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Gilgamesh and the struggle of civilization vs nomadic culture

Sohel Bahjat
2011 / 9 / 10


The struggle between centralized state and new rival nomadic powers, was always a real concerning issue the long history for the most famous civilizations, ancient Iraq, China nomadic of north and Roman empire. This struggle is an ancient issue, maybe older than we know or imagine. Till the modern ages, Iraq been always a victim of this struggle, as a general theory of the struggle of values we suggest reference to the most historical researches of Dr. Ali Al-Wardi, the famous Iraqi sociologist and historian who pass away in 1990s; His books “Study in the Iraqi personality” and “Social glimpses from the modern history of Iraq – 8 volumes” and “Study of Iraqi society nature”. Through brief reading of The Epic of Gilgamesh, it seems like you read any traditional story; content place, heroes, super powers and big events. But behind the scene, there is something is needed to be re read or re interpreted. This re reading could surprises some researchers but I believe we could find new hidden events behind the story. The Epic starts with glorification of Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh, who build the great walls of Uruk, which was a giant city “A Norton critical edition: The Epic of Gilgamesh: Translated and edited by: Benjamin R. Foster: first edition 2001, Page 3 – note that all our references and quotes will be based on this edition of the book”; here we reading about a real civilized place, even by the modern measurements. This civilization, like any other things in the world; containing positive and negative things in same time. Beside the agriculture we can see feudalism, security vs. abusing, faith vs. charlatanism and last not least a government vs. tyranny. Gilgamesh was embodiment of this contradiction and negativity. While he built strong walls he was abusing his subjects “he was harrying the young men of Uruk beyond reason” “Th Epic p 5”, so this mythical historical king who was supposed to be a shepherd; instead of that he was behaving as an absolutist king; doing everything come up to his head. So, people plaints to goddesses – just be attention that goddess seems like princesses accessing plaints to kings – and gods talk to Anu god of sky and in his side he asked goddess Aruru to: “Let her create a partner for Gilgamesh , mighty in strength Let them contend with each other, that Uruk may have peace….” The Epic p 6”. So, tyranny is surely is something negative and this tyranny, surely, have only one solution, especially in a primeval ages of human history; the rival or the person who have similar abilities of the tyrant, such as a beauty, powerful muscular body and smart. But this rival will not going to struggle with him, maybe partially till they know each other. But this relationship could have another face to analyze it; first: let us take a look to Enkido and his story with Shamhat (the harlot). Enkido, as a rival was been created him in steppe to live with animals, ‘The Epic p 6”. This creature, Enkidu, is symbolizing of (Nomadic people), nomadic who have nothing of the human characters which make the human been distinguished from animals, this nomadic must, according to civilized people; the epic’s writer is that person here who will tell us how! Must go through a process to change him from negative to a positive; which means here ‘been civilized’ and that will started by having sex with a human female “The Epic p 9”. But again, what Shamhat’s symbolic? I think, and I hope I get close to give the best statement here, the harlot or woman is the first being inspired the bards and story narrators; that means the systemized feelings, instead of generating sexual acts, arrange marriage of nomadic is good example, is the first step to welcoming the new comers or arrivals on the border of the city to involve in civilization system. But it seems, we coming back to the context of the story, that gods were known retroactively about what wills going on; and this plan of creation make us rethinking about the similarity between Semitic legacy from ancient ages, Sumer, Akkad, Babylon and Assyria; comparing to the Judo-Islamic faith of fatalism and predestination and human free will. But let us not go far away from the context of the epic. The negative thing in this rival, as Gilgamesh is negative as a tyrant; here, Enkidu is negative as Nomadic uncivilized creature, a human as shape but an animal as essentiality or as nature and behave. So, both negatives, the tyrant; as civilization’s product, the nomadic as out civilization’s product, maybe Enkidu is closer to nature, both will be positive once they become one. Gilgamesh will gain a helper or counselor who will help him to be a good shepherd for Uruk, as evidence that exactly what happened after Enkido fought Gilgamesh to prevent him from rape the bride “The Epic p 16 – 17” and even after Gilgamesh get victory on him it; it seems Gilgamesh had forget the wedding and the bride and join his friend. In the entire story, Gilgamesh looks like he had no friend, except his mother and god Shamash. But I think, through context, that the relation between Gilgamesh and Enkidu is more than a friendship, maybe a sexual relation!! Through history, kings were need a powerful nomadic to expand the kingdom or defend it from its enemies, but relation wasn’t always friendly. But we could find two examples fit with our Epic we study here. First: Germanic and Goths tribes whom fight Roman empire then involved in the Roman hemisphere, also there the Abbasids empire through 9th and 10th century when they annex the Turkish tribes to the empire, as a strong warriors defending the empire from collapse.




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