by cheri block sabraw
I understand the Emmy Awards were doled out last night.
Since my interest in anything Hollywood is akin to my interest in mortuary science, I have no idea who won what.
One thing is for sure: It’s tough to find much gravitas in television or film these days.
So I choose to read.
The story that is now playing in my imagination was first written sometime between 1800-1600 BCE. That’s about 3800 years ago.
That it showcases a handsome king, that this king misdirects his passions, that he suffers a deep emotional crisis which sends him on an archetypal journey in search of immortality, that he returns to his city a wise but lonely character— reinforces our humanness, say more than 30 Rock?
The king’s name is Gilgamesh. He was a real person who lived during the Early Dynastic II period (2700-2100 BCE) in the city of Uruk in Sumer, the earliest known civilization in human history.
The Epic of Gilgamesh is an old poem written on clay tablets in cuneiform a long time ago— before the Hebrew Bible, before the New Testament, before the Bhagavad Gita, before the Buddhist scriptures, and before Homer’s The Odyssey.
Archeologists found the eleven tablet story in the Library of King Ashurbanipal (ca. 668-627 BCE) This is a picture of King Ashurbanipal that I took last month at the NYC Metropolitan Museum.
First translated into English in 1885, the Epic was written in the Mesopotamian language of Akkadian, one of the languages in Ancient Babylonia, now present day Iraq.
The King Gilgamesh in the poem is a mythological one, 2/3 god and 1/3 human.
As with most who enter or are born into public service or royalty (think the Windsors, the Roosevelts ), Gilgamesh has, in modern parlance, issues.
He suffers from what many of today’s teenagers and 20 somethings expect: instant gratification. But hey, he’s a studly king, admired by Ishtar the Love and War Goddess. He erects monuments, participates in contests of strength, and regularly sleeps with virgins the night before their weddings.
He has it all. All except friendship and perspective.
Instead of inflicting him with a venereal disease or a vulnerable spot that is his undoing, as with the Greek Achilles or the biblical Samson, the Mesopotamian Gods put their heads together and with a big Marine oorah, come up with what might be one of the most creative solutions in all literature: they create a complement to Gilgamesh, the Wild Man of Mesopotamia, Enkidu.
Enkidu is Rousseau’s man: a natural guy, comfortable running with gazelle and resting by cool watering holes. All eight pistons are operational but his brain power is simple and functional. How to bring a guy like this to the palace for a visit?
Meanwhile, back in the forest, Enkidu startles a trapper who then goes home and asks his father for a solution to this hairy man who is 2/3 animal and 1/3 man, a guy who has been setting the animals free from the traps.
The trapper’s father suggests that his son follow the yellow brick road to Uruk where King Gilgamesh, the strong and virile, lives. Perhaps the King might have a solution.
As Mel Brooks would say, It’s good to be the king.
Gilgamesh delivers by sending a prostitute, Shamhat, with the trapper in the hopes that when she unveils her whatever (translators disagree what was unveiled or spread), Enkidu, the animal, will not be able to resist his, uh, human, instincts.
The translation that I am reading says that he was aroused for six days and seven nights.
With no help from Viagra.
To be continued.