Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Epic of Gilgamesh

Lately, I've been reading the book of Genesis, for a Bible study I'm doing with my parents.  When we came to the flood story, I remembered reading that there were other ancient Middle Eastern myths that had flood stories, like the Epic of Gilgamesh, but I'd never actually read the Epic of Gilgamesh, which predates the Bible and is one of the first works of literature in the world.  Today, I read the Epic of Gilgamesh, and it was AWESOME.  I liked it so much that I decided to re-write it in my own words.  Here goes:

In the ancient city of Uruk (modern day Iraq), there lived a king named Gilgamesh, whose mother was a goddess.  Although he ruled over a strong and well-built walled kingdom, Gilgamesh was not a very good king.  He was arrogant, and oppressed his subjects.  He hurt who he wanted to.  He slept with who he wanted to.  He was kind of a douche-bag.  

So, the gods created a wild-man named Enkidu to fight against Gilgamesh, and maybe teach him a lesson in humility.  Enkidu was a little TOO wild, though, because he started terrorizing the countryside, like eating people's animals.  A hunter complained to Gilgamesh about this wild man, so the king came up with an idea to "civilize" the wild man.  He sent a prostitute named Shamhat, who had lots of sex with Enkidu, like a week of non-stop sex.  She also taught him the ways of civilization.  Once civilized, Enkidu was ready to confront Gilgamesh.

The confrontation came during a wedding ceremony.  Gilgamesh, in typical douche-bag fashion, decided he was going to have sex with the groom's wife first.  That's the kind of a-hole Gilgamesh was.  Enkidu showed up and was like, "Dude, that's not cool." 

Gilgamesh could have responded, "You're one to talk, Enkidu.  You eat other people's animals and haven't you spent the past week banging a prostitute named Shamhat?"  Instead, the two men started wrestling.  

Then, they decided to be best friends.  Gilgamesh and Enkidu's relationship was pretty homoerotic.  They were really good buddies who kissed each other sometimes.

Now that they were best friends, Gilgamesh and Enkidu decided to have an adventure together.  Gilgamesh was like, "Let's go to the land of Lebanon and kill the monster Humbaba and cut down the cedar trees he protects."  At first Enkidu was like, "Dude, that's kind of messed up."  But, not wanting to disappoint his new buddy, Enkidu agreed to go on this quest.

After decking themselves out with ridiculously large weapons, the two heroes set out on their quest.  They each carried around 600 pounds of weapons.  They were really strong guys, and they loved each other a lot.  As they journeyed together, Gilgamesh kept having weird dreams, and Enkidu would comfort his friend with encouraging words.

Finally, they reached the forests of Lebanon and the monster Humbaba, who made fun of the two heroes, calling Enkidu a "yokel."  That pissed the heroes off a lot, and they started fighting the monster.  Gilgamesh and Enkidu won the fight, but Gilgamesh had cold feet about actually killing the monster.  He liked the idea of adventure, but was it really a good idea to kill a mystical creature who protected a forest?  Maybe it WAS kind of messed up.  But Enkidu, probably still hurt about the "yokel" comment, was like, "Dude, we came all this way and you're going to puss out now?  Think of your reputation, man."  So Gilgamesh killed Humbaba, and they cut down some of his trees.  To his credit, Gilgamesh felt conflicted about this.

After all this fighting and sweating, Gilgamesh took off his clothes and cleaned himself up.  Ishtar, goddess of love and sex, saw Gligamesh and was like, "Wowee zowee.  Gimme some of THAT."  She tried to seduce the king, but the king was a real jerk about the whole thing.  He went into this whole self-righteous rant about all the lovers Ishtar had had, and how she was basically a whore.  Talk about double-standards.  Gilgamesh was a grade-A man-whore.  

Anyway, Ishtar got really sad and angry, and complained to her dad Anu, the sky god, and begged him to send the vicious Bull of Heaven after the heroes.  At first, Anu was like, "Look, I'm sorry Gilgamesh said those mean things, but I can't go sicking the Bull of  Heaven on everyone who insults you.  He's a sacred mystical beast, not an attack dog."  But Ishtar was insistent.  She threatened to revive all the dead people in the world and basically start a zombie apocalypse.  So Anu was like, "Fine, I'll send the Bull of Heaven."

The Bull of Heaven attacked the heroes Enkidu and Gilgamesh, but of course the heroes slayed the beast.  This pissed off ALL the gods, who weren't too happy about losing their precious Bull of Heaven.  The gods had a council and demanded blood-vengeance.  They sent a wasting disease to Enkidu, and he slowly died in Gilgamesh's arms.

This absolutely destroyed Gilgamesh, emotionally.  He went into a major depression.  He'd lost his best buddy, his fellow adventurer.  What was he to do?  Life seemed meaningless.  He mourned for a long time.  He was not comforted by the fact that he would one day join Enkidu in death, because the ancient Mesopotamians believed the afterlife was a place of darkness, hunger, and thirst.  There wasn't much hope.  Gilgamesh went a little crazy for a while and just kind of roamed the wilderness, sort of like Enkidu used to do when he was a wild-man.

Finally, in the depths of his depression, Gilgamesh decided to go on one more journey, this time to the end of the world, to find a wise man named Utanapishtim, who apparently knew the mysteries of life and death.  On this journey, he encountered some scorpion monsters, who guarded the tunnel under the mountain that the sun passed through every day.  (The ancient Mesopotamians believed the world was flat).  Gilgamesh had to out-run the sun so he wouldn't get burned up, and he just made it.  

He emerged into a beautiful realm, a grove of the gods, and came to an ocean, across which lived the wise man Utanapishtim.  For some weird reason, there was a tavern at the end of the world, kept by a solitary woman.  I can't imagine how she stayed in business.  Maybe her main clientele were people seeking enlightenment, or gods.  The tavern keeper told Gilgamesh about this guy named Ur-Shanabi who had these stone charms which would allow him to pass safely over the waters of death at the end of the world.  Gilgamesh found Ur-Shanabi and, for like no reason whatsoever, Gilgamesh smashed the stone charms.  He was, by this point, a little crazy.  He'd been through a lot.

However, Ur-Shanabi still helped Gilgamesh cross the waters of death, using really long stilts.  Finally, Gilgamesh came to the sacred land where Utanapishtim (the Distant One) lived.  Gilgamesh asked him the secrets of life and death, and it turned out that Utanapishtim was the only living man who had survived the world-wide apocalyptic flood that had killed everyone else.

Utanapishtim (who is basically Noah from the Bible) told Gilgamesh the whole story of the flood, about how the gods took mercy on him and told him to build a boat, an ark, which would preserve humanity and the animals.  The flood story here is almost point-for-point the same as the one in the Bible, even down to Utanapishtim sending out birds to test if the waters had receded.  I was blown away.  Anyway, after telling Gilgamesh the whole flood story, Utanapishtim basically said that only the gods know the secrets of life and death, and humans cannot know.

Gilgamesh was, needless to say, pretty bummed at this non-answer.  As a kind of consolation, Utanapishtim's wife told Gilgamesh about a plant that has restorative powers.  Gilgamesh found this plant, but unfortunately a snake ate it before he could, and that was that.

In the end, Gilgamesh and his new friend Ur-Shanabi (the guy whose stone charms Gilgamesh had destroyed for no reason) returned to Uruk, and Gilgamesh bragged about how awesome his city was, especially its walls.


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