatalism, I found experiences in his journey that resonated with my own, including Shiduri’s exhortation, “But until the end comes enjoy your life, spend it in happiness, not despair…let music and dancing fill your house, love the child who holds you by the hand… That is the best way for a man to live†(pp. 168-9). 

 

What resonated with you?    

 

Jenny

  • Like 5
Link to comment
Share on other sites

8 answers to this question

Recommended Posts

  • 0

I just wanted to add, that the most on-point description I have read describing that transition from not knowing death to knowing death is written at the end of chapter XXXVI in Anne of Green Gables, when Montgomery prepares the reader for Matthew's death.    "Anne always remembered the silvery, peaceful beauty and fragrant calm of that night.  It was the last night before sorrow touched her life; and no life is ever quite the same again when once that cold, sanctifying touch has been laid upon it."

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 0

Hi Jenny.  I enjoyed reading your thoughts around Gilgamesh.  I admit that I found Gilgamesh quite arrogant.  Maybe it's a young, virile man thing, but it seems quite arrogant that he thinks he can (and should?) escape death when all others must succumb.  True, his grief over Enkidu's death is very poignant.  But, as Utnapishtim said, he had a blessed life from day one: healthy, strong body and mind, good food, beautiful clothes, and a throne for crying out loud.  In those times, that was a rare thing indeed!  Yet he's always searching for more.  Call me simple, but I think relishing the every day enjoyments is the best part of life, much like Shiduri :)  All his striving was for naught anyhow, I suppose.  A lesson?

 

What I really enjoyed were the opening and ending paragraphs describing the city of Uruk.  The author is so proud and takes such joy from the city.  It seems peaceful and colloquial, probably viewed with rose-tinted glasses because I'm sure there was much suffering.  But it really drove home the point that there is so much to enjoy in everyday things.  And a good thing too because every day things are all most of us will ever have, both at the beginning and at the end.  Life moves onward, never ceasing. 

  • Like 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 0

Tawlas, I like your thought that the opening and closing paragraphs represent Gilgamesh's beginning to learn to take joy in the good things that his life holds.

 

You can also interpret this, as I have tended to do, as Gilgamesh's lack of forward motion--he begins and ends the epic in exactly the same place, despite his two tremendous journeys.

 

Your reading is more hopeful than mine.  :001_smile:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 0

I just re-read this the other day in order to teach it at co-op. There's so much richness! I love what a bumbling idiot Gilgamesh is at times. I love all the epic hero stuff too. And I find the flood story fascinating and other biblical parallels fascinating. 

 

Regarding the loss of Enkidu--it's really rather poignant how consumed with grief Gilgamesh is, and then how the loss haunts him in other parts of the epic. It's not just one story in the collection--it's a major theme running throughout. I was struck with the repetition of the word "companionless" when Gilgamesh journeyed through the underworld. Heartrending.

 

Have you seen this?

 

  • Like 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 0

I was entirely unfamiliar with the story when I began reading Gilgamesh.  I am so glad I read the introduction, it helped me be able to luxuriate in the story telling, without trying to figure out what was happening.  It was also helpful in viewing the characters as morally neutral.  I didn't try to view them through my own moral lenses, although I'm certain I did to some extent, and I didn't try to decide who was acting "right" and who was acting "wrong".  They just acted.  I think my enjoyment of the book hinged on this viewpoint.  I was so much more sympathetic to all the characters when I didn't hope they would align their behaviors with my morals. 

 

I was struck by how similar our current heroes and male stereotypes are to Gilgamesh!  All the blustering and the fighting, the arrogance and the bravado, we still view those characteristics as Typical Type A Male.  It has made me look very closely into traditional male traits and question how much of that is culture and how much is just Man.  Our current American culture varies in how positively or negatively we view those characteristics, but they are still dominant stereotypes.  How very enduring!  Even if these epic journey have dictated our view of masculinity, how very telling that it strikes so many men so deeply. 

 

In addition, I don't know if I have ever been so emotionally moved as when Gilgamesh says he thought "If my grief is violent enough, perhaps he will come back to life again."  Who can doubt the depth of his feelings?  And who does not have some one in their own life whose death would make them think the same? 

 

I believe that this has entered into my top 10 favorite books of all time.  Who would have thought?

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 0

I also read the whole introduction before starting the Epic itself - I guess out of habit.  I read the epic viewing it as an insight into pre-Christian and pre-western thought and found it very interesting and moving.  I found some things to be very beautiful.  I couldn't help but receive it in the light of actual history and wondered what actual events were precursors to it.  It seems human nature has always needed to form a narrative....

 

I felt there were lots of seeds of potential good in a moral sense that were twisted by the pagan culture that it is set in.  For example, I was moved by the role of the temple priestess Shamhat and by Enkidu's becoming human through their intimacy.   My own sexual experience found correlation surprisingly enough even though I was a virgin with very little sex ed in my home schooled life and am now happily married to my only lover. The priestesses are described as giving 'their bodies to any man, in honor of the goddess' (pg.77) and later she 'held nothing back and showed him what a woman is' (pg.79) I wrote in the margine, "I give my body to my husband in honor of our Lord"  We also rejoice in being male and female, a mystery that reflects Christ and his Church. I found all the graphic descriptions of the poem quite intense and yet I think the way it is presented is closer to what is true when compared to our current cultures clinical and selfish views on sexuality.  

 

Another spot I resonated with was the mothers prayer on pg. 99-100.  I know my mother heart has prayed with similar feeling for brothers, husband, father and sons. I also was touched by aspects of friendship of Gilgamesh and Enkidu.  I have had many acquaintances in my life but sometimes you just suddenly become very close to someone; C.S. Lewis writes about Phileo love in his book The Four Loves and that is what I am thinking about.

 

I have to go make dinner so maybe I will come back later and add more things I found had good roots....

 

The recording was great! I liked all the history that Susan filled us in on!

 

Hannah

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Answer this question...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...