Plot : King Gilgamesh of Uruk is tyrannizing his subjects so they call on the Gods for relief. The Gods create an equal and companion for Gilgamesh, the hairy wild man Enkidu, born of clay and raised by gazelles. After their initial battle, the two become brothers and set off on adventures, including slaying the ogre Humbaba and the Great Bull of Heaven. Enkidu sickens and dies, leaving an inconsolable Gilgamesh fearing his own death and wandering the wilderness seeking immortality, where he faces scorpion-men and stone men, and must run the Path of the Sun.
My thoughts: Within the limitations of the style (and I admit the repetition of long tracts was tiresome), I thought the essentials of the story were worthy and my imagination provided an excitement and interest to the various trials of Gilgamesh. I loved the character of Enkidu, the noble savage who provided friendship, counsel and a moral voice to Gilgamesh.
Scholars have pointed out the similarities of the Great Deluge and Uta-napishti with the Biblical Flood and Noah. Like the Egyptians, the Mesopotamians were reliant on the rivers for their fledgling agriculture so naturally minor floods were part of their everyday experience. I was more taken with other Biblical similiarities such as Enkidu’s seduction leading to his loss of innocence and banishment from the natural world.
The story is not a well known one today, and has not been ‘adapted’ by Hollywood, probably because there is no climactic ending, although Gilgamesh’s own journey does come full circle and his personal story shows him grow in wisdom.
From tablet III
Ninsun, Gilgamesh’s goddess mother, calls on Shamash the Sun God to send the thirteen winds to assist Gilgamesh and Enkidu in their battle against Humbaba
“O Shamash, rouse against Humbaba the mighty gale winds:
South Wind, North Wind, East Wind and West Wind,
Blast, Counterblast, Typhoon, Hurricane and Tempest,
Devil-Wind, Frost-Wind, Gale and Tornado.”
And a little later she entreats Gilgamesh to take care and rely on Enkidu
“Who goes in front will save his comrade,
Who knows the road shall guard his friend”
Diversions and digressions: I am tempted to find out more about the Mesopotamian pantheon of gods, but as they do not seem to impact significantly on world literature like their Greek counterparts, I think I will move on.
Personal rating : 6/10
Next : The Code of Hammurabi , a list of laws and penalties attributed to the Babylonian king Hammurabi around 1750 BC. Which raises the question : what will I consider literature on this journey? Each reader must answer for themselves. I will read titles I find interesting or have resonance to later works. So for me, sacred texts (The Bible, The Koran, The Vedas, etc. ) are definitely ‘in’, and basic works on politics, history, science, etc. are also ‘in’. But you must read what you consider worthy : your time is precious. If you want to stick solely to fiction, I’ll meet you again at Homer’s twin works The Iliad and The Odyssey.
PS Any Doctor Who fans out there should try John Peel’s novel Timewyrm : Genesys (ISBN 0426203550) where the Doctor and Ace team up with Gilgamesh and Enkidu to defeat the alien/goddess Ishtar.