July 12, 2007


Caption: Earlier in the story, Gilgamesh and Enkidu overcome the fierce monster Humbaba.

Welcome to Fun With the Epic of Gilgamesh Week on Goat Rope, a lighthearted look at history's earliest surviving epic. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier entries.

On previous post, we've met Gilgamesh, king of Uruk. Gilgamesh met his best friend the hairy man Enkidu. They had glorious adventures, killing the monster Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven.

But these excessive deeds have come at a cost: Enkidu is dead and a despairing Gilgamesh is about to go on a long quest in search of immortality. He is determined to cross the sea to the farthest lands in search of Utanapishtim, the Sumerian Noah, who survived the flood. Utanapishtim and his wife are the only humans who have been granted immortality.

He leaves Uruk and travels far, meeting scary scorpion people and Siduri, the kindly woman wine grower at the edge of the sea. She advises Gilgamesh to accept human limitations:

You will never find that life for which you are looking. When the gods created man they allotted to him death, but life they retained in their own keeping. As for you, Gilgamesh, fill your belly with good things; day and night, night and day, dance and be merry, feast and rejoice. Let your clothes be fresh, bathe yourself in water, cherish the little child that holds your hand, and make your wife happy in your embrace; for this too is the lot of man.

Gilgamesh, of course, isn't willing to take that good advice (which sounds a lot like Ecclesiastes). After further adventures and missteps, he finally makes the crossing to visit the immortals.

To his surprise, Utanapishtim is not a glorious king or warrior but just an old guy taking it easy with his wife. Utanapishtim tells the Sumerian version of the Flood story. According to this one, the gods weren't so much upset with human sinfulness as with their noisiness. (They kind of had a point.) The story of the ark and the release of birds will sound familiar, although there are differences from the Genesis version.

As far as immortality goes, Gilgamesh is pretty disappointed. He is told:

There is no permanence. Do we build a house to stand for ever, do we seal a contract to hold for all time? Do brothers divide an inheritance to keep for ever, does the flood-time of rivers endure?...From the days of old their is no permanence.

Finally, though, at his wife's prompting, Utanapishtim reveals to Gilgamesh one last chance to achieve immortality.

Stay tuned--same bat time, same bat channel.

A GOOD STEP. The U.S. House voted yesterday to cut subsidies to companies providing student loans, increase the size of Pell grants, and reduce interest rates on the loans.

AARRGH. Looks like it's a good year for sea piracy.

NEITHER FREE NOR FAIR. One rationalization for opposing the Employee Free Choice Act is a supposed desire to protect workers rights to a secret ballot. Here's a little comparison between federal elections and union representation elections.


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