GILGAMESH THE KING by Robert Silverberg

gilgameshI wanted to read this because I wanted to know more about him, and I thought a fictionalized account of his life would be more interesting than just hieing myself off to Wikipedia.

[OK, I lied.  I download this book because I got confused between the Sumerian Gilgamesh and the Hindu god Ganesh, which is the one I was actually interested in.  Well, come on, there are enough similarities in the names, with the G and the esh, right?]

So the whole fictionalized life thing is really about Gilgamesh, who was a king of legend in ancient Mesopotamia, and the story comes to us from  an Akkadian poem that is considered the first great work of literature.   Gilgamesh is generally seen by scholars as an historical figure, since inscriptions have been found which confirm the existence of other figures associated with him in the epic. If Gilgamesh existed, he probably was a king who reigned sometime between 2800 and 2500 BC.  The Sumerian King List claims that Gilgamesh ruled the city of Uruk, one of the prominant cities of Sumer,  for 126 years. According to the Tummal Inscription Gilgamesh and his son Urlugal rebuilt the sanctuary of the goddess Ninlil in Tummal, a sacred quarter in her city of Nippur.

Gilgamesh is part god, — actually two parts god, and one part human.  He feels the gods enter him, and speak to him.  If you took my advice and read THE ORIGIN OF CONSCIOUSNESS IN THE BREAKDOWN OF THE BICAMERAL MIND by Julian Jaynes, like I told you to, you would have a wonderful alternate take on the somewhat supernatural aspects of Gilgamesh’s life and beliefs.  2500 BC would of course be in the period that Jaynes claims the mind was still unevolved and operated in two separated spheres, giving human awareness a kind of schizoid experience, with the person hearing voices as voices of the gods.

This epic tale is operatic quality, what with the kings and the wars and the battles.  Hey, you don’t get to annex other lands simply by asking politely.  Takes blood, guts, (preferably the enemy’s), and a fair amount of machination, intrigue and well, let’s call a spade a shovel here, murder.

Gilgamesh’s father, the king Lugalbanda,  dies when Gilgamesh was 6 years old.  He watches as the personal servants and retinue of his father follow  the body down into the burial pit, to be entombed along with him.  He is pretty sure after seeing this that he never wants to die. I know, right?  When he is just a preteen, he flees into exile to the city Kish where he grows into manhood and becomes a powerful warrior.  It turns out that the king of Kish and the goddess in charge of his own city, Uruk, conspired to have him return to his city and become the king there.  The priestess of the goddess Inanna is a real bitch, and wishes to manipulate Gilgamesh.

He does many good works, but is lonely.  A wild man is discovered in the hillsides, and is cleaned up and taught civilization and becomes the friend of Gilgamesh.  They go on adventures together to find and destroy demons.  Ahhh, what a life!  He friend dies of a wasting disease, due to the machinations of the Inanna priestess, and Gilgamesh, distraught with grief, becomes terribly afraid of dying, and so sets off alone on a journey to find how to avoid death.  In true quest fashion, he has many adventures, meets up with people who can help him and learns a valuable lesson.

Part of his quest involves an old legend of a terrible flood, a man who was told by the gods to build a large vessel and put the seeds of all life on it to survive the flood.  In return for this service, he was granted eternal life by the gods.

Gilgemesh finally learns that his city Uruk is about to be taken over by a rival, and so hurries home to save the city.

This is all told in the form of Gilgmamesh as an old man writing his memoirs, and is basically , in addition to being a thrilling tale of action and adventure, is about politics, the treachery of man and gods,  and the necessity of accepting death as part of life, because when the gods gave man life, they also gave man death, and kept the eternal life for themselves.

It is interesting to note that the flood narrative in the Epic of Gilgamesh was appeared at least a thousand years before the tale told in the bible. As a matter of fact, many ancient civilizations have a flood narrative.

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Now about the revered Hindu god Ganesh.  He comes a lot later, more near the tenth century.  He is the god with the head of an elephant.  I know, right?   It is said that the goddess Parvati, wishing to bathe, created a boy, Ganesh,  and assigned him the task of guarding the entrance to her bathroom. When her husband Shiva returned from one his interminable battles, he was denied access by Ganesh and killed the boy in a fit of petulant rage, striking his head off with his sword. Parvati was understandably upset and so to soothe her, Shiva sent out his warriors to fetch the head of the first dead creature they found, —  of course, that would be MY first thought of what to do.  Well, the first dead creature they came upon happened to be that of an elephant. The head was attached to the body of the boy and he was brought back to life. The elephant’s head symbolizes unmatched wisdom and the gaining of knowledge through reflection and listening. And because of his role as his mother’s doorkeeper, he is often placed facing doorways to keep out the unworthy.

There are a number of other fascinating stories about Ganesh, who is the Lord of Good Fortune who provides prosperity, fortune and success. He is the Lord of Beginnings and the Remover of Obstacles of both material and spiritual kinds. Interestingly, he also places obstacles in the path of those who need to be checked.  Another story about him is how he came to have a broken tusk.  One popular version is that he broke it off himself in order to write down the Mahabharata, one of the world’s longest epic poems, as it was dictated to him by the sage Vyasa. In the process of writing, Ganesh’s pen failed and so he snapped off his tusk as a replacement in order that the transcription not be interrupted. The broken tusk therefore symbolizes sacrifice and Ganesh’s role as patron of the arts and of letters.

ganeshOK, so now do you see why I got confused?

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One comment on “GILGAMESH THE KING by Robert Silverberg

  1. Phoghat says:

    Reblogged this on Thoughts of The Brothers Karamuttsov and commented:
    I also have this book in my Kindle, and now I’m more in a hurry to read it

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