By Alex P. Vidal
“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” — Benjamin Franklin
PENGUIN Classics has produced a 127-page English version of The Epic of Gilgamesh by N.K. Sandars for $2.25.
Luckily, I got it only for $.35 in a book sale.
In the Philippines, book sale stores in malls and shopping centers that offer affordable “used” books have proliferated, thus if we are book worms, we can now have a date with Confucius, Plato, Aristotle, Copernicus, Jesus, Judas Iscariot, Caesar, Charles Darwin and Queen Elizabeth, among other historical figures.
We can now travel back to the ancient civilization, revisit the Trojan War, relive the Glory that was Greece and the Grandeur that was Rome, and review the Ages of Gaia.
We can now, more or less, understand in the English version The Epic of Gilgamesh.
Miraculously preserved on clay tablets deciphered in the last century, The Epic of Gilgamesh is at least 1,500 years older than Homer. Its volume contains the English version of the adventures of the King of Uruk in his fruitless search for immortality and of his friendship with Enkidu, the wild man from the hills.
Also included in the epic is another legend of the Flood which agrees in many details with the Biblical story of Noah.
Let me share briefly why The Epic of Gilgamesh is a must read for lovers of religion, archeology, history, literature, political and social sciences.
Gilgamesh was the son of a man and a goddess and king of the ancient Sumerian city-state of Uruk.
He was also the strongest and most handsome man in the world.
But his assets have gone to his head, and he spent all his time wearing out the young men of the city with endless athletic contests and sexually exploiting the young women.
When the citizens of Uruk couldn’t take it anymore, they prayed to the gods for help.
The god Anu heard them, and commanded the goddess Aruru to create another human who will be a match for Gilgamesh.
Aruru created Enkidu, an uncivilized wild man, and placed him in the woods.
There, Enkidu had several run-ins with a trapper who uses the same watering hole.
Terrified, the trapper went to Uruk for help. On Gilgamesh’s advice, the trapper went back to the watering hole with Shamhat, a temple-prostitute.
When Enkidu showed up, Shamhat enticed him to have sex with her.
Afterward, Enkidu found that he could no longer keep up with the animals, but that his mind has been opened.
He started living with Shamhat, who initiated him into human life. When she mentioned Gilgamesh, Enkidu realized that he wanted a friend—and that he wanted to give Gilgamesh a beat-down.
Gilgamesh had been dreaming about getting a new friend, too.
Soon enough, Enkidu went to Uruk and faced down Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh won, but there were no hard feelings, and the two warriors became best buds.
One day, Gilgamesh decided to go to the distant Cedar Forest and killed Humbaba, the monster who guarded it. Against the advice of the elders of Uruk and Enkidu himself, the two friends set out on their quest.
Once they made it to the Cedar Forest, the sun god Shamash helped them overpower Humbaba, who started pleading for mercy.
Gilgamesh was about to grant it, but then gave in to peer pressure from Enkidu, and killed him.
The friends cut down the tallest tree in the forest, which Enkidu planned to dedicate to the god Enlil.
They built a raft and sailed home down the River Euphrates, taking Humbaba’s head along for the ride.
At this point, the goddess Ishtar developed a crush on Gilgamesh and asked him to marry her.
Gilgamesh rejected her, pointing out that all of her previous lovers have come to bad ends.
Seriously pissed off, Ishtar borrowed the Bull of Heaven from her dad, Anu, and sent it to earth to punish the friends. But they killed the Bull, and, when Ishtar appeared on the ramparts of Uruk, Enkidu threw one of its legs in her face.
Not long afterwards, Enkidu dreamed that the gods have decided that, for killing Humbaba, chopping down the cedar, and killing the Bull of Heaven, either he or Gilgamesh must die—and that Enlil picked Enkidu. In no time, Enkidu fell mysteriously ill, and died after much suffering.
(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two daily newspapers in Iloilo.—Ed)