Ancient Culture # 9: Gilgamesh (translated by Stephen Mitchell) Review

-For the Uncensored

(credit goes to yigitkoroglu on Deviant Art. https://www.deviantart.com/yigitkoroglu/art/Gilgamesh-668912862)

            Gilgamesh, a story that most have probably never picked up, could be taught in poetry courses. As well as a study of ancient culture, ancient culture proves that there’s an innate search within society to find out who is willing to dominate or become a new leader. David had his trials when leading in Jerusalem. But with Gilgamesh, it does provide a keen observation over what we think and feel. Book 1 opens with the following stanza’s 

“Surpassing all kings, powerful and tall

Beyond all others, violent, splendid, 

A wild bull of a man, unvanquished leader, 

Hero in the front lines, beloved by his soldiers—

Fortress they called him, protector of the people, 

Raging flood that destroys all defenses—

Two thirds divine and one-third human, 

Son of King Lugalbanda, who became

A god, and of the goddess Ninsun, 

He opened the mountain passes, dug wells

On the slopes, cross the vast ocean, said

To the rising sun, journeyed to the edge 

of the world, in search of eternal life, 

and once he found Utnaphistim—the man 

who survived the Great Flood and was made immortal—

he brought back the ancient, forgotten rites, 

restoring the temples that the Flood had destroyed, 

renewing the statues and sacraments

for the welfare of the people and the sacred land.

Who is Gilgamesh? What other king

Has inspired such awe? Who else can say, 

“I alone rule, supreme among mankind”?

The goddess Aruru, mother of creation, 

had designed his body, had made him the strongest

of men—huge, handsome, radiant, perfect.”

            It’s obvious that while many would claim that the Iliad has one of the greatest opening in ancient literature, Stephen Mitchell gives this stanza one of the best openings of any translation alongside Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf and Tolkien’s The Story of Kullervo. As I read this passage again, typing it was realizing someone’s greatness in all his life. If any mythological culture is proud to have an opening stanza like Mitchell’s translation, it only gets better from there.

            The question that the narrator asks is “I alone rule, supreme among mankind” is why ancient cultures have always had there God emperor, Gilgamesh, as described as “powerful, tall, violent, splendid, wild bull of a man, unvanquished.” This sounds more like Superman in how the shows always said, “Leap tall buildings in a single bound.”

            Turns out Gilgamesh is kind of a bastard. “takes the son away from his father and crushes him.” Already, his image is destroyed by his madness. Gods are always created by the same power they sought. Absolute power can corrupt all. Gilgamesh is no different. Then the Gods start getting involved. 

            Anu heard there cries, 

“Aruru, you are the one 

who created humans. Now go and create 

a double for Gilgamesh, his second self, 

a man who equals his strength and courage, 

a man who equals his stormy heart. 

Create a new hero, let them balance each other 

perfectly, so that Uruk has peace.”

            So, you see that maybe Gilgamesh needs to be stopped, but they come to Enkidu, and he is asked to stop Gilgamesh who “who in his arrogance oppresses the people, trampling upon them like a wild bull.”

            What happens next is probably the great anti-climax that could happen in all of mythology. Gilgamesh not only stops Enkidu, but they become “bros” which sounds like something off, but the idea of male partnership is not off to ancient culture. 

            Or even mythological stories. It seems like we seem to give names to male friendship, or homosexual relationsips, as “bro-mances” but part of Enkidu “ate” human food 

“a whole loaf, then ate another, 

He ate until he was full, drank seven

Pitchers of the beer, his heart grew light, 

his face glowed, and he sang out with joy.”

            Part of this feels weird, but the beginning of this story helps us introduce us to immortality, and how a lesson has to be learned. Mythological stories are designed to help humans figure out who we are, and giving us some calm by the end. Ancient stories, by design, help us become or see the truth behind our lives. But mythological stories prove that we are by design frail, soft, and with Enkidu becoming human, it’s almost akin to how Gods become human to make themselves a point to the main character. When Enkidu and Gilgamesh fight, it doesn’t work out the way he thinks. 

            But then we get to the line, 

“They embraced and kissed. They held hands like brothers. 

They walked side by side. They became true friends.”

            Anyone reading this would say, “Bro.” But what I see is that mythological stories are meant to help people confront the way we are. Sometimes, myth is also meant to deceive too. The gods chose this for a reason. Enkidu is his “second self”

            Book 3 deals with Gilgamesh realizing he needs to find himself in the Cedar Forest, as he has to prove he’s the badddest motherfucker in all the land.

“Listen, dear friend, 

Even if the forest goes on forever,

I have to enter it, climb its slopes, 

Cut down a cedar that is tall enough

To make a whirlwind as it falls to earth.”

            Enkidu tries to scare him away, but Gilgamesh, like the bad motherfucker that he is, replied, “Why dear friend, do you speak like a coward?” which to my response was laughter. It made me want to join in on the adventure too. And he says, speaking on his mortality, “Only the gods live forevever” and ends with some big dick energy ending,

“I will cut down the tree. I will kill Humbaba, 

I will make a lasting name for myself, 

I will stamp my fame on men’s minds forever”

            When he and Enkidu leave, he implores to the men, “Give me your blessing before I leave.” After Gilgamesh bitch slaps Enkidu, for being a lady about the journey, they go to the smithy, as they gear up,

“They cast huge weapons that ordinary men 

Could never carry: axes that weighed 

two hundred pounds each, knives with with cross guards

and heavy mountings of solid gold. 

Each man carried weapons and armor

Weighing more than six hundred pounds.”

            His mother Ninsun asks the Gods, “Lord of heaven, you have granted my son, beauty and strength and courage—why have you burdened him with a restless heart?” Ninsun also adopts Enkidu, “Dear child, she said, “you were not born from my womb, but now I adopt you as my son.” 

            Book 4, could be the chapter of dreams, as he Gilgamesh, through his travels asks to have favorable dreams. “They had traveled for just three days and night, a six week journey for ordinary men” He uses “a magic circle of flour around him, then sprawled like a net across the doorway”

            All the dreams, 5 in total, that Gilgamesh has, is dissuaded by Enkidu. “Success is ours.” 

            The fifth dream, is the one to remember though.

“I have had a fifth dream, 

a dream more horrible than all the others. 

I was wrestling with a gigantic bull, 

its bellow shattered the ground and raised 

clouds of dust that darkened the sky, 

it pinned me down, it crushed me, I felt 

its breath on my face, then suddenly a man 

pulled me up, put his arms around me, 

and gave me fresh water from his water skin.” 

            I think Enkidu is overly confident, and it makes sense. He and Gilgamesh are bros and they can talk to each other. Gilgamesh can do this. 

            Book 5 has us at the Cedar Forest, “sacred to Ishtar, where the gods dwell” and before they walk in Enkidu cries, 

“Dear friend, I cannot continue, I am frightened , I cannot go on. 

You go into the dreadful forest, 

and kill Humbaba and win the fame. 

I will return now to the great walled Uruk, 

and all men will know what a coward I have been.”

            What bro, you’re leaving? What a bitch. But Humbaba does deserve some credit for being gangster and still able to scare you through the pages. “I will slit your throats, I will cut off your heads, I will feed your stinking guts to the shrieking vultures and crows.” 

            Suffice to say he beats Humbaba, but Enkidu seems like a fairy at some points. He wants to make sure that Gilgamesh wins. But before he dies, Humbaba cries the words, “I curse you both. Because you have done this, may Enkidu die, may he die in great pain, may Gilgamesh be inconsolable, may his merciless heart be crushed with grief.”

            What the book represents, is that striving for power, as much as this could be about power, but the friendship is torn asunder by a curse. It ends with “Gilgamesh carried Humbaba’s head” which is major big dick energy.

            Book 6 takes us through Ishtar who would ask and beg to be his lover, but Gilgamesh is not falling for it, even with “high priests will bow down and kiss your feet.” Does it come with a golden toilet? But Giglamesh doesn’t want that at all. He won’t simp for some goddess, who do you think he is? He’s the baddest motha…shut your mouth, I’m only talking about Gilgamesh.

            Even Anu doesn’t believe Ishtar when she tries to use bulls against Gilgamesh, “Did you try and seduce him?” 

            #BelieveallGods Right? 

            Ishtar wants the Bull of Heaven, which came from the fifth and final dream Gilgamesh had.

            When the Bull is brought “the whole land shook, the streams and marshes dried up,” and part of his attack, “it spat its slobber into his face, it lifted its tail and spewed dung all over him.” Man, if that doesn’t sound like the monkey from Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.

            They beat the bull, and Enkidu “flung it in Ishtar’s face.” 

            There prize were horns “made from thirty pounds of lapis lazuli” weighing over “400 gallons.” 

            The Gods don’t spare shit when it comes to heavenly riches right. Hey, they did the one gamer thing. Loot the bodies. 

            He then goes home, gets praises from the bitches.” 

            But Book 6 ends with the God showing up, cause the natural order has been fucked. 

            Book 7 is where we find the order of the story taking place. Enil, a God, addresses who should die “Enkidu, not Gilgamesh, is the one who must die. He dies, and Gilgamesh travels to the Underworld, and he must find out if he’s all right. “There is no gold statue that can cure this illness, beloved friend.”

            But Gilgamesh says, fuck it, but Enkidu insults Shamhat before he dies, “may wild dogs camp in your bedroom, may owls nest in your attic, may drunkards vomit all over you.”

            When Enkidu finally passes, “You who have walked beside me, steadfast through so many dangers, remember me, never forget what I have endured.” Enkidu didn’t die quickly, but suffered for twelve straight days.

            Overall,  we should hate Gilgamesh but its his friendship that makes you forget about the legends told about him at the beginning.

            Book 8 begins with “Gilgamesh wept for his dead friend” as he welps,

“Enkidu, dearest brother, 

you came to Uruk from the wilderness, 

your mother was a gazelle, your father, a wild ass, you were raised on the milk 

of antelope and deer, and the wandering herds 

taught you where the best pastures were. 

May the paths that led you to the Cedar Forest 

mourn you constantly, day and night, 

may the elders of the great-walled Uruk mourn you,”

            “I will mourn you as long as I breathe” makes you think, okay Achilles. But the friendship goes deeper, 

“O Enkidu, you were the axe at my side

in which my arm trusted, the knife in my sheath,

the shield I carried, my glorious robe,

the wide belt around my loins, and now

a harsh fate has torn your from me, forever.”

            I think of a band member of Onyx, Sticky Fingaz who proclaimed in the song, “Dogz is my guns” when the chorus is “My Dogs is my guns” is the most literal effect, but warriors are known to use there weapons as it makes them who they are, but men in battle know there weapons are there best friend when making it out of battle. 

            It’s when he tries to make a statue of Enkidu “Blacksmiths, goldsmiths, workers in silver, metal, and gems—create a statue of Enkidu” and as a reader, Gilgamesh is making a mistake. But then again, statues are a good thing. It’s to commemorate great men who have come before and they laid the foundations for the world you didn’t know before. If you don’t have any statues you will forget history. And Gilgamesh’s version of Enkidu might differ from the Gods. 

            Book 9 is where he decides to go “Two mountains called the Twin Peaks” as you aren’t wrong. If you have seen a David Lynch series by that name, you aren’t mistaken. This is where David Lynch pulled that title from. A Scorpion man and wife call him out, “He is two thirds divine nad one-third human.” The meaning of this might make you scratch your head. It means that Gilgamesh doesn’t get the reality of death, which is what leads Gilgamesh to Twin Peaks. They try to dissuade him “no one has crossed the Twin Peaks” and he doesn’t listen running through darkness until “the eigtht hour Gilgamesh cried out with fear, deep was the darkness, with no light at all before and behind him and to either side” and emerged at the “twelth hour he emerged from the tunnel into the light” which “he barely escaped.” 

            Book Ten is where Gilgamesh is dying and after a long journey, and grief stricken, as Shiduri, a gatekeeper of the dead, proclaims, 

“Gilgamesh, where are you roaming? 

You will never find the eternal life 

that you seek. 

When the gods created mankind, they also created eternal death, 

and they held back eternal life for themselves alone.”

            Gilgamesh is still not convinced, and Urshanabi allows him to cross the Waters of death by accomplishing a task. I mean, this is a myth after all. 

“cut down three hundred punting poles, each 

a hundred feet long, strip them, make grips, and bring them to me.”

            With all his accomplishments, he should be, satisfied, but then again, Gilgamesh balks, but Urshanabi declares, “This is the way the world is established, from ancient times.” If there is anything, Gilgamesh should be happy at least he knew and understood friendship. 

            But Book eleven is not done. Urshanabi tells Gilgamesh a story, when he lived in Euphrates, as Anu proclaims, “tear down your house and build a great ship” and “take aboard the ship examples of every living creature.” 

            When he was finished “Shullat and Hanish, twin gods of destruction, went first, tearing through mountains and valleys” and the “flood burst forth.” 

            But “Aruru, mother of men, screamed out, like a woman in childbirth: If only that day had never been, when I spoke up for evil in the council of the gods How could I have agreed to destroy my children by sending the Great Flood upon them?” 

            Even a “dove flew off, then flew back to the ship because there was no place to land.” 

            If this sounds like a retelling of Noah, then you wouldn’t be off the mark. 

            Urshanabi, returns the animals “set free the animals I had taken” he arranged for a sacrifice, but the Gods question why this happened. “It is right to punish the sinner for his sins, to punish the criminal for his crime, but be merciful, do not allow all men to die because of the sins of some.”

            No matter what punishment could take place, death will come for all. So, like when Enkidu was washed, “moisten his body with sweet smelling oil” and gives him a secret of the Gods, but he tricks Gilgamesh to pull out a “spiny bush” with “sharp spikes that will price your fingers like a rose’s thorns.” 

            But they left it on the shore, a snake took it, and Gilgamesh realizes that all of it was for nothing. 

            It ends with Gilgamesh returning back to the “wall of Uruk, which no city on earth can equal,” as this does reminds us that Gilgamesh can return back to his life, but knowing the secrets of mortal life.

Summary

            In myth, this is part of the grandiose aspect of repeating a character’s legacy. It’s almost an ancient retelling of what characters know about each other. What they expect the audience to remember, but also, it provides what Gilgamesh knows too. He’s vain and cross at the beginning, but what we see with myth is that it will always learn to reinterpret other stories. As the conditions are made clear, Gilgamesh is a story of what could be called homosexual relationship, but in such a cynical way, Gilgamesh is a story that defies the description of modern existence. What existence shows us is that men will always find what they think is possible, but never what can be achieved. 

            God and men will make mistakes, but finding that true and worthy place in society only comes from what people will make of it. Gilgamesh should be a hero you should hate, but through this journey you realize much of the story is finding out that time is more important than grief. Grief is only a piece of what humans can do, and wasting our time on it, is not what sensible beings should do. I detailed this in order for you to find what you can, and piece together the world and what you can see out of it.

            But myth is part of how people make sense of the world they live in. It’s why we have action movies because characters must find a rite of passage to find peace in their lives. What you can expect from men is that with translation, as Stephen Mitchell adds superb visuals to his translation, and makes you think that men can help translate the achievements of men, like Gilgamesh.

            But without men, there would be no need for stories. As Salman Rushdie once said in a Big Think interview, “Men are the story telling animals” and myth is a product of men who must say what they are thinking in order to find peace in there lives. 

            When you deny peace, you will deny the ability to be human. You will deny any type of rest that you need. If you do nothing but grieve, you won’t find a way to be at peace. Sometimes it’s just better if you didn’t know what existed beyond death. Because it turns out you’re better off if you didn’t.

            So, if knowing what happened after death will only bring you more chaos, besides the glorious set pieces and the journey life gives you, chaos is meant for every human to experience. Even Gilgamesh.

            Somehow, what the world provides us is a context for myth and the world surrounding it is the chaos of life that each human being brings into it. What you see with Gilgamesh is the unlikely hero of someone you should hate. A figure that is often overlooked in the halls of mythology. Sometimes legends are forgotten, but Gilgamesh is a story that provides you with some manageable way of seeing it clearly through the translation. Thus through this is a masterpiece of myth and poetry and narrative combined into one book.

            Final Analysis: 5 out of 5  

-Louis Bruno is the author of more than 15 books, including, The Michael Project, The Michael Project: Book 2: The Lost Children of Eve, Thy Kingdom Come, The Disintegrating Bloodline, Apocalypse Soldier, Hierarchy of Dwindling Sheep. His books can be found on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Lulu. He can be found on Gab, https://gab.com/thereallouistbruno, Minds https://www.minds.com/lbruno8063/. Instagram @lbrruno8063 and @louisbrunoofficialbook. He has written for the Intellectual Conservative and Ephemere. Also, he writes on https://louisbruno.substack.com, where you can support him directly, and where he will post one article a day (the bulk of his work will appear on substack officially). Also he can be found on Our Freedom Book https://www.ourfreedombook.com/thereallouistbruno17 His latest, Come Home, Young One, a dark fantasy novel is out now at Lulu.com. Link is here: https://www.lulu.com/en/us/shop/louis-bruno/come-home-young-one/hardcover/product-pw8q7z.html?page=1&pageSize=4.  His next series, City of Sand, will be out near June, 2021.

link for the translation is here: https://www.amazon.com/Gilgamesh-English-Version-Stephen-Mitchell-ebook/dp/B003P9XHZ8/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=Gilgamesh&qid=1622205353&sr=8-2