Okay, so I’m off to a slow start on this series of posts intended to give you a teacher’s perspective on some core texts you’ll encounter in your Honors seminar. Given that the Fall semester is wrapping up, I’m going to shift to post-Renaissance with my next post. Shan’t be long now.
Gilgamesh is an epic, not a “novel.” Please don’t call it a novel or a book. Cute baby mammals die when you do that.
It is ancient and fragmentary (see the picture on left? And you complain about carrying around printed texts…).
It is the tale of Gilgamesh, a powerful, semi-divine ruler.
One of the major themes is human mortality.
It is a tale of transformations, in particular Enkidu’s and Gilgamesh’s.
It is a tale that sets forth a definition or vision of what it means to be a civilized society of mortal beings.
Visions, dreams, and prayers are conduits for interaction between the divine and human orders, and are often the prelude to critical decisions and actions in the narrative.
The value system includes concepts like greatness and strength and glory, but the narrator and the characters in the tale may not agree with each other about the sanctioned forms these values should take.
The Cedar Forest and the battle with Huwawa are more than just a backdrop for a Hollywood-style epic showdown.
It is a tale in which the divine order both harms and helps the human order. Avoid exclusive thinking about these categories because the text supports a complex, often ambiguous relationship between the gods/spirits and humans. Of course, to point this out is only to make what should be an obvious observation; the challenge is to elucidate this complexity and draw interesting, textually supported inferences from it.
There are significant similarities between the tale of Utnapishtim and the story of Noah in Beresheit (Genesis). Don’t reduce one to the other, however, as the differences are many and substantial. This comparison is frequently made and it is almost always mistaken, superficial, boring, or all of the above. Avoid the intellectual laziness in such “nothing but” thinking. Any similarity across cultures and histories as evinced by two texts is going to be complex, not a photocopy.
It is anachronistic to describe the friendship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu as gay or homosexual (do your research). They clearly respect and love each other, and express this love in emotionally and physically intimate ways. Deal with it.
Don’t overlook the role that female characters play in the epic: Ninsun, Shamash, Ishtar/Inanna, Siduri.