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Gilgamesh & the Loss of the Source
“This was the man to whom all things were known; this was the king who knew the countries of the world. He was wise, he saw mysteries and knew secret things, he brought us a tale of the days before the flood. He went on a long journey, was weary, worn-out with labour, returning he rested, he engraved on a stone the whole story.
Description of Gilgamesh from the Epic of Gilgamesh
‘“It’s always been a city of importance, you know,” Rand said from beside Min, his eyes distant. “The Guardians are newer, but the city was here long ago. Aren Deshar, Aren Mador, Far Madding. Always a thorn in our side, Aren Deshar was. The enclave of the Incastar - those afraid of progress, afraid of wonder. Turns out they had a right to be afraid. How I wish I had listened to Gilgame…”
“Rand?” Min said softly.
It drew him out of his reverie. “Yes?”’
Towers of Midnight, Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson
Everyone who’s read the Wheel of Time series is in awe of its founders encyclopaedic knowledge of mythology. From the mirroring of Odin’s self-sacrifice on the World-Tree in the storyline of Mat, to character names like Perrin sharing more than merely linguistic similarities with the Slavic god of the same name, to the actual themes from mythology and religion which drive the story onward: Lews Therin leader of the Aes Sedai bears more than a striking resemblance to the Irish hero Lugh who leads the magical Aes Sidhe into battle against the forces of darkness in order to win the right to take up residence in Ireland. To name but a few.
As Robert Jordan, a physics graduate, set his world within a multiversal paradigm, its an enticing prospect to take some of these myths as not fable at all but possessing an actuality which took place - or is taking place - not in our time stream but in an alternate or parallel universe.
With this in mind, the admission of the Dragon Reborn regarding Aren Deshar/Far Madding does throw up an interesting possibility. Namely: our two universes share some history (and some future) in common, though they’re fogged by different historical interpretations etc.
The greatest boon in this line of thinking would be to identify an occasion in our own past when something like the One Power was in use. The books are explicit the One Power was ’forgotten’ in some Ages. So it’s a tantalizing prospect to imagine our Age is one of those, and that if we but study our own history we will discover evidence of the use of something with similar attributes as the One Power - and, perhaps, discover once more its use.
So in this spirit this essay is going to analyze and compare a very specific text, the Epic of Gilgamesh, which, should anyone read, will find to possess strange allusions to a mysterious figure seemingly mortal, who later becomes some manner of god placed at the source of a mighty power which, amongst other things, confers 'lasting life'.
Then to begin…
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
The Dragon Reborn’s words to Min regarding the ancient city Aren Deshar, the Incastar and the figure of Gilgame-, (NOTE: we’re going to proceed on the belief he was cut off before fully pronouncing the name ‘Gilgamesh’) is loaded with some intriguing possibilities. Not the least of which is to more firmly fix the events that take place in the Wheel of Time Age in the trajectory of our own civilisation, perhaps as history, perhaps as future - perhaps both…
Our own myth of Gilgamesh does throw up what on the surface may seem superficial parallels with the cautious figure who in Towers of Midnight Rand/Lews Therin recalls warned him against the dangers of unbridled progress. In the Epic of Gilgamesh its said Gilgamesh “was wise, he saw mysteries and knew secret things,” and, most notably “he brought us a tale of the days before the flood.” This ‘flood’ or Deluge is a myth extant in uncountable cultures throughout the world, a catastrophe which wiped out all traces of the previous civilisation, and was not unlike the Breaking which destroyed the Age of Legends and inaugurated the Third Age.
WHAT'S IN A UNIVERSE?
In a cyclic universe like the Wheel of Time the appearance of a figure like Gilgame(sh) does raise an interesting question. Could this figure mentioned by Lews Therin Telamon/Rand al’Thor, who’s a member of the Incastar - “those afraid of progress” - the Guardians who abide in Aren Deshar, possibly be the same man who’s said to have been close kin to the survivors of the Deluge, a catastrophe which decimated the prediluvian civilisation of our own Earth??
Seems far fetched. Any yet this theory continues to hold water and is even further supported when contrasted with the theory of ‘Ages’ which operate in the Wheel of Time cosmos. The Ages, as we understand them, or - better put - as the characters of the Wheel of Time understand them, are 1000+ year stretches of time thought to repeat in a synchronistic or otherwise meaningful way.
The denizens of the Wheel of Time are roughly aware of two Ages having preceded their own, with another (ideally) to follow. These are:
1st Age: Our own Age that spawned tales still recited by Gleemen based on garbled redactions of the Moon landings, the first woman in space etc., plus provides evidence of its existence in a tapestry which appears to show giraffes - a species which didn't survive into the 2nd Age;
2nd Age: Age of legends;
3rd Age: Present Era in the WoT universe;
?4th Age: the Sun Age, prophesied to be instituted upon the Light’s victory over the Shadow;
…then something happens, something catastrophic: the Deluge…
Nth Age: ......And we're back at the beginning: the 1st Age - our own Age - an age where Gilgamesh recorded on stone tablets the demise of the previous Age, along with details of what destroyed it. For its said of him in the Epic of Gilgamesh “..he brought us a tale of the days before the flood.”
Let's take a closer look at the operating logic behind the theory of the Ages. Its evidently based on a cyclic model of the universe which adheres to infinite, self-sustaining cycles.
"..the oscillating universe theory briefly considered by Albert Einstein in 1930 theorized a universe following an eternal series of oscillations, each beginning with a big bang and ending with a big crunch; in the interim, the universe would expand for a period of time before the gravitational attraction of matter causes it to collapse back in and undergo a bounce."
This "Wheel of time" model is a concept shared by several religions and philosophies, notably religions of Indian origin such as Hinduism where the Kalachakra (lit. wheel of time) tradition revolves around the concept of time (kāla) and cycles (chakra), symbolising the belief in time as cyclical and consisting of repeating ages.
So any duplicity of persons in whats erroneously appropriated as myth may be more accurately explained, as we shall see, in other ways. (?)
AREN DESHAR, AREN MADOR, FAR MADDING......URUK?
Another point of synergy is the nature of the actual cities were both Gilgameshs are said to have lived. The Gilgamesh of our own mythology lived in Uruk, of which, long after its foundation, he recounted
‘Look at it still today: the outer wall where the cornice runs, it shines with the brilliance of copper; and the inner wall, it has no equal. Touch the threshold, it is ancient..’
--- Epic if Gilgamesh
A passage which not only professes Uruk’s deep antiquity but also reveals that its managed to withstand signs of age and decay. A further, more significant passage, as it seems to suggest a foundation to the city that’s not all together natural, relates:
‘..Climb upon the wall of Uruk; walk along it, I say; regard the foundation terrace and examine the. masonry: is it not burnt brick and good? The seven sages laid the foundations.’
This passage appears to allude to something mysterious operating at Uruk’s core to safeguard its agelessness and general splendour. According to Gilgamesh it was ‘seven sages’ who laid the foundation of Uruk, who were in possession of some form of knowledge which, when applied, outstripped the era’s other cities, coming as it did from a time before the Flood. Even from Gilgamesh’s vantage which seems many years from Uruk’s creation, the knowledgebase the Seven Sages drew from, as well as retaining its mystery, was still unmatched in his day. Rand, speaking as Lews Therin, also called Far Madding ‘ancient’
“The Guardians are newer, but the city was here long ago. Aren Deshar, Aren Mador, Far Madding. Always a thorn in our side, Aren Deshar was. The enclave of the Incastar -…”
And Aren Deshar too, like Uruk, has a magical foundation, in its case a great ter’angreal which disables the ability to touch the True Source. The similarity of Uruk’s and Aren Deshar’s seeming impregnability because of the ‘magical’ foundation of both cities does seem striking.
UTNAPHTIM: SYNONYM FOR THE ONE POWER?
One of Gilgamesh’s main adventures is his search for immortality. After the death of his friend, who, he believes, now resides with the gods, he’s desperate to discover the whereabouts of their abode to share in their immortality. This immortality or lasting life appears to be located with a figure named Utnaphtim - or, in its translation, ‘He Who Saw Life’.
‘Utnaphtim’ is one of the most interesting persons - if person he/it was - in the entire Epic of Gilgamesh. Originally the protege of the god Ea, by whose connivance he was able to survive the Flood with his family, he brought ‘the seed of all living creatures’ into the next Age. In the former Age he was what’s appropriated as a ‘priest’ of Shurrupax - which was one of the five cities named by the Sumerians as having existed before the flood. But the term “priest”, as we shall see, may be to woefully mis-label the role he/it fulfilled!
Having survived the Deluge, Utnaphtim is said to have been taken by the gods to live for ever at ‘the mouth of the rivers’ and given the epithet ’Faraway’ - (Faraway = Fal Dara).
At this point Utnaphtim’s seperateness from the gods seems rather opaque, doesn't it?
Let us chart the development of Utnaphtim’s role according to the work of Gilgamesh.
1. Utnapishtim in Old Babylonian is Utanapishtim; for the Sumerians he was Ziusudra, thought a ‘wise king’ and ‘priest’. In the Akkadian sources he is a wise citizen of Shurrupak, a city which pre-existed the Flood which destroyed the former Age. The name Utnapishtim translates as ‘He Who Saw Life’. He survives the Flood with his family, indeed he safely delivers ‘the seed of all living creatures’ into the following Age. Lastly, having apparently pleased the gods “he is taken by the gods to live for ever at ‘the mouth of the rivers’ and given the epithet ‘Faraway’”, which, according to the Sumerians, is the place ‘where the sun rises’. Its also worth noting that the city-state of Fal Dara is an island situated in a lake which is at the source/mouth of many rivers…! Coincidence?
So far, so perplexing.
2. Because of the death of Gilgamesh’s brother and friend, Gilgamesh experiences dread at his own mortality and determines to evade it. So he resolves to:
‘find Utnapishtim whom they call the Faraway, for he has entered the assembly of the gods.’
So Gilgamesh travels through a great wilderness to reach Utnapishtim, whom “the gods took after the deluge”.
Yet Gilgamesh’s proposed journey is fraught with danger! Upon asking passage from the guardian of a magic mountain, he is told: “No man born of woman has done what you [plan to do], no mortal man has gone into the mountain; the length of it is twelve leagues of darkness; in it there is no light, [and] the heart is oppressed with darkness. From the rising of the sun to the setting of the sun there is no light.’
Gilgamesh however is determined to attain immortality and he requests that the mountain be opened. The being guarding it accedes, saying ‘Go, Gilgamesh, I permit you to pass through the mountain of Mashu and through the high ranges; may your feet carry you safely home. The gate of the mountain is open.’
After eleven leagues of pitch blackness and much suffering its written that ‘the dawn light appeared. At the end of twelve leagues the sun streamed out. There was the garden of the gods; all round him stood bushes bearing gems. Seeing it he went down at once, for there was fruit of carnelian with the vine hanging from it, beautiful to look at; lapis lazuli leaves hung thick with fruit, sweet to see. For thorns and thistles there were haematite and rare stones, agate, and pearls from out of the sea.’
Then, his friend upon seeing Gilgamesh walking in the garden exclaims, ’You will never find the life for which you are searching.’ To which Gilgamesh responds ‘Now that I have toiled and strayed so far over the wilderness, am I to sleep, and let the earth cover my head for ever? Let my eyes see the sun until they are dazzled with looking. Although I am no better than a dead man, still let me see the light of the sun.’ This sun, it should be noted, is none other than the figure of Utnaphtim, the ‘being’ who existed before the Flood when he wielded great power but has now been lost after the catastrophe.
What’s puzzling about this interchange is the fact that Gilgamesh, when amongst the gods and immortals in their paradise, would request to see something as relatively mundane as the sun!? Which, intriguingly, he describes hyperbolically in terms of its assuaging death, etc. Is this “sun” which can foil mortality (or perhaps only prolongs life) really identical with the figure of Utnaphtim? Leading us to the conviction that Utnaphtim is not a person at all - but some manner of power?
Meaning from being originally considered as merely Utnaphtim the ‘priest’ or ‘wise king’ of a prediluvian city, he is now - amongst other things - an immortality-giving star!
3. Between the ‘figure’ of Utnaphtim ruling over one of the five cities pre-existing the Deluge and becoming the sun granting everlasting life, is the determination of the gods to place him - or as we should possibly denote “IT” - at ‘the mouth of the rivers’ where he receives the epithet "Faraway".
So, “Utnaphtim” by being placed at the SOURCE of everlasting life, came to embody or personify this source, for its said Utnaphtim is taken to the ‘mouth of the rivers’ which seems to suggest he either is this power source or controls some power source that either directly or as a symptom of which, confers long life - something also, it should be noted, that’s enjoyed by those who draw on the One Power.
The story of Gilgamesh clearly states that after the catastrophe only Gilgamesh is properly cognizant of what preceded his own Age. Should this ‘knowing’ be understood as referring to the wholesale demise of others who, paradoxically, enjoyed this SOURCE which emanated from the ‘mouth of the rivers’ and which conferred long life? Which in reality is a way of describing the extermination by the Flood waters of those originally able to engage with this source - or, you might say, ‘channel it’.
Gilgamesh’s journey appears to be a journey to retrieve something that is mostly lost during the Flood, though its reality survives in the curious “person” of Utnaphtim, who seems more likely to be a mythologizing of the Power which once ruled before the Flood, that gifted its users long life and “dazzled” those who beheld it, the latter probably referring to the subjective experience when actually using/channelling it. In other words, the different forms in which Utnaphtim is described - priest, immortal, god, source of rivers etc. - are really expressive of the different modalities of his essence, an essence which Gilgamesh reveals as he draws closer to it.
The Flood waters appear then to have rooted out and killed off the ability of people to channel this mysterious power which conferred long life. Of the Epic of Gilgamesh various titles for Utnapishtim. “Faraway” for instance; or where its said he/it “entered the assembly of the gods”, and lives in the land of “Dilmun“, i.e. the “garden of the sun”, its evident some, notably the latter is a flowery epithet which appears intimately connected with whatever Utnapishtim is - or, more importantly, originally was. All of which, albeit however hackneyed the expressions are rendered, does appear to have originally denoted something akin to the One Power or some other manner of magic that prolongs existence and which, after the Flood, only Utnapishtim still possessed and which Gilgamesh strived to attain, performing a feat no man born of woman ever has!
OTHER STRANGENESS IN THE TALE...
In The Forest Journey chapter of the Epic, Gilgamesh experiences a dream in which “The heavens roared and the earth roared again, daylight failed and darkness fell, lightnings flashed, fire blazed out, the clouds lowered, they rained down death. Then the brightness departed, the fire went out, and all was turned to ashes fallen about us.”
All of which sounds very like a battle with the One Power.
And the coming of the great enemy of mankind by who’s machinations mankind is destroyed sounds suspiciously similar to the coming of the Dark One foregrounded by the Forsaken and all manner of Shadowspawn: “With the first light of dawn a black cloud came from the horizon; it thundered within where Adad, lord of the storm was riding. In front over hill and plain Shullat and Hanish, heralds of the storm, led on. Then the gods of the abyss rose up; Nergal pulled out the dams of the nether waters, Ninurta the war-lord threw down the dykes, and the seven judges of hell, the Annunaki, raised their torches, lighting the land with their livid flame. A stupor of despair went up to heaven when the god of the storm turned daylight to darkness, when he smashed the land like a cup…[…] …”
It was this attack which overcame the civilisation and Age of Utnapishtim, the drama of which bears heavy similarities with tales which tell of the ending of the Age of Legends.
Of course all this could be accused of being the grossest speculation imaginable. And, leaving aside any doubt whether it really was indeed Rand’s intention to say “Gilgamesh”, there is the difficulty of resolving how an Age one would expect to be enjoying the greatest advances technologically could succumb to a meterological diasaster - no matter how vast - like the one said to have ended the Age before Gilgamesh!?
To which could be responded that though the Age of Legend Aes Sedai experimented successfully with the creation of ter’angreal that could control weather, a Flood as huge as the one Gilgamesh describes would be beyond even their power to assuage. It should be noted also that even the Age of Legend Aes Sedai - unlike the scientists and astronauts of our own day - didn’t aim or set about to leave the confines of the planet. The exploration of the moon is never mentioned despite the wonders of the Age of Legends - so can we expect the victorious Fourth Age to pursue space programs etc.!? Meaning no possibility of escaping the Flood waters. Access to parallel universes through the portal stones is certainly a possibility, but in a near-infinite quantity of these universes there are many unpleasantries like an undefeated Dark One, a Dragon Reborn who never received the mystical insight atop Dragonmount etc etc. In other words the populace of the 4th Age would be leaving paradise for something potentially unbearable. Perhaps most chose death at the hands of the rising waters over escape, and those who did enter parallel universes were never able to return, possibly killed, enslaved, or simply lost for ever.
What’s also worth a mention is the meterological chaos introduced into the Wheel of Time world by the Dark One. His presence after all does seem to have displaced the polar ice-caps, which ought naturally to be situated where the Blight currently is. Which is bound to have a deleterious effect on the climate, especially over the large timescale we’re talking. Perhaps the Deluge which destroyed the 4th Age was the weather system of that world finally righting itself, albeit in a fashion which irretrievably altered the face of the Earth, killing most of its inhabitants as it did so.
GILGAMESH: THE IMMORTAL CHANNELER
So. If we take Gilgamesh as being born at the genesis of our own civilisation, the knowledge he possessed of the former Age and its destruction was none other than knowledge of the 4th Age, the Age which basks in the glory of the Light's victory over the Shadow. An Age were the Taint on Saidin is forgotten a thousand years, were the Seanchan and their practices annihilated and where a mysterious Power was able to not merely prolong life but confer immortality!
Something vaguely familiar here.
Meaning the figure of Gilgame(sh) who confided with Lews Therin was the recipient of the immortality which he so desperately sought at the beginning of our own Age, the 1st Age. An immortality he enjoyed - and still enjoys - in this Age, and will do so until the 2nd Age when others like him are born with the Power which emanates from the ‘mouth of the rivers’ (the 'rivers' = the Five Powers…?), and will continue to draw breath until he is killed by one like him, able to draw on the Power, presumably Shadow channellers in the War of the Power or during the Breaking by insane male channellers…..!?
And there you have it.
Now if I can just find that magic mountain and accomplish a feat which will make me only the second son born of woman to have successfully accomplished…
"Hypotheses are nets: only he who casts will catch." - Novalis
Last edited by New Futurist Man; 12-03-2010 at 11:40 PM.
I'd be very careful about putting too much emphasis on any one R/W Myth or Legend in connection with any particular WoT element. RJ went to a lot of effort to jumble myths and legends together so that there were few direct corespondences.
You may be correct that the chopped off name in Rand's remeniscence was 'Gilgamesh' or something very similar, but I wouldn't put much fait in it being the same Gilgamesh the Epic was written about (by?)
About the Ages of a full Turning. RJ was very specific that the Wheel Of Time has but Seven Ages to a Turning. The opening Epigram of every book tells us that the wind arises in "an Age called the Third Age by some" -- suggesting that it may or may not actually be the third of seven ages.
The ages aren't really numbered, IMHO. They are named:
The Age Of Myths -- to the story's timeline, two Ages before the current Age; whatever name or number is assigned to the Present Age.
The Age Of Legends aka "The Golden Age" -- The Age preceding the current Age.
The Present Age or possibly the "Modern Age" -- Historical Times and the Present Day.
The New Age -- the age following this one; it will be a better age than the current age and may even be a new Golden Age. It is the Age of Optimism.
The Future Age -- the guaranteed return of the Golden Age when unimaginable wonders will be as comman as grass.
The "Mists of Time" -- the two ages before the AGe of Myths and after the Future Age; too far in the past to remember and too far in the future to predict.
To those who call the current Age the Third Age and are aware of the passing to a new Age, the New Age will be called the Fourth Age -- but only at the beginning.
By the time the whole world is aware that a New Age has Dawned, the details of when exactly the changeover happened and an arbitrary date will be assigned to the end of the Age Of Legends or Golden Age that has been lost -- you know, that time when absolutely everything was better or when the Savior was born, or whatever.
Answers! I got lots of answers!
(Now if I could just figure out which questions they go to. )
I met you in a past life. You were wrong then, too.
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