Inside The Epic of Gilgamesh
by Glen Draeger
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Hello Epic Readers,
I wanted to take H.G. back to visit the author of The Epic of Gilgamesh. One problem. No one person wrote The Epic of Gilgamesh. It was written by a number of individuals who were probably recording an oral tradition. An "oral tradition" is something that is only spoken, not written down and many ancient cultures and some current ones have that kind of tradition. On a very limited scale it's something like the stories that may get passed around in your family but that no one takes the time to write down.
So I decided to use H.G.'s special feature that allows me to visit fictional worlds. This is a scary prospect and much different than visiting the real world. For instance, real people are often built up into something they are not over the passage of time, but when you go back to visit them in the real world—you meet the real person and they may not be as smart or as tall or as mean or as beautiful as written historical accounts say they are. But in a fictional world if the account says the monster is 30 feet tall then when you enter that world it is 30 feet tall and just as ugly and mean and foul smelling as the story says it is.
Meeting Gilgamesh or Enkidu or any of the gods mentioned could be not only a frightening experience, but a dangerous one. If Ishtar tried to kill Gilgamesh and Enkidu what might she try to do to me? What are the problems of entering a fictional world? What if I change the story somehow by my actions or words? Will the books you have suddenly change? Will the questions I've written change? What other consequences might there be? Sounds risky, doesn't it? However, this is a Great Literature web site and as your teacher and webmaster I feel that I have no choice but to take these chances, to risk, even if necessary, my own life in order to give you a peak educational experience. Plus, it has just been a little boring around here lately.
As usual Fezzik accompanied me. My first problem was what page number to enter into the computer. I didn't want go to the flood or meet that Humbaba character who most likely would have killed me. Nor did I want to end up around any of the gods who seem far too fickle and easily prone to anger. I decided to set the computer for page 68, the big fight between Gilgamesh and Enkidu.
We landed fairly close to the place of the fight and walked slowly over to the crowd where we heard Enkidu's famous words.
"I have come to change the old order for I am the strongest here."
I kept Fezzik on a leash because I wanted to use him for protection if necessary. The fight progressed exactly as it does in your book. They literally snorted like bulls and they were both so big, bigger than anyone I've ever seen and so strong. It unnerved me. I would have no chance against either one of them. The people around me seemed interested and nervous. You should have seen it! The powerful struggle between these two men seemed like something beyond themselves, as if they were fighting not against each other, but for something else, as if they represented two opposing ideas or forces—it's hard to explain. The sound of breaking doorposts, their snorting and the houses shaking was deafening. I covered my ears and Fezzik whined and whimpered. The crowd, including myself, cowered when Gilgamesh threw Enkidu's great hulk to the ground. I feared that he would come after us. But then, just as your book says, his anger subsided and the two great men embraced.
I've never seen such an embrace. It was if I was seeing friendship—an idealized friendship—a kind of perfect friendship—born right in front of me—acted out before my eyes in only a few minutes. It's very hard to explain and I know this is partly because it was my first trip into a fictional world, but I know that it wasn't just a fight between two strong men just as I know that it wasn't just an embrace between them either.
"Who are you?" Gilgamesh asked the question and, unfortunately, it was directed at me.
I stammered, uttering only meaningless syllables.
"You come from out there." He pointed up.
"I'm not a god," I managed to say weakly. It occurs to me that in many of my recent H.G. travels I seem to have a great talent for irrelevant replies.
The crowd slowly backed away leaving Fezzik and me in a small opening. Gilgamesh, who towered above me by a least two feet (I'm 6'2"), maybe more, strode in my direction.
"I know you are no god!" he bellowed. "I'm two-thirds god and I can recognize a deity when I need to—but you are something different—not a god, but not from here—you are, ahhhhhh," he said as if had just realized the answer,"you are a 'Reader.'"
"Reader," the crowd repeated slowly with awe.
"Why do you call me that?" I asked. My legs trembled.
"There are," he said to me, "three realms: that of men, that of gods and your realm, the realm outside men and gods, the realm we call, 'Beyond.' It is the realm of Listeners, Readers and Creators. What do you call our realm?"
Suddenly I knew—I knew what he was asking me. "We use many names," I said, "mythology, story, fiction and fable."
"We know that we are being observed. It's a feeling that we can't escape—something we know by intuition more strongly than if we had proof of such things." He thought for a moment. "You can see the whole—everything—beginning to end. Is this true?"
"Yes," I said.
"You know my future?"
"Yes," I repeated.
"And what is it?"
The only thing I could think of saying was this: "It is the same future of all men, Gilgamesh. The only future that I know for sure and that is death."
"Yes, yes," he said sadly. "But one man in this realm has defied fate and he possesses eternal life. I desire the same. Will I find it?"
"I will not say," I said.
At this moment Enkidu stepped forward. He was just as big as Gilgamesh, but he looked at me differently. "The Creators send the dreams," he said. I remembered the many dreams in the story that Enkidu interpreted for Gilgamesh. "A dream for us," he said, "is what we are for you."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Just as we interpret our dreams, you must interpret us—you must see in us something beyond what we appear to be. We are, none of us," he said motioning to all who were around me, "what we are. We are what we are not."
"Enkidu and I," Gilgamesh said, "must destroy the evil in the land brought forth by Humbaba—so we must go now. He possesses great strength—he may destroy me, but my name will live on forever if he does."
"Your name does live on forever—-in the 'Beyond,'" I answered.
"That is no concern of mine," he said.
By the time Fezzik and I made it back to H.G. I could hear Enkidu explaining a dream to Gilgamesh and I could see the two friends striding off in the direction of a great forest of cedars that were taller, it seemed to me, than skyscrapers.
©2005-2013 Glen Draeger (all rights reserved)
Millstone Education: World Literature / http://www.millstoneeducation.com/worldLit