Presentation on theme: "There is Nothing We Should Fear Feraco Myth to Science Fiction 16 September 2011."— Presentation transcript:
There is Nothing We Should Fear Feraco Myth to Science Fiction 16 September 2011
Once Enkidu comes in from the Steppe, his first meeting with Gilgamesh is actually steeped in conflict. It’s perhaps unrealistic to believe that Enkidu would take such great offense at Gilgamesh’s treatment of Uruk’s new brides, considering he wouldn’t exactly be familiar with the institution of marriage after spending his entire life with the animals. But by positing Enkidu as Gilgamesh’s opponent, the poet(s) (whoever he was or they were) can underscore the tyrannical and unnatural nature of what the king does. Enkidu revolts against Gilgamesh’s behavior for the same reason Gilgamesh revolts against death: because both seem like gross violations of what should be the natural order. The Battle Begins
Draw? Win? Lose? Interestingly, Mason’s translation shows the battle between the two ending in a draw. Some translations feature Gilgamesh emerging victorious; others have Enkidu carrying the day. Regardless of who wins, however, the two are now bound to each other. They’ve tested each other’s strength and courage and deemed their counterpart worthy of their company.
Then, in whiplash fashion, the narrative shifts towards the battle in the forest with Humbaba. This doesn’t seem to be the result of a missing tablet, but rather the manner in which the poet(s) felt like telling the story. The abruptness of this shift, and the disorientation that accompanies it, nicely reflects the apparent arbitrariness of Gilgamesh’s quest (Shamash urged him to kill Humbaba in his dreams), as well as his fickle personality. Done, Done, On to the Next One
But the quest isn’t as arbitrary as it seems Mason doesn’t spend a lot of time explaining why Gilgamesh wants to go fight the forest guardian, but other translations paint a fuller picture. Technically, Humbaba’s an evil creature; Enlil just happens to enlist him to do “good” work, namely by defending the Cedar Forest from men who would destroy it. This isn’t enough to clear Humbaba in Shamash’s eyes; the god makes it his mission to eradicate evil from the planet, and he can’t accomplish that while the forest guardian lives. Why Fight Humbaba?
So Shamash goes to Gilgamesh in his dreams, convincing him to attack Humbaba while the king sleeps. This is why Ninsun curses him for giving her son a restless heart. You see that Gilgamesh isn’t driven by pure bloodlust when they cut down cedars to make a giant door for the gods. In his waking thoughts, Gilgamesh is convinced he’s following the right course of action, and – Enkidu’s objections aside – he really has no reason to doubt that conclusion. The King as Tool
As it so happens, by going into the forest to destroy its guardian, Gilgamesh’s best-case scenario leaves him pleasing one god while seriously angering another. This is how “Deal or No Deal” relates to Gilgamesh: Our hero doesn’t know what heads or tails stand for, and chooses to flip the coin anyway. To be fair, it should be noted that he doesn’t think the heads-tails scenario applies to his decision. Call It In the Air
It is Humbaba who has taken your strength, Gilgamesh spoke out, anxious For the journey. We must kill him And end his evil power over us. No, Enkidu cried; it is the journey That will take away our life. Don’t be afraid, said Gilgamesh. We are together. There is nothing We should fear.
When Enkidu’s attempts to reason with Gilgamesh fall on deaf ears, the king tells the Elders of Uruk that he intends to slay Humbaba. At this point, a curious interaction takes place: Gilgamesh justifies his actions by insisting that “the youth of Uruk need this fight,” and the old men, flush with memories of long-ago glories, agree to his plan. This short exchange, easily skipped, reminds us again of the stagnation that has taken root in Uruk; these Elders are no longer fighters, and the real fighters grow restless from lack of fighting. In short, Gilgamesh is not the only one lacking purpose; through his capriciousness and tyranny, he has robbed others of theirs as well. Stagnant Still Water
Yet a curious thing follows: once the Elders agree that Gilgamesh should slay the monster, he and Enkidu venture out alone. None of the youth of Uruk, those who need the fight most, fight with him! What was Gilgamesh arguing if he never intended for the young warriors to join him? We see here the idea of revitalization by proxy, as well as the connection a ruler was supposed to have to his realm. As the king goes, so goes his city; if Gilgamesh is able to regain his purpose, to win glory and death-beating fame, the benefits supposedly carry over to the rest of his people, and Uruk will be renewed. Connected
This is a surprisingly common idea in a lot of old literature, and even some relatively contemporary works T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, for example, uses the wounded, impotent Fisher King as a metaphor for the degeneration of modern society in the wake of the Great War. We even get hints of this idea earlier in the epic, during Enkidu’s battle with Gilgamesh. The citizens of Uruk cheer lustily when their king’s equal proves his worth: they aren’t rooting for their king to lose, but for new blood and purpose to take root. The Wounded Fisher King
So Gilgamesh goes out to overcome the monster, and the book does an oddly effective job of positioning it within the archetypal context of saving a province or nation His victory is the City’s, for victory brings them life they otherwise miss. The adventure also begs some questions that, while more relevant to the ancient cultures that produced the epic, remain interesting in the modern age. Do we need enemies? Would we stagnate without conflict? And what’s the relationship between the fortunes of a society and those of its leaders? Questions for the Modern Age
As they head out, Enkidu leads the way. Before doing so, he warns Gilgamesh that they are heading down “a road which you have never traveled.” In the context of their conversation, Enkidu means that he’s never faced something as terrible as Humbaba before, and that Gilgamesh, for all his bravado, will be shaken to his core when he does. Down an Untraveled Road
We know better, of course. Gilgamesh will indeed tremble when he faces the monster. But monsters can be beaten. What shakes us to our core are the things that cannot. The Final Word