Thursday, October 27, 2011

Gilgamesh, a new interpretation


This was the man to whom all things were known; this was the king who knew the countries of the world. He was wise, he saw mysteries and knew secret things, he brought us a tale of the days before the flood. He went on a long journey, was weary, worn-out with labour, returning he rested, he engraved on a stone the whole story.

The Sumerian story known today as the Epic of Gilgamesh is among the world's oldest surviving texts, commonly dated to the seventeenth to eighteenth century BC, though the earliest Sumerian poems can be traced to the Third Dynasty of Ur (2150-2000 BC). The Akkadian version, consisting of twelve tablets edited by the scribe Sin-liqe-unninni sometime between 1300 and 1000 BC, was rediscovered in 1853 in the library of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal in Nineveh. Sin-liqe-unninni conflated several much more ancient stories to create the Epic of Gilgamesh we know today, and he is also the oldest known 'author' in history, being the first to sign his name to his work.


At heart, Gilgamesh combines two stories, that of the friendship of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, and later, Gilgamesh's odyssey in search of immortality. Here, we will examine the first part of the epic: the story of Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, "two-thirds god and one-third human... terrifying" in his perfection, and his "noble" companion Enkidu, the domesticated savage, his name literally meaning [the god] Enki's creation, formed of "a pinch of clay, let fall into the wilderness."

Such primal word pictures indicate that Gilgamesh is much more than a mere work of fiction; it is clearly a myth: a story that encodes, preserves and transmits truths about the origins and prehistory of humanity in allusive form.


We know today that we are actually a hybrid species: ancient homo sapiens interbred with Neanderthals until their extinction some 30,000 years ago. Our Neanderthal genetic inheritance ranges from 1% to 5% of our DNA, with the highest percentages found in modern Europeans. With this in mind, the story of the friendship of Gilgamesh and Enkidu takes on an entirely new meaning and is, I believe, in great part a parable recording ancient man's cohabitation with Neanderthals and their subsequent extinction.


Let us first consider Gilgamesh's attributes:
When the gods created Gilgamesh they gave him a perfect body. Shamash the glorious sun endowed him with beauty, Adad the god of the storm endowed him with courage, the great gods made his beauty perfect, surpassing all others, terrifying like a great wild bull. Two thirds they made him god and one third man...

...none can withstand his arms. No son is left with his father, for Gilgamesh takes them all; and is this the king, the shepherd of his people? His lust leaves no virgin to her lover, neither the warrior's daughter nor the wife of the noble.


All this is very clear: Gilgamesh is the "perfect" man, his parentage two-thirds from the gods and the rest from earlier men, with massive strength and lust to match. His fecundity was so boundless and disruptive that the gods needed to quell it by creating "his equal, like him as his own reflection, a second self" as a counterbalance to Gilgamesh's "stormy heart."


That task fell to Araru, goddess of creation, apparently bidden by Enki (above, who also created mankind to serve the gods and saved them from the flood):

She dipped her hands in water and pinched off clay, she let it fall in the wilderness, and noble Enkidu was created... There was virtue in him of the god of war, of Ninurta himself. His body was rough, he had long hair like a woman's; it waved like the hair of Nisaba, the goddess of corn. His body was covered with matted hair like Samugan's, the god of cattle. He was innocent of mankind; he knew nothing of the cultivated land... Enkidu ate grass in the hills with the gazelle and lurked with wild beasts at the water-holes; he had joy of the water with the herds of wild game.

Well, this is all quite obvious, really: Enkidu = Neanderthal. But Enkidu, the wild man, was causing civilized men great trouble by interfering with their hunts. A trapper recounts, "there is a man, unlike any other, who comes down from the hills... He fills in the pits which I dig and tears up my traps; he helps the beasts to escape and now they slip through my fingers." So a clever plot is hatched by the trapper's father; Enkidu will be seduced to sleep with a whore, and once tamed, he will "change the old order" and put King Gilgamesh in his place.

[The whore] was not ashamed to take him, she made herself naked and welcomed his eagerness; as he lay on her murmuring love she taught him the woman's art. For six days and seven nights they lay together, for Enkidu had forgotten his home in the hills; but when he was satisfied he went back to the wild beasts. Then, when the gazelle saw him, they bolted away; when the wild creatures saw him they fled. Enkidu would have followed, but his body was bound as though with a cord, his knees gave way when he started to run, his swiftness was gone. And now the wild creatures had all fled away; Enkidu was grown weak, for wisdom was in him, and the thoughts of a man were in his heart.

Interbreeding with ancient humans has civilized the Neanderthals, but also weakened and deracinated them, estranging them from nature. Indeed, the process is cast as a seduction and wisdom a degenerative corruption perpetrated by a whore (the whore of civilization, who will later reappear as the Biblical whore of Babylon, and their "six days and seven nights" of fornication will echo in the creation story of Genesis. Likewise, Adam's eating of the forbidden fruit of knowledge proffered by Eve also finds a thematic foreshadowing.)


The whore then convinces Enkidu to come to Uruk (above, the city's legendary brick ramparts today), to meet Gilgamesh:
Enkidu was pleased; he longed for a comrade, for one who would understand his heart. ‘Come, woman, and take me to that holy temple, to the house of Anu and of Ishtar, and to the place where Gilgamesh lords himself over the people. I will challenge him boldly, I will cry out aloud in Uruk, "I am the strongest here, I have come to change the old order, I am he who was born in the hills, I am he who is strongest of all."'

But the whore knows already which man will dominate; Gilgamesh, whose mind is more variable, who is more perfect, stronger and wiser and with greater intuition. And after all, it is Gilgamesh who is king:

"O Enkidu, you who love life, I will show you Gilgamesh, a man of many moods; you shall look at him well in his radiant manhood. His body is perfect in strength and maturity; he never rests by night or day. He is stronger than you, so leave your boasting. Shamash the glorious sun has given favours to Gilgamesh, and Anu of the heavens, and Enlil, and Ea the wise has given him deep understanding. I tell you, even before you have left the wilderness, Gilgamesh will know in his dreams that you are coming."

The Neanderthal extinction

As "servant" of King Gilgamesh, Enkidu weakens living in the city:
The eyes of Enkidu were full of tears and his heart was sick. He sighed bitterly and Gilgamesh met his eye and said, 'My friend, why do you sigh so bitterly? But Enkidu replied, 'I am weak, my arms have lost their strength, the cry of sorrow sticks in my throat, I am oppressed by idleness.'

Gilgamesh, seeking both challenge and renown, decides that together they will kill the evil Humbaba, "a great warrior, a battering-ram... the watchman of the cedar forest who never sleeps." They set off on their quest to the cedar-forested mountain and are ultimately victorious in battle, capturing Humbaba. Gilgamesh, swayed by Humbaba's pleas for mercy, considers sparing him, but Enkidu urges his death, warning of future treachery, and Humbaba curses Enkidu, saying, "May he not live the longer of the two."


They cut off his head; trees were felled, including the Great Cedar whose crown scraped the sky. From its timber a door was made—72 cubits high, 24 cubits wide and one cubit thick—for Enlil's temple in Nippur. Gilgamesh and Enkidu: their names will now be remembered by posterity, and by the gods.

Upon their return, the goddess Ishtar, "queen of Heaven," proposes marriage to Gilgamesh, who rejects it, citing her inconstancy and the horrible ends met by her discarded lovers. Enraged, she demands that her father Anu set the bull of heaven (the constellation Taurus) to wreak havoc upon Uruk, but together Gilgamesh and Enkidu slaughter the bull, and Endiku mocks Ishtar by tossing its severed leg at her. (The thigh of the bull was an important constellation to the ancient Egyptians, appearing countless times in their texts, and is assumed by Egyptologists to refer to the "imperishable stars.")


These killings enrage the gods (the bull Taurus was often depicted accompanying man's creator, Enki) and Anu passes judgment upon Enkidu, who sickens and dies over 12 days, and in his delerium curses Enlil: "what ingratitude for the sake of a door!"

As Enkidu slept alone in his sickness, in bitterness of spirit he poured out his heart to his friend. "It was I who cut down the cedar, I who leveled the forest, I who slew Humbaba, and now see what has become of me."

The bull of heaven episode can be understood as a marker for the actual zodiacal age when the epic was composed, the Age of Taurus, which spanned from circa 4300 BC to circa 2150 BC. However, if we accept that Enkidu = Neanderthals, then it appears that the bull story, which leads to Enkidu's death, is more probably encoding the time of the Neanderthal extinction.

To reach that prior Taurean Age requires the completion of a full cycle of precession of the equinoxes, a "Great Year" or "Great Return" of nearly 26,000 years, placing the Neanderthal extinction some 32,000 years ago—exactly in line with current estimates.


According to those who interpret myth in relation to ancient astronomical knowledge, massive trees such as the Great Cedar often symbolize the earth's polar axis and are markers for information about the Great Year—the earth's long, slow axial "wobble" through the twelve houses of the zodiac.

72 (the height in cubits of the temple door hewn from the Great Cedar) is the pre-eminent number in this numerical encoding, since 72 is the closest whole-number value for the number of years (71.6) required for a precessional shift of one degree along the ecliptic. (In Egyptian mythology, for example, Osiris is killed by 72 lackeys of Set.)

Twelve, recurrent in the text (most notably as the number of days of Enkidu's sickness) along with its double 24 (the width of the temple door), is of course the number of constellations in the zodiac, and the linkage of 72 with 24, not 12, may very well have been employed to indicate the second, earlier Age of Taurus. 30, appearing in the text as 300, the number of citizens of Uruk killed by the bull (100 then 200), is the number of arc-degrees each constellation occupies along the ecliptic. Thus 72 years x 12 constellations x 30 degrees of arc = 25,920 years, or one Great Year.

The prologue that begins this post is apparently quite literally true: Gilgamesh did indeed know secret things and brought us a story from a time before the flood (i.e., the end of the last ice age), preserving our earliest history in stone.

9 comments:

  1. I think you make the case for Enkidu being Neanderthal (or just possibly Denisovan) very well but there's the possibility Humbaba/Huwawa might be an even more primitive form, Gigantopithecus, (especially since some representations of him seem to depict him with a single central horn which might be an allusion to a sagittal crest).

    Like Bigfoot, also thought to be a form of Gigantopithecus in some quarters, Humbaba's clearly a denizen of the forest.

    In fact he's clearly said to be the guardian and protector of the forest and its denizens in exactly the same way Enkidu seems to be the guardian and protector of the open plains.

    Indeed there seems to be an element of racial needling going on between (the much hairier but shorter than Gilgamesh) Enkidu and (the even hairier but much taller than Gilgamesh) Humbaba, because whereas Gilgamesh seems willing to let Humbaba live, Enkidu's vehement he must die.

    And in the light of recent revelations of modern people having Denisovan and Neanderthal dna the theme running through the Gilgamesh saga of how interbreeding destroys the more primitive forms of men does indeed become all the more intriguing.

    Thus Enkidu's epic sexual encounter with the temple whore ultimately leads to his own downfall, much as the forest creature Humbaba's downfall results from accepting Gilgamesh's sisters as wives/concubines in return for his seven god-conferred magical radiances or auras, enabling Gilgamesh to finally raze the forest Humbaba and his kind depend on for their very existence.

    So is it any wonder Gilgamesh declines the celestial advances of Ishtar?

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  2. borky, thank you for a very thought-provoking comment, and yes the question of Humbaba is quite an interesting one in and of itself. I do readily admit I avoided it here, not wishing to overcomplicate/sidetrack the Neanderthal cohabitation discussion with further speculation about his significance.

    The warlike giant of the mountanous cedar forests: it would seem Humbaba represents a robust, early human sub-race that was on its way to extinction, perhaps one not yet identified, or more mundanely a distinct population considered "foreign" by the early modern humans as represented by Gilgamesh. After all, we've but only recently learned of the existence of the entirely mysterious Denisovans by way of a few bone fragments.

    Also important to consider are the Amorites, who were a warlike, semi-nomadic Caananite tribe who Sumerians judged backwards because they ate raw meat and had not adopted agriculture. They are referred to in the Bible as coming from the mountains and as the last remnants of the giants of old. Their unorganized predations and incursions into Sumerian territory led to the building of many walls and fortifications, such as Gilgamesh's own fabled walls for Uruk.

    He could even be, as you suggest, a primordial race memory of Gigantopithecus, though that would be quite extraordinary if you accept the extinction of the last subspecies occuring over 100,000 years ago.

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  3. Andrew and Bernd,

    This is an interesting approach, which one might wonder why it had not been pursed before, given that those typical precessional numbers should have raised the interest of those pursuing this type of subjects.
    An important point to note is that in the context of the Precession of the Ages, the expression “Great Year” is associated with Plato, who defined it as 1/2 of the full cycle, not the full cycle. Though this may seem counter-intuitive, one must the resist the temptation of thinking that Plato just made a silly mistake. Instead, one must assume that there may be reasons, which are not yet fully understood, for certain Traditional teachings that don’t quite make sense from the modern man’s perspective.
    On this topic, this page has some key information showing that in Ancient Traditions, it was the most important basic unit of time was 1/2 of the Full Precessional Cycle:
    http://www.grahamhancock.com/phorum/read.php?f=8&i=19493&t=19421#reply_19493

    Since your blog says that you are based in Paris, it is reasonable to assume that you can read french, in which case the best education in theories of cycles of time can be had through the books of Gaston Georgel:
    http://www.amazon.fr/s/ref=ntt_athr_dp_sr_1/279-6786449-1112404?_encoding=UTF8&search-alias=books-fr&field-author=Gaston Georgel

    The book to start with is “Les quatre âges de l'humanité”:
    http://www.amazon.fr/quatre-âges-lhumanité-Gaston-Georgel/dp/8872521084/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1322554010&sr=8-1

    Best of luck with future work into the cosmological significance of the Gilgamesh story.

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  4. Anonymous, thank you very much for your comments, they are quite appreciated, and also for pointing out the work of Gaston Georgel; we will certainly seek out his work.

    Very interesting your explanation of Plato's "Great Year"--the distinction had indeed escaped us but really it is not at all counter-intuitive that he divided the precessional cycle into 2 parts; actually it makes perfect sense when you consider the duality of it--encoding cycles of rise and fall, coming and going, leaving and return, just as in the yuga cycles of Vedic civilization and the belief that the zodiac holds a cycle of creation/destruction within it as well.

    So much food for thought--deep thanks!

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  5. Andrew and Bernd,

    I am glad you found the information useful.
    Your last comment makes me wonder whether your view of the Vedic Yugas is somewhat influenced by the followers of Yukteswar or by Michael Cremo.
    If so, I would like to call your attention to this post (and subsequent ones):


    In fact the best work on the Vedic Yugas is precisely the book by Gaston Georgel, using the fundamental decoding of the Yugas by Rene Guenon.

    Also, if you want to go deeper in this subject, the books by Etienne Guille are highly recommended:


    Preferably, the reading of the books should follow the order in which they were published, starting with the first one:


    Regards,
    Anon

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  6. lets talk about what the epic of Gilgamesh teaches us about mesopotamian culture !

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    1. Thank you for your comment but that is what has been done, nearly exclusively, since the tablets were found and translated over a century and a half ago. We hope this post brings new awareness to their knowledge of astronomy and the hidden meanings of myth--both also aspects of their culture.

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  7. Wall carvings and sculptures narrates stories of the past that we use to understand history.

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  8. I have only recently read the story of Gilgamesh. I also had the same impression! Which lead me searching the net. Although my impression of Humbaba, was the Smilodon. Which appeared to have lived in densely forested areas. The powerful front legs and a short tail show they used stealth and ambush. Driving Smilodon to extinction for use of forest must have preemptive.

    Regards,

    Paul

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