Archive for February 2011
I’ve read a great deal of love poetry. A huge percentage of the Western canon of poetry is focused on love. I’m female and I spent half my adolescence thinking about luvvv. This is not a subject that I am unfamiliar with. And I have to say that these selections of love poetry from Ancient Egypt might be the best I have ever read.
There is something refreshing about the language of all these poems. They are so simple and straightforward and honest – even more amazing because of the complexity of some of the themes. Sexuality has been a taboo subject for so long in the West that it is astounding to read such unabashed treatment of attraction and sensuality. Read the rest of this entry »
Maybe it’s just me, but when I think of “Egyptian religion” (admittedly not something I think of on a daily basis), I think of a multitude of strange gods with animal heads. And that neat-looking eye that supposedly symbolizes Ra.
And Stargate. So when I turned to the section of Egyptian religious poetry, I was expecting something decidedly polytheistic and foreign to me.
I was very wrong. These selections of poetry are monotheistic in the extreme – my Judeo-Christian-raised brain kept flashing to Psalms, that’s how monotheistic it was. The introduction indicates that this exclusive worship of the sun god was later viewed as heretical, so this is clearly not a representative sample of the religion of Egypt, but it was nonetheless surprising to me. Clearly, I have much to learn. Read the rest of this entry »
At the beginning of Part 4 of Gilgamesh, our hero is still weeping for his friend. And a new fear has struck him – fear of his own mortality. “What my brother is now, that shall I be when I am dead. Because I am afraid of death, I will go as best I can to find Utnapishtim whom they call the Faraway, for he has entered the assembly of the gods.”
Gilgamesh embarks on an epic journey to find Utnapishtim, who is a sworn doppelganger for the biblical Noah. Gilgamesh fights a pride of lions, speaks with Scorpion-men, and traverses a pitch-black tunnel. He has now found the garden of the gods, a paradise of gemstone fruit and plants. One of the gods is here, and tells him to give up, for he “will never find the life for which [he is] searching.” Gilgamesh then finds and speaks to a nearby goddess. He tells her the story of his toils and of his deep sorrow and fear. She tells him again that he can never find immortality. Instead she counsels him to go out and live his life and enjoy it for all it is worth. I am interested to see that again a woman is the voice of reason and hope. Where the male god just said “give up,” the goddess offers wise advice and help. Read the rest of this entry »
Part 2 of Gilgamesh picks up without interlude after the fight and conciliation of Gilgamesh and Enkidu. One assumes that time has passed, because they seem to have developed a deep friendship. Gilgamesh has a dream and Enkidu interprets it. Gilgamesh’s dream enforces the gods’ desires for him to rule Uruk (mandate of heaven), but that he is not destined to acquire everlasting life. The phrasing in this translation seems to imply that maybe some people are given this destiny. Finally, Gilgamesh is encouraged to not abuse his power.
More time seems to pass, and Enkidu has a complaint. All play and no work has made him unhappy and weak. In answer to this, Gilgamesh decides that now is a good time to head to the Country of the Living, also called the Land of Cedars. My assumption is that this is a poetic name for Lebanon, well known in ancient times for their cedar forests.
Gilgamesh waxes eloquent about his ambitions to attack and destroy Humbaba, a gigantic creature who guards the Forest. Enkidu has misgivings (he’s terrified, actually), and Gilgamesh insists. Their frank discussion serves as an example of friendship – two men honestly offering viewpoints and discussing them. Gilgamesh eventually “wins” the discussion (although really it seems like Enkidu gives in). Read the rest of this entry »