Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Epic (Fail) of Gilgamesh

Stop and think for a second about the title. There. Now don't you feel boilingly mad about how teh Internetz co-opted a powerful word and made it as weak as a pewling kitten? (Pewling: variant on mewling: it's valid.) Wait, wait, before you decry the downfall of "epic", think of what the 80's did to the word "awesome". The words "appalling", "awful", "terrific" (used to mean "terror-inspiring"), "glorified", "deplorable", "desperate", "cordially" (used to mean "from the heart"), "pass out" (used to mean "to die"), "marvelous", "dreadful", "divine", "horrible", "adorable", "blighter", "enchant", "heavenly", "also" (weakened from "similarly" to "in addition to"),  "admire", "encounter" (used to mean "meeting in battle", "to counter") have all met the fate of being weakened by colloquial use to some degree.

This weakening is not an internet-specific phenomenon; it's a slang-specific one. And slang has been around since, well, before the Epic of Gilgamesh. So with that linguistic tangent unrelated to the actual epic poem at hand through with, I would like to say that, yes, I read the Epic of Gilgamesh and I found it surprising and yet not at all surprising that what humanity counts as "success" hasn't changed a whit. Gilgamesh is the eponymous hero, Mr. Success himself, considering he's established himself King, is richer than rich, has beaten every challenge, and has dibs on every wedding-night virgin before he passes her on to her husband. (If you think that's scandalous, you should read the passage where Enkidu lays with a harlot for six days and seven nights.) What the Hammurabi, Mesopotamians?

You know, considering how wimpy the lion looks, is it really all that impressive that Gilgamesh slew a bunch of them?

The Mespotamians, to make a sweeping generalization based on scant anthropological/archaeological evidence, were not a very cheery lot when it came to worldview and religion. This is evident in the story; Gilgamesh goes dashing off to save his friend/brotha from anotha goddess Enkidu from the slavery of the afterlife, but is kicked out because it's impossible to rescue people from death. Then Gilgamesh returns to life only to kick the bucket a page later.

...and that about sums up my foray into 4000 year-old literature.

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