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The Hero, The Fool and the Distant One
Part 2: Aryan Reflections in the Secular and the Sacred in the Epic of Gilgamesh: 12/6/21
Humbaba, the Forest Guardian, was indestructable in aura and mostly a thing of seven-layered terror of perception. He was The Unknown. Some greater power—a so named God—laid him at the heroic duo’s mercy and they killed him. This event elevated Uruk, the City of Gilgamesh and made him a fitting groom for Ishtar, goddess of love who he spurned because she had betrayed her other husbands.
This sounds like the threat of cultural assimilation that eroded all barbarian conquerors into decadence and set them up for invasion or overthrow. Ishtar then—like a combination of Aphrodite and Athena from the lliad—gains the Bull of Heaven [cataclysm?] and wields it upon the heroes. But they survive and thrive and insult Her and the Powers of Heaven. Enkidu then dies of disease.
I see the above as the process of assimilation and the toll taken by urban disease upon wilderness-born conquerors worked into metaphor. The Bull of Heaven, in particular its monumental horns, could remind one of the Colussos of Rhodes, a monument made from an abandoned siege engine to commemorate a heroic defense. Gilgamesh sets out upon a stage of funerary memorial construction before going on his quest for immortality. His immediate activity after the death of his wild half is very much like the habit of conquering nations switching from personal art like book writing and painting to monumental civic building projects, like the U.S. between 1900 and 1913, Antonine Rome and 1800s France, the U.S. Interstate System after WWII—all post-virility civic activities, like a former businessman obsessed with his wife’s lawn.
But first, there is the extreme reverence shown for the feminine, from deities, to gods of the dead, to whores, a very root Aryan and also Mongol [both cultures of different races hailing from the same Far Eastern Place] that is otherwise misplaced in the Ancient or even Modern Near East. Additionally, Enkidu is tormented by a nightmare beast, a flying menace with aspects of various predators. Could such a vision, the Chimera, by a garbled memory of some war machine?
Gilgamesh wears a lion skin and develops dreadlocks [matted hair] and journeys the world, hunting and eating all manner of beasts, reverting to Enkidu’s state, going “Ever Eastward.” Traditionally, commentators think of this only in terms of the rising sun metaphor. But eastward, far, far northeastward, was the homeland of the Aryans, where the Skythians boasted that Darius would never find their ancestors’ tombs, where Genghis Khan’s tomb has yet to be found.
This returns us to the 5,000 miles of travel that Enkidu and Gilgamesh took westward to the Cedar Forest which we might place in Lebanon. Might that quest tale have been a reflection of a much deeper tradition of men from the Steppes, allied with scouts from the Taigia, journeying 5,000 miles from Siberia to Europe, which possessed a forest a thousand miles in depth, just as the forest was described in the poem?
Might this have been transposed into the Near East?
Gilgamesh journeys to the Twin Peaks, the two great mountains from where the sun rises and sets. This sun is a god carried like Apollo Helios on a chariot by heavenly beasts. This echoes, in this reader’s mind, as the ancestral homeland of the Aryans. Indeed, Gilgamesh seeks his ancestor, The Distant One, his divinely ascendant antedescedent.
On the way, he encounters two scorpian people, a male and female, of frightful aspect. Yet they are none-violent guardians of the place of the gods. The female wishes to help and the male’s capacity is in questioning and advising. They sound like a bianary set of helper robots, something like Hephastius’s silver-tongued automatons. Would not a robotic device, like the hound envisioned in Ray Bradberry’s Ferenheit 451, or the SWAT drone recently sent to me as a JPEG, look, to a pre-industrial [or post-industrial] person like an insect or scorpion?
In the most thrilling adventure of his life, Gilgamesh must race through a tunnel while the sun is in the sky, entering where the sun had recently emerged and needing to exit the far end in 12 hours before the sun plunges back into the eastern end of the tunnel and cooks him.
Is this only the best fanciful imagining of the setting and rising sun?
Or, might this be the memory of an ancient power system, an engine housing for some power source, or even a silo for a missile launch?
The fact that the scorpion people are of a mind to serve gods and men seems like a vestigial intelligent technology. Keep in mind, that our modern power systems, if left unattended, could cause immense damage, and are alive like some dragon in a coma with some obscure number or us keeping it alive without overheating.
Gilgamesh then comes to the place where The Distant One’s boatman is stationed with his crew of robotic Stone Men who propel the ship across deadly waters. He smashes the Stone Men and then must row the thing himself, having ruined the method of divine propulsion, the boatman having inherited a crew of built things that he cannot replace. That sounds to me like an African engineer trying to maintain a Belgian-installed train system after the supply chain has been eliminated and Chinese engineers stop showing up to bail him out.
Everything about Gilgamesh’s sojourn with The Distant One, the Noah figure who was granted immortality for having survived the Great Flood, echoes, whispers and reverberates as post-apocalyptic.
Let us stop and consider that the elite of our time, and elites through the ages, from Alexander to Madam Bathery down to Ponce de Leon and our own fiendish info-tech moguls, seek immortality. They also tend to engage in massive slaughters of lower class humans—a by far more common occupation, in fact. Particularly touching, is the picture The Distant One sketches of “the fool” incapable of peace, which seems to this reader to be the most accurate behavioral sketch of the Modern Person ever delivered in ancient or modern word. [0]
In that the 20th century has seen the industrial war slaughter of some 100 million, and the social engineered death of another 100 million, we would do well to look at the nature of the great Flood in Gilgamesh. Five great Gods, including The Heavenly Father, conspired to wipe mankind from the earth with a great flood in order to cleanse their sins. One of the gods thinks this is unjust and advises The Distant One, who saves himself, his family, his kin, many animal types and all of the various craftsmen needed to rebuild a technology-based society.
Of great interest is the fact that the main author of the heavenly conspiracy to wipe out mankind, was the politician of the gods, the chancellor. [Insert WWII cartoon mustache]
Eventually after hearing the Flood story from its survivor, who has merely earned a lingering old age, who does not enjoy youth, Gilgamesh is sent home with the Boatman who is told not to return. In any case, the means of operating the boat has been ruined by Gilgamesh’s land-lubber piracy. A means of extending life is found and then carelessly lost to a serpent.
The 400 mile march, then rest, then complete 1000 miles and camp, in three days, is repeated, as the worn and torn Hero returns as the guide to a mere aged technician whose trade is no longer required by his divine master out of an earlier age. Where once the wild-man of the woods guided the arrogant hero king into the forbidden unknown, the tired man of the world—King Abdicate—guides a mere chance-met functionary, last survivor of a Fallen World [1] out of the ruin of a wondrous age to the wonder of a young age sprouting from its very bones.
Finally, returning to Great-Walled Uruk, Gilgamesh, worn-out and haggard, “having suffered all” is finally wise, and as he describes his city, the jewel of the current age, sparkling far beneath the Vault of Heaven guarded by the “Valiant Watchmen of Night” [2] and ruled by the Uncaring Sun and the Four Cruel Winds, he has internalized the folly of his previous actions and of his kind’s previous ages of hubris, and is content to live in his world for the “puff of wind” that is his life.
The mountain top Sojourns of Zoroaster, Moses and Jesus, Mohamed’s time in the cave, The Awakened One’s time under the Tree, these are all prefigured in a cyclic spiral by our oldest remaining book, which, by its composition, was a masterpiece raised upon the shoulders of many previous poets, to survive more by luck than by design the fated demise of its author’s time.
Was Gilgamesh just brilliant metaphor, so deftly conjoining civilization and barbarism for ages of contemplation?
Or, might this grandly introspective tale, have been inspired by a civilization that built something so great that even it’s own overreaching hate for natural cycles might continue to spring anew as a kind of tidally necrotic immortality, an unnatural mirror to accompany Man into the Face of Time and remind us that we are of A Kind?
Notes
-0. I suspect that this state of constant aimless activity and unsettled mind is key to the general inability of modern minds to be able to discern any value beyond entertainment from ancient poetics.
-1. The Breweress of the Garden of the Gods was now utterly abandoned, with no boatman to drink her beer. I fancy her a universal figure who actually embodied the spirit of benevolent civic life, who both chastised rude Gilgamesh and aided him in his quest for the Truth.
-2. The Stars, the Guardians of the Cosmos, which this reader suggests, by their treatment in Gilgamesh, are still looking over Man’s aspirations, having not yet seen fit to welcome him in his adolescent form into their twinkling arms.
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