Friday, October 23, 2009

Gilgamesh

Just finishing up a reread of The Epic of Gilgamesh. I have the familiar Penguin Classics version by N. K. Sandars. It is a powerful and touching text.

I think I may first have encountered Gilgamesh while in elementary school. The story is lively enough where that is possible. Whatever, it had a direct appeal. Not to minimize the epic, but Gilgamesh seems like a superhero, only without the malarkey that comix are prone to. He is a barking wonderboy who you can imagine having boastful stele erected like Sargon did, you know Ozymandias (who I learn from Guy Davenport was Ramses II). Yet Gilgamesh had these plaintive qualities, qualities that are intensified when Enkidu dies. Gilgamesh is afraid of death. Timor mortis conturbat him.

Gilgamesh goes to his sort of father, the god Utnapishtim, known as Utnapishtim the Faraway. Which sounds like something Jung could work with. And the immortal life just don’t work out for Gilgamesh. Certes, you find similar stories in other cultures. I am not sure why Gilgamesh rings so clearly for me. The spread of Greek culture I suppose caused a dilution in the myths. Not that Greek myths are diluted or weak, but there are so many extant versions of the stories. I do not want to pretend to more scholarship than I have done so I will leave it at that. The point is that Gilgamesh’s fret seems current and immovable. Immovable.

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