Gilgamesh – My New Ancient Addiction

Heldig has a limited appreciation for literature.

A few weeks ago, I read Stephen Mitchell’s rendition of the ancient epic poem Gilgamesh. I really, really enjoyed this poem, plus all the awesome background info that Mitchell provided about the history and culture of the time.

First, Gilgamesh was an actual historical figure, one that we know only a little about. Gilgamesh the poem is over 4000 years old. Try to compass that! It is estimated that we modern scholars have recovered ~2000 lines of the ~3000-line poem. There is always something more to hunt for in those smashed, burned, calcified clay tablets.

If you have an addiction, you know you must feed it. This week, I finished The Buried Book by David Damrosch, which is about the loss and rediscovery of the great epic of Gilgamesh.  The tale of finding and deciphering Gilgamesh is just as fascinating as the ancient poem. Damrosch starts at the current time and leads us back in time to those explorers and early archaeologists that dug up the tablets and figured out what they had, to how the tablets got to be where they were found (think ancient Sumerians, Babylonians, and Akkadians), to the legendary historical figure of Gilgamesh himself.

Just some tidbits that I found interesting and feel the need to inflict on an audience (and which, if you spout off at the next party, will make you look that much smarter and more nerdy):

  • Ancient Mesopotamian royalty did not, in general, know how to read and write; it was lowly scribes’ work
  • Gilgamesh was likely still being sung by bards during the days of the Greek Homeric bards
  • Saddam Hussein was a closet historical romance novelist and often compared himself to the mythical Gilgamesh
  • Hormuzd Rassam is our unsung modern hero-archaeologist
  • King Ashurbanipal was unusual in his ability to read and write and amassed a large library, from which we have found great chunks of Gilgamesh
  • It is likely the historical figure Gilgamesh lived around 2750 BCE


This site has a half-hour video on Gilgamesh from various scholars, performers, authors, comic book artists, etc.



Cherry Blossoms in the Park

The cherry trees are blooming in the walkway by the river. It was a lovely experience to be out with other people enjoying this spectacle: picnics, dates, family time, or meditation. This man was playing his harp for the trees, which added an especial mystical quality to the evening. I took these photos for you Darkcargo peoples, wishing you luck and joy.

For Ye Olde Book Club Sunday post, your assignment is to go forth and explore Haiku. Find one that speaks to you, or write your own, and tell me about it. Here’s a few (below), from Matsuo Bashō.

What’s blooming in your area? Does the emergence of Spring put a “spring” in your step? What events, changes, goals do you anticipate for yourself and your loved ones between now and when the cherry trees bloom again next year? Does your community have many gardens or parks or natural areas?

A lovely spring night
suddenly vanished while we
viewed cherry blossoms
Matsuo Bashō


Guanyin’s tiled temple
roof floats far away in clouds
of cherry blossoms
Matsuo Bashō

(Guanyin is the Bodhisattva of Compassion)


Explorer Challenge: Poetry?!? Really???

When Lady Darkcargo finally revealed the Explorer Challenge 2012 guidelines, I was dismayed that poetry was on the list. I figured she wouldn’t be able to throw anything up there that would truly stump me. But, alas, a book of poems has never been a part of my forte. You could pick a book in any language, living or dead, and I would gladly undertake the challenge, little translating dictionary by my side.

So, you poetry lovers are probably rolling your eyes at me. And that is OK. Because I guarantee that I have rolled my eyes at your favorite poetry at one point or another. With poetry, I often feel that the essence, and sometimes the elegance of language, is lost in the effort to meet the meter, syllabic count, and the rules of rhyme. If those are the things by which a poem is judged, I think most folks that can count to 10, recognize a syllabic break, and can rhyme a word through the alphabet, can make poetry.

Is it pretty? Is it moving? Does it stick in your head for years? No. But it is poetry. And I just don’t care for the bulk of it, social brute that I am.

And yet….Lady Darkcargo challenges me in this way to force me to grow. Or at least become more widely accepting of teacakes and poetry readings. Recently, I finished Endymion Spring by Matthew Skelton, a children’s book about a magical book and an adventure through Oxford. In this book, Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti is mentioned a few times. A Victorian poem about goblins? Huh? Well, this I have to hear.

So I tracked down a free reading of it online over at and took 27 minutes and 13 seconds out of my life to expand my poetry-dearthed inner self. Unfortunately, I liked it – which means I will have to seek out more such poetry and revise my stance on the genre as a whole. Sigh. Feel free to giggle. I know I had to chuckle at myself.

The original fairy tales had death and darkness and were meant to be lessons and warnings to children. Goblin Market falls into the same quality entertainment. There’s goblins, two sisters nearing adulthood, lots of irresistible fruits, and some layered advice about being chaste. Or female solidarity. Or perhaps feminine allure. Maybe. Which is great. A good piece of literature should have more than one interpretation.