Here’s a puzzle for RT: which of the following versions of a stanza from tablet 5 of Gilgamesh is the one he should use? Each was composed using a different metrical scheme. Decisions, decisions…
Enkidu recovered his voice, challenged the ghoul:
“How could you dirty his pure and immortal name,
utter such blasphemy, make such a threat?
I owe you nothing! You would have devoured me,
savored my liver and heart, licked my skull.
But Enlil intervened, restrained your greed.”
Enkidu recovered his voice:
“How could you soil his name,” he said,
“show such reckless irreverence?
You would have devoured me,
dined on my liver and heart,
but Enlil muzzled your gaping maw.”
Enkidu recovered his voice, spoke:
“How could you insult such a pure name?
I owe you nothing—nothing! Your cannibal rage
would have torn me limb from limb,
devoured my liver and heart, licked my skull,
but Enlil leashed your appetite.”
copyright © 2014, The Rag Tree.
Photo: Cedrus libani var. libani, Cambridge University Botanic Garden. Author: Magnus Manske. WikiCmns.CC Attribution ShareAlike 3.0.
RT has been silent of late; much has been on his mind. Here is the latest:
1) RT’s hypertension, the product of his current medication cocktail, has gotten serious, and he is now taking blood pressure meds and going down on his other meds with the aim of getting off and onto something known to reduce BP over the long-term. The transition will take place slowly so as not to place undue pressure on his mom, who is herself significantly improved on her new meds. RT for his part will be making yet another call to a doctor, this one to get help with a BP meds script. What with all the news and doctor’s visits, things are a bit tense here, and RT has been taking his mental escapes where he can find them.
2) The bed bugs have begun to bit again, and RT suspects that there is a fourth treatment in the duplex’s future, and a not-too-distant one at that.
3) RT has just finished watching a wonderful video on YouTube, Dying to Live. It concerns a twenty-something lady who was diagnosed with stage-4 breast cancer at 23 and was given 2 1/2 years to live. She is still alive at 27 and counting, and has started a BC-awareness foundation, Coppafeel. She has displayed remarkable intelligence and bravery during her fight, in RT’s opinion. The video is definitely worth watching.
4) RT’s ongoing excursion into video-land has led to a predictable project of his own, a video to accompany a recording of his reading the prologue from Gilgamesh. The number of free resources out there for such a project is greater than one might think, and RT has made good progress in putting together something watchable (and listenable!).
5) In the middle of all this, RT is fomenting a post on Harappan Civilization. All the signs of mortality are reminding him of an important fact: history may be humankind’s most effective response to death. Sumer and Harappa, powerful civilizations at the beginning of history (and the people who created them), live on. Dust, stone, and writing systems are still talking, and we listen with a keen interest. Or, to put it another way, by learning what happened to others, we become more expert at dealing with what is happening to us.
There it is, and RT might even get out that Harappa post tonight…
Map: Extent of Harrapan Civilization at its Height. User: MM. Wikipedia; CC 3.0 Share-Alike, Attribution, Unported.
Sometimes being a writer leads to perplexities. In RT’s case, he has several projects going at once: 1) Gilgamesh; 2) A Daughter’s Song and Dance (his mother’s childhood memoirs); 3) The Rag Tree; 4) and sundry other occasional preoccupations, at least one of which might end up being very important. Now, the logical approach to all this would be to choose one item, concentrate on finishing it, and then proceed down the list until all of the work has been done. But RT is coming to the realization that he doesn’t work like this.
RT’s modus operandi appears to be working on one of the projects (usually Gilgamesh, but sometimes one of the others) for extended periods of time, at the end of which he picks another of the projects and works on it for a while. The Rag Tree is a special case, exercising its siren call every time RT logs onto the Net–and posting regularly is the blogger’s cardinal virtue.
And then there are the gremlins that like to show up–a new biography of Van Gogh, an incomplete or prospective “quick” translation lying around, and those all-too-familiar but regular and required real-world encounters, like paying the rent.
RT’s conclusion about the unscheduled mess? He likes it. He doesn’t know how or if he can resolve his lack of a fixed agenda, but he feels that it’s wise at least to be honest about his preferences. As far as his departure from Standard Operating Practice, he will say, in our work life, don’t we have a right to pursue more than one obsession at a time? RT knows that this is hardly an efficient approach to doing things, but what is the ROI for love? Or death?
This is all by way of preamble to saying that the last week or so RT has been working on his mom’s memoirs, and he is particularly pleased with the section on the 1939 NYC World’s Fair, with its Dalecarlian Horse (not as large as the one in the photo above) and its many other sights and experiences. He has reached page 150 and thinks that the completed book will probably be around 250 pages. Life is full of surprises and unexpected beauty–and quandries. RT
Photo: Dalecarlian Horse; WikiCmns; Public Domain.
Could Gilgamesh (or at least Enkidu) have something to do with the Abominable Snowman? Well, probably not, though the idea will doubtless exercise RT’s roving writing at some level.
And roving it has been! Van Gogh, a fine collection of personal essays, and a book on the 2008 disaster on K2 have all come across RT’s already sagging lap-desk.
On a more serious note, RT has begun work on tablet 6. Nothing is quite what it looks like with a Gilgamesh tablet. Tab 6 is the most complete tablet (except 11) in the original materials, and RT breezed through it the first time around. RT is satisfied with much of what emerged as a gift back then, but he is also aware that the most difficult part of the epic is its continuo, all the stuff that makes the story coherent as a whole–transitions, themes, meters, and what not. So it with a wary (but not weary) eye that he proceeds. All roads (however unlikely) lead to tablet 6… RT
1) The Elohist Bible. The hunch that this was the first of the Biblical documents to be written has been with RT for some time. Certainly the EB was a major work, comprising several scrolls and written by a master literary artist. RT is also pretty certain that the EB was divided differently than the Five Books; for instance, he thinks that in E, Exodus/Shemoth ended somewhere between the Passover and the Crossing of the Red Sea.
2) The Yahwist Bible. Written in response to the Elohist Bible by another gifted writer, the Yahwist Bible has been reconstructed in two beautiful versions, Harold Bloom and David Rosenberg’s The Book of J and Richard Friedman’s The Hidden Book in the Bible. The major difference between the E and J bibles is that the E author represents Israelite tradition from the point of view of the Northern Kingdom (Samaria); the Yahwist author, from the perspective of Judah.
These two works, both composed, as RT supposes, in the 9th century B.C., represent the oldest layer of the Biblical texts. But here is where things start to get tricky: neither the E or the J bibles have survived as independent works. They were combined into a single text, the JE Bible, at about the time of the destruction of Samaria (722 B.C.). Comparing the texts, moreover, makes it clear that the person who combined the two texts had a preference for J, since the J material is preserved in a continuous account, while the E material has major gaps, most noticeably, its opening is missing. So, in fact, the JE Bible is the source for the oldest materials in the Bible, while the J and E sources were both lost at some point.
3) The JE Bible. Composed at the end of the 8th century B.C.
Hold onto your hats, folks: there is more still to come. Specifically, one more bible was written, this one after the fall of Samaria and the appearance of the JE Bible.
4) The Priestly Bible. Apparently, the priests in the Jerusalem priesthood were not happy with JE’s point of view, so one of their number wrote a corrected version, the Priestly or P Bible. Friedman assigns the composition of the PB to the reign of Hezekiah (715-686 B.C.).
Hebrew writing had lost none of its vitality: the P source includes the Creation Chant at the opening of Genesis, the great credo of monotheism and surely one of the finest passages of literature ever composed. Here, at the turn of the 7th century B.C., and perhaps during the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem, the consciousness of a single creator god emerged.
5) The Deuteronomistic History. Last of the major sources to be written, the Deuteronomist History was composed during the reign of Josiah and at the beginning of the Babylonian Exile, and tells the story of the Israelites from Moses to the time of Josiah. But things are not quite as clean and cut as they might seem: the D Historian used older materials to compose his work, some of them very old. So the books originating from his hand, that is, Deuteronomy through 2 Kings, at least in some cases represent older traditions.
Finally, the four sources were combined; Ezra the Scribe (active in 1st half of the 5th century B.C.) has been named as the individual responsible for combining the materials to produce the Five Books as we have them.
A process this elaborate, taking place over centuries, is bound to produce rival theories and tough debate. From RT’s point of view, admittedly based in his work with Gilgamesh, the writing of the Biblical materials fills in the cultural gap left after the sack of Nineveh and the abandonment of cuneiform script as the principal writing system. A new culture was being born, and that takes time.
Photo: Jacob Wrestling the Angel; Sainte-Marie-Madeleine Basilica in Vézelay. WikiCmns; Public Domain.
cowabunga! look at what RT has turned up on Gilgamesh….
(reposted from Amy’s Place)
(and if you’re interested in RT’s version of tablets 1-4, stop by lulu and order a copy)