|The Archetypal Significance of Gilgamesh: A Modern Ancient Hero
By Rivkah Scharf Kluger
First, they set out to defeat the beast Humbaba, whom the god Enlil had appointed protector of the forest. Once conquered, Humbaba begged for mercy. But the two youths, mistaking death for victory, chopped off his head and then downed many of the huge trees Humbaba had protected.
Gilgamesh and Enkidu certainly made an impression, because upon returning to Uruk, Ishtar, the fertility goddess, fell in love with Gilgamesh. In his blood-glory, Gilgamesh scorned the love of Ishtar, who ran to daddy and pouted and screamed until her father loaned her the Bull of Heaven to punish Gilgamesh.
The Bull brought famine and drought. He drank the Euphrates in a few gulps. He snorted, and the earth cracked before him. But Gilgamesh and Enkidu were in a blood-lust fury. They tore the Bull apart, and Enkidu threw the shank of the Bull at Ishtar claiming he’d tear her limb from limb if only she’d come down from the wall. Then Gilgamesh and Enkidu rode through the streets exclaiming: “Who is the most magnificent hero? Gilgamesh is! Enkidu is!”
Gilgamesh wrapped himself in the bloody skins of a lion and roamed the earth trying to hide from death. He became increasingly more violent and insane. In one passage, he found a boat that would take him to a man-god who Gilgamesh thought could advise him on becoming immortal. But instead of asking the boatman to ferry him across the lake to Utnapishtim, Gilgamesh furiously destroyed everything in sight. Having shown his power, he then demanded the boatman ferry him. But the boatman told him “How can I? You have destroyed the tools I need to do that.”
Everyone Gilgamesh talked to on his journey told him the same thing – death is inevitable. You are wasting your life in futility. But he would not listen.
He finally reached Utnapishtim and asked the man-god how he had become immortal. Utnapishtim related the story of an annihilating flood which killed all but him, his family, and the animals he brought on his ship with him. Realizing the horror that they had empowered, the gods rewarded Utnapishtim with god-hood – promising never again to destroy the inhabitants of earth. But, Utnapishtim assured, the gods would never again grant immortality. Death was now the inevitable finale of life.
Gilgamesh was relentless, so Utnapishtim challenged him to fight death’s younger brother sleep for only seven days. Gilgamesh reclined and immediately fell asleep from exhaustion. He slept for 7 days before Utnapishtim woke him.
As a parting consolation prize, Utnapishtim told Gilgamesh that at the bottom of the lake lay a plant that would return youth to whomever ate it. Gilgamesh dove into the lake and retrieved the plant. Instead of eating it right away, Gilgamesh decided to take it back to Uruk. In his hand, he finally clutched a tiny morsel of immortality, something that would allow him to return to Uruk wise and youthful. Yet he hesitated.
While on his return journey, Gilgamesh stopped by a lake and bathed. He carelessly placed the plant on the shore. Of course, the plant was stolen by a passing snake, which sloughed its skin and slithered youthfully into the ground.
My one lingering question after writing this analytical summary is why did Gilgamesh hesitate to eat the plant? Was it his final folly to hesitate? Or was this hesitation encouraged by his new-found wisdom? I can’t decide.
There are so many things to say about The Epic of Gilgamesh, and I had big plans for this post. But I see now that there’s no way to give even a small portion of Gilgamesh’s due in one post. So I will break this into a series of posts. More is yet to come. If you have anything specific you’d like me to discuss, let me know.
Reason for Reading: Helping my nephew with his book report.
When their father dies, Emily and Navin must move with their mother to a run-down house in the middle of nowhere – an inheritance from a great uncle they’ve never met. On their first night in the disturbing old house, their mother is kidnapped by a gigantic squid-thing and the kids must rescue her with the help of a talking amulet that they’ve found in a dusty room.
I read this because my nephew really loved it, and he’s a very reluctant reader. I can see why he liked it – there’s lots of pretty pictures and very few words. It’s a book appropriate for middle-graders both in vocabulary and in plot. It was a cute, fast read, and I’m sure I’ll read the rest in the series. However, it’s not a book that would appeal to me for any other reason than bonding with my nephew. The premise and plot are simply too unsophisticated to be of much interest to most older kids or adults. On the other hand, the book seems to be VERY popular with the younger crowd, and I highly recommend The Stonekeeper for reluctant readers.
Reason for Reading: Real life book club
Clara Dooley has lived her whole life in the decrepit Glendoveer mansion, where her mother is the care-taker of the elderly Mrs Glendoveer. Clara’s mother keeps her hidden away from the outside world, claiming that Clara’s health is fragile. At 12, Clara has come to an age where she wants to test her boundaries – and just such an opportunity arrives when her elderly patron passes away, a new girl moves into the neighborhood, and the birds in the aviary begin to speak to her. With her new friend, Clara must discover the secrets of the Glendoveer mansion, and decide whether the birds are friends or foes.
This was a cute little ghost story / mystery for children (probably girls) ages 9-12. It used the basic adults-don’t-want-to-share-secrets format, while keeping the adults likable and intelligent. The two little girls were adorable and fun. And the birds, once they started developing characters, were a very interesting twist. I found this book an engaging and quick read. Highly recommended for lovers of middle-grade ghost stories / mysteries.
Written by Cynthia Kadohata, Narrated by Elaina Erika Davis
Reason for Reading: This book won the Newbery Medal in 2005
In this endearing book, the Takeshima family moves to Georgia so that Katie’s parents can work in the chicken factory. There, young Katie learns about Southern racism and the practically-slave-labor conditions of factory workers. But when Katie’s older sister Lynn becomes sick, Katie learns the hardest lesson of all…This is a sweet story – and pretty typical for Newbery winners. (Newbery judges certainly like bereavement, racism, and Southern settings!) The character in the book ranges from about 5-7, I’d say, but I think the subject and reading level is more appropriate for a 10-12 year old.
Reason for Reading: It was there
Soon after Michael’s family moves to a new home, his sister is born prematurely. While his parents are ferrying the newborn back and forth to the hospital, Michael deals with his stress by exploring their dilapidated garage. There, he finds a strange owl-like man. As Michael and the girl-next-door nurse the winged man back to health, he learns a lesson about love. This was a sweet little book. It was quite short, so there wasn’t a lot of plot, but the characters and premise was quite adorable. This book would be appropriate for 7-9 year olds who enjoy reading magical realism.
Almond did a fantastic job of narrating his own book. He has an engaging reading voice and had all the rhythms and intonations flowing well. 🙂
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Reason for Reading: This was one of my planned reads for the social justice theme read in February.
When Arnold “Junior” Spirit accidentally breaks his rez-teacher’s nose, he gets a piece of unexpected advice: get off the rez before you lose your spirit. Junior decides to go to the all-white high school in a farm town 20 miles away from the reservation. He consequently deals with racism from the whites and hatred from his reservation friends, while fighting the usual teen problems of making friends, succeeding in sports, hiding his poverty, and impressing the girls. This book is hilarious and tragic at the same time. I loved the cartoons drawn by Junior…and I loved his dry, sarcastic humor. The characterization was fantastic – I really felt for Junior during his troubles. But you can’t read this book and expect some fuzzy-happy picture to be painted of reservation life. This book is gritty and realistic. Even rather depressing at times. I was really touched at Alexie’s honest portrayal of the life of a reservation kid. I look forward to reading more of Alexie’s books in the future.