Folks: I’m quite touched by the beautiful review of my chapbook, Amassunu, that fellow-blogger Earthquakes and Rattlesnakes has produced at my request. A first review–a milestone for each of us! Thx, Z!!!
& here is the link to her review: Amassunu.
Image–art: Modigliani, src: WikiCommons; License: Public Domain
More than 10 years ago, I walked into a local bookstore & found a new translation of the Epic of Gilgamesh. Browsing through its pages, I was seized by a desire to put the story into verse. At this point, of the epic’s eleven tablets, I have finished and copyrighted the first two, and have all but the last two in second draft. Amassunu contains a 100+ line extract from tablet IX.
The story’s roots go back to the beginnings of the world’s first urbanized culture, Sumer (now southern Iraq), more than 5,000 years ago. It survived, the oldest continuous long story, until the sack of Nineveh (612 B.C.), and was forgotten until the palace of Ashurbanipal was excavated in the 1840s and 50s. About 60 percent of the story has been recovered, although (literal) pieces of it are turning up all the time.
Why is this ancient & presumably primitive story important?
1) The story, even in fragmentary form, is superb. Its narrative is a tour-de-force, including material that ranges from elegy to high drama to burlesque. The epic contains set pieces, such as Ninsun’s petition of the sun-god in tablet III, that are written in poetry of the first order, as intense and beautiful as any composed since.
2) Gilgamesh takes us back to a civilization and landscape that both disappeared thousands of years ago. The climate of the Middle East was not always as dry and harsh as it is today. At that time, it was a grassland rather like the savannah of eastern Africa today; lions, Indian elephants, and ostriches roamed in large numbers. The river valleys were also lusher, and along the banks of the Euphrates sprang up the world’s first cities, the most powerful of which was Uruk, the city that Gilgamesh ruled.
3) The writer(s) of the oldest parts of the Hebrew Bible knew Gilgamesh. In fact, the oldest version of Noah’s Flood is clearly written in response to the Sumerian Flood at the end of Gilgamesh. But there are other correspondences, including two versions of the Eden story.
4) Gilgamesh records the struggle between men and women for power in the world’s first civilization, and the transfer of power from the goddess to the gods. The goddess Inanna is a character in the story, and tablet VI contains the story of her struggle with Gilgamesh for supremacy.
5) The story contains the first great portrayal of Hell and the first search for eternal life. After Gilgamesh rejects Inanna’s love, she unleashes the Bull of Heaven on Uruk in revenge. But Gilgamesh and his partner/intimate companion Endidu, kill the bull; the Council of Gods, partly to punish the death of the bull, condemns Enkidu to death. Before he dies, Enkidu receives a vision of the underworld, which he reports to Gilgamesh (the poetry in this vision is some of the finest in the epic). After his death, Gilgamesh laments his companion (more outstanding poetry) and then goes on his quest for eternal life. During this quest, we are introduced to an imaginary landscape quite different from those to be found in later writing.
6) The Sumerian Flood, which predates Noah’s Flood by many centuries. When the first people to read the tablets in the 19th century reported that they had found an earlier version of the Flood, it caused a sensation in London, and enough money was raised to send the explorers back to Nineveh to retrieve more tablets. Though the details of the two versions of the Flood share many details (even down to wording), they each reflect quite different theologies.
7) My version is different from others already in print. The originals of the story are recorded on clay tablets that were subsequently broken into many pieces large and small. As I mention above, about 60 percent of the story has been recovered. In my version, I fill in the missing material from the logic of the surrounding material and my imagination. Other versions eliminate lines that are fragmentary. My goal has been to make the entire epic read continuously, and in a formal (but never unintelligible ;)), sometimes rhymed, verse.
The passage from the story in Amassunu concerns Gilgamesh’s encounter with the Scorpion Gods.
I’ll say no more, but will provide (for the last time, at least for a while) a link to Lulu where you can buy the book.
So, come on, give it a try–a story 5,000 years in the making has got to be worth checking out!
Image: The Annunaki, impression fr/ cylinder seal, University of Louvains. Src: WikiCommons
It’s hard to believe, but Amassunu, the poetry chapbook I’ve been laboring on for more than a year, is finally finished and available on Lulu. When I started the endeavor back at the end of ’09, I hoped for maybe a hundred copies done at a good quick-copy shop (the quotes I got averaged about $2 a book), but the actual product is far nicer than I could have imagined: full-color, perfect bound, on cream-colored paper. And available to anyone around the world! Whoa, another miracle of modern technology!
By way of preview, here is a poem from the book:
The Reason of Cities
Take a stone; break it
shape its scars smooth
lay them one on another
crush it to dust
scatter it over the ground
in silver circles
or knap it like flint—
spread the flakes
like dead teeth and
Draw a square
fill it with palms and
the sound of water
admit the girls,
their dancing amid
hair that spirals
as the night
or the horns
of a ram
in her cloven crown
Remember the maze
and the womb
the wall as blood
gold—and the queen
hung like a lamb
in the cold cave
imperious, and staring
and here, for those of the haiku persuasion, are a couple of samples:
delights the old man,
burns his bones like wood, ashes
floating like feathers
chill breeze crashes the party
kisses the rose bud
copyright, 2010, Eric Quinn
Well, there it is, folks. I hope you feel tempted…. there is lots of fine, and some outstanding, poetry in Amassunu. Here is the link to Lulu:
Enjoy the book! Eric
It turns out that Luwian was an indo-european language spoken by groups of people in southeastern Anatolia during the 1st and 2nd millenia BC. It is now extinct, but was almost certainly the root tongue of Lydian, a language spoken during classical times in the same area, which not suprisingly, came to be known as Lydia (Lydian is also extinct). For those interested in more famous events, it seems possible that Luwian was the language spoken in ancient Troy.
The language was written in Luwian Hieroglyphs, a 500-character system that was used in Hattusas, the Hittite capital.
Now, the reason that I mention something as obscure as Luwian is that I am a bit depressed. And somewhere I read that the best thing to do when you are depressed is learn something new. More often than not, this advice has worked for me.
Why, you might ask, am I depressed? Well, there could be worse reasons: I’ve just completed and am on the verge of publishing a chapbook of poems via Lulu. What started back in 2009 as simple frustration with the fact that I didn’t have anything to carry my poems around in smaller than a binder morphed into a project to publish a humble quick-print shop-produced, paper-bound edition and then, most unexpectedly, transformed itself into a professionally printed and manufactured book that is available worldwide. hmmm…..
i had the same feeling when I finished my 1st draft of the Epic of Gilgamesh, the 500-pound white gorilla sitting in the middle of my writing projects. I finally had it in first draft!
Then the blahs settled in. The Gilgamesh project has been going for more than 10 years, and I had already invested three of them in the effort. Then I got a job with a Big Commute attached; the job has happily faded over the horizon.
Back to more important matters. My chapbook contains a 100+ line extract from tablet 9. The book has been a year in production, mostly because the Gilgamesh extract proved tougher than I expected to put in poetry. then again, all the tablets have been difficult.
i look at Luwian and wonder about the immortality of writing (especially if it’s not officially sanctioned). some ink on a scrap of paper, a few electrons buzzing around in some machine…
then i remember that somebody (and probably more than one of them) has busted his or her butt trying to discover luwian inscriptions and decode them. & look at Gilgamesh, come down to us from the beginnings of history, 5,000 years ago…maybe there is something to the scribble…
The title of my book? Amassunu. It’s available now on Lulu, but I haven’t got the proof copies yet, so caveat emptor! (on the other hand, the softbound edition is available at a 15% discount!) 🙂 I suppose, if you can’t be happy, then at least you can be crassly commercial.
Or then again, maybe the blues have moved on…. RT
P.S. if you visit Lulu, ALL will be revealed concerning my TRUE identity. 😉
P.P.S. my next post will contain a full-blown & shameless appreciation of Amassunu…..
And Last But Not Least: photo src: WikiCommons; Luwian hieroglyph: Enlil2.