Words of Wisdom #57

“Who (then), my friend,
Can climb up to the sky?
Only the gods live there,
In company of Shamash, forever!
Men, on their part,
(Have) the days numbered:
Everything they do
Is (nothing more than) wind!”.

-Gilgamesh to Enkidu in the Epic of Gilgamesh

Everything we do is nothing more than wind, but when a strong wind hits us it remains imprinted in our minds and we remember it, because it has challenged and fascinated us at the same time. Then someone among us will try to improve himself, with the aim of being able to oppose to that wind, and finally prevail on it: when this happens, an even stronger wind is born!

louvre-gilgamesh-epic

Related posts: Sumerian Mists (Part 1 of 3)Sumerian Mists (Part 2 of 3)Sumerian Mists (Part 3 of 3)

Advertisements

Sumerian Mists (Part 3 of 3)

First an image that shows the Cosmos according to the Sumerian mythology:

cosmologia_sumera

There is written, from top to bottom:

Primordial Sea (Nammu)
Sky (An)
Terrestrial Ocean (Abzu)
Earth (Ki)
Hell (Kur)
Primordial Sea (Nammu)

The Primordial Sea (Nammu) is the Universe: uncreated, eternal and infinite, enclosing the creatress matter of all that will come into being, primeval amniotic fluid that has given form to all that has been, that is and that will be. The Sky (An) is the Starry Sky above the Solar System. The Terrestrial Ocean (Abzu) is the “maelstrom” created around the Sun by the orbits of the planets of the Solar System. The Earth (Ki) is the ideal plane composed by the four pillars or corners of the year, i.e. the Ecliptic. Hell (Kur: another proof that the Kur of which I speak in my previous article is indeed the realm of death) is the Starry Sky below the Solar System.

***

The myth about Baldr’s death is composed by the dreams premonitory of his death, the oath imposed to all living creatures to not harm him, the deities that jokingly try to harm him knowing his invulnerability, his eventual death by the hands of Höðr, the search in Hel to bring him back and the cry of all that exists to allow his return in the world of the living.

Baldr’s death:
baldr_lies_dead

The Sumerian mythology contains a poem called “The Dream of Dumuzi” that is in many ways is strikingly similar to Baldr’s myth summarized above: in this poem the god Dumuzi has premonitions of his destiny by means of dreams that show his imminent death. He knows he will be killed by a band of brigands but hopes nevertheless to avoid what will be inevitable and asks to all living beings to cry for him; on several occasions the god is captured by the brigands but manages to escape and at the end he seeks refuge in a pen in the desert but the brigands capture him and destiny is fulfilled; after Dumuzi’s death follows the ritualistic lamentation and Geshtinanna, his sister, starts searching for him in the realm of death, in the end succeeding in bringing him back to life.

The similarities with the myth of Baldr’s death are many: the title of the poem reminds of the Eddic poem “Baldrs Draumar” (“Baldr’s dreams”), then we have the premonitions of death during sleep, the attempts to avoid death, the participation of all living creatures, the fulfillment of destiny despite the efforts to avoid it and the final search in the realm of death to bring the god back to life. We can quite easily draw a parallel between the deities trying repeatedly to harm Baldr, until his eventual death, and the brigands that capture more times Dumuzi without being able to kill him, until when they finally succeed in their purpose.

Other equivalent myths are those about the resurrections of Osiris and Lemminkäinen. In the Egyptian mythology, Seth kills Osiris and dismembers his body into fourteen parts to then scatter them throughout Egypt: Isis then collects all the body parts and reassembles them, in this way resurrecting Osiris. In the Kalevala, Lemminkäinen goes to Tuonela, the realm of death, to pass a test and win the hand of his future wife, but he is killed and his body torn to pieces and thrown into the infernal river: then the mother of Lemminkäinen descends into the realm of death and recovers all the parts of his son’s body, reassembles the corpse and brings it back to life.

Lemminkäinen is brought back to life by his mother:
lemminkaisenaiti

Höðr, Seth and the other entities that kill the Sun God symbolize Autumn and Winter, the seasons when the Sun grows old and temporarily dies. Baldr, Dumuzi, Osiris and Lemminkäinen symbolize the temporarily dead Sun during the Winter Solstice (the word “solstice” comes from Latin “solstitium” [“sun stop”], indeed the Sun starts again to climb up or down the horizon only after some days of apparent immobility following the Solstices, whereby the wintry rebirth occurs effectively only in coincidence with Yule, and that’s why many deities come back to life exactly three days after their seasonal death) and the child that, after accomplishing the initiation ritual, comes out from the burial mound: both are reborn on Yule’s day.

61

Part 1: Sumerian Mists (Part 1 of 3)
Part 2: Sumerian Mists (Part 2 of 3)

Sumerian Mists (Part 1 of 3)

The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the most ancient mythological poems we have the possibility to read, it is part of the Sumerian mythology and, as we know, the Sumerians were biologically Europeans. The poem is a collection of originally independent stories, putted together by the Babylonians without changes of any sort.

Gilgamesh is a prototype of archaic Sacred King, and only by understanding this we will be able to get something from the figure of Enkidu, a character who becomes very soon the best friend of Gilgamesh and will follow him during most of the events described in the poem: we’ll return later to discuss the bond between these two characters.

To note that the poem refers to the multiple sexual relationships of Gilgamesh, possibly since in the past the men who proved to be the best had the possibility to have more than one woman, so that they could have many children and as a result a wide spread of their genes:

“For Gilgamesh,
The king of Uruk with crossroads,
Is open the tent
(that distances) the others,
In favor
Of the groom (only):
The legitimate wife,
He lies with her,
Him first,
And the husband afterwards.
(Such is) the order
(Wanted) by the divine will,
And, since his birth,
(This privilege) is granted to him!”.

-The Epic of Gilgamesh

An interesting fact about Enkidu is that he is described as a sort of savage and indomitable man who lives harmoniously with animals in the woods. What happens later in the poem can make us think that Enkidu represents the prototype of human being that lived in harmony with nature, still unaware of civilization and the sedentary and agricultural way of life. The people of Uruk send a whore to approach and corrupt him, and then bring him in front of Gilgamesh. The whore (note that whores have never existed amongst hunter-gatherers, i.e. during 99% of our time on this planet) represents instead the civilization (i.e. domestication) of man, a dramatic turn for our existence in this planet. That’s why, after Enkidu has an intercourse with her, the inhabitants of the woods refuse to still live with him. Enkidu has been corrupted by civilization, there is no more place for him in the savage world of the woods: passed to civilization, he feels physically weaker and the poem states that the whore took him to shepherds who offered him bread and beer, two typical products of the sedentary and agricultural way of life:

“The bread (that) they offered (him)
He refused it;
The beer (that) they presented him,
He refused it:
Without eating this bread,
Enkidu examined it with suspect;
Without drinking this beer,
He examined it with suspect…”.

-The Epic of Gilgamesh

Now, returning to the relation between Gilgamesh and Enkidu, the poem suggests that the latter is, most probably in relation to sympathetic sorcery, a double of Gilgamesh:

“He looks like Gilgamesh,
In profile!
Smaller
In size,
(But equally) vigorously
Built!”.

-The Epic of Gilgamesh

“To Gilgamesh (, it was said),
(Although) similar to a god,
Has been (therefore) given
a double!”.

-The Epic of Gilgamesh

What I think is that Enkidu is the substitute of the Sacred King at the time when the annual function of this one comes to an end. You see, we have good reasons to think that at least some of our European ancestors, at least for some time, at least in certain areas of Europe (yes, we don’t know much about this) had not the custom to kill the Sacred King at the end of his annual function, nor organized competitions to confirm or replace him; instead, during that last day, they pretended that the real King was dead – for example confining him in an isolated place that symbolized a grave – while a substitute obtained the title of King for the duration of that last day, with all the functions, duties, honours and privileges of the role (it is possible that this “reversal of roles” is at the origin of festivities such as the Saturnalia and Carnival, both characterized by a temporary abolition or overturning of the normal hierarchy of social roles). They achieved this purpose by means of sympathetic sorcery (“the similar generates the similar”): giving him all the kingly attributes (the prehistoric forms of the crown, sword and scepter) he became the King. However, at the end of the day he was ritually murdered and then the real King returned from his isolation (i.e. from his symbolic death), resurrected, the new Sun ready to regain his function for another year.

sunrise-sunset-wallpaper-hd-1-1-s-307x512

Possibly they did this to avoid the killing of their best man, or maybe because the King at a certain point refused to accept his destiny and imposed this variation of the ritual: we don’t know for sure. Regarding the substitute, for what we know he could have been a criminal whose destiny was in any case to be executed, or he could have been a healthy and honourable man ready to do an act worthy of being remembered, i.e. dying as a King: indeed, as we know, our ancestors had a vision of life and death that contemplated the rebirth of the honourables, death in itself was not a problem, even less if it was considered an honourable death. I tend for the second interpretation but, again, we don’t know for sure.

A King’s death:
mort-darthur-article

The death of Enkidu was celebrated with a ritual lament and Gilgamesh points out how all living creatures mourn for him, event comparable to what happens after the death of Baldr – another Solar God that is reborn after the Winter Solstice – in the Norse mythology, when all living creatures mourn his death so that Hel will return him among the living: the same goes for Enkidu, which in that moment was effectively the Sacred King, ritually killed and ceremonially cried.

We can observe the same identical process in some episodes of the Greek mythology, for example when Phaeton takes possession of the chariot and the distinctive attributes of Helios – in this way becoming Helios – but shortly after starting to perform the role of his father he dies; another episode is the one in which Achilles, the Sacred King, pretends to be dead, remaining isolated in his ship until the time when Patroclus, his substitute, dies shortly after having become himself Achilles, through the use of his armour and weapons: both the factions are sure to have Achilles in front of their eyes when Patroclus comes, and the latter is convinced that by using the armour and weapons of Achilles he will obtain the same strength and valour for which the son of Peleus was famous on the battlefield. Patroclus then dies and, finally, Achilles ends his isolation: the true King came back to life!

achilles_218