Showing posts from March, 2015

The Flood in the Epic of Gilgamesh: What does it all mean?

In the past couple of posts in this series, we’ve been looking at the Great Flood narrative found in the Epic of Gilgamesh, trying to put the flood story into context, both within the larger story of Gilgamesh’s quest for godlike immortality and within the overall rhetorical context of the poem. Having done so, we’ve now reached the point where we can sort out what it all means. Here again, though, the question is more complex than it might seem at first glance. There’s the “meaning” of the poem from the poet’s point of view (what meaning did he apparently intend his readers to derive from the story), and the enduring significance of the story over time. Answer the dramatic questions to find the meaning The simplest way to get at the meaning of any story is to see what dramatic question the story poses and how that question gets answered. This refers to a question, raised at the beginning of the story, which holds the reader’s attention and drives the action of the story. Since U

Something for you Trekkies: Saints, heroes, and Klingons

Okay, I know I got all the Trekkies hooked when I put up that post about Captain Picard and the Tamarian (you all subscribed to this blog, didn't you? DIDN'T YOU?) Well, read this to find out why my pal Dennis McGeehan, says Saint Joseph would make the perfect patron saint of the Klingons. Death of Enkidu, if he and Gilgamesh had been Klingons Question: What would Worf think about Gilgamesh?  Would he dig him, or would he bury him? More importantly, what would he think of Gilgamesh's quest for immortality? Answer: (My answer, anyway): I think Worf would admire Gilgamesh's heroic exploits and his desire for greatness, but I think he would abhor his response to the death of Enkidu. Or maybe not, if he believed that Gilgamesh, as a mere human, would not have access to Sto-Vo-Kor (the Klingon Valhalla). But he might also sympathize with Gilgamesh's depression at the thought that all his deeds would die with him, and respect his recovery after failing

The Story of the Flood in the Epic of Gilgamesh

Today we come to the second part of our examination of the story of the Great Flood found in the Epic of Gilgamesh — wherein we will look at the story itself . I'm actually going to break this into two separate posts, a summary of the story and the interpretation of it, which I'll combine with an examination of the story's significance. Before I do that, however, let's recap what we've already covered in Part 1 . Last time, in the first step, the rhetorical analysis, we noted that the Flood account is really a story-within-a-story, which means we need to consider it along with the larger story that contains it. This narrative technique is sometimes called a “ frame tale ,” a term that is very appropriate in this case because the story of Gilgamesh provides the frame (context) for the part we're most interested in, and the Flood story is what gets framed (the focus of our attention). Still, although we are most interested in the Flood account, the relation

Epic of Gilgamesh: putting the Flood story in context

Want to visit far-off times and places? Read a book. It's the cheapest, easiest form of travel. Sometimes we have to learn to see treasured, but overly-familiar truths with the eyes of a stranger in order to appreciate them better. That’s what I hope will come of the exercise I proposed last week , comparing several ancient accounts of the Great Flood.  So as we begin our look at three different literary accounts of the Great Flood, I think it best to start with the one that is probably least familiar to most of us. Why? Because the Biblical account is so familiar that we may miss its distinctive features, the features that help us draw out the intended meaning of the account. By looking first at unfamiliar versions of the story, we may be able to de-familiarize ourselves from the story of Noah and be better able to read it afresh. Reading with understanding As we look at each of these three Flood stories in turn, I’ll be using a slightly-modified version of the four-p

Happy Saint Patrick's Day! Now arm yourselves!

I love St Patrick's Day, not because I love green beer, parades, or even corned beef, but because it reminds me of the great prayer attributed to the saint who drove the snakes (and the pagans?) out of Ireland. You probably know a hymn called St Patrick's Breastplate , but did you know that the hymn was not itself written by the saint, but is based on an ancient prayer attributed to the patron of Ireland? It is sometimes called the Lorica , a word which means “breastplate,” i.e., literally a piece of armor that protects a combatant's chest, also called a cuirass. Roman soldiers wore a lorica segmentata as part of their battle armor. In the Christian era, the term lorica also came to mean a prayer of protection — no doubt with reference to the armor of faith that St Paul in the sixth chapter of his epistle to the Ephesians says will allow the believer “to stand before the wiles of the devil”: Re-enactor dressed as Roman soldier in lorica segmentata [B]e stro

What can Darren Aronofsky's Noah teach us about the Western cultural tradition?

About a year ago, I went to see Darren Aronofsky’s Noah not long after it hit the cinemas. I always cringe whenever Hollywood produces anything vaguely Biblical, and probably would not have gone to see this film, if a friend hadn’t bought me a ticket. There was a huge hue and cry from Christian viewers that this film was “not true to the Bible” (big surprise!), and even the offer of a free ticket might not have swayed me if a review by Barbara Nicolosi hadn’t assured me that there were many other reasons to hate this “terrible, terrible” film. I will admit, sometimes I just enjoy seeing something truly, laughably awful (this probably counts as “concupiscence of the eyes”), and Noah looked like it was going to be one of those, so off to the cinema I went. I found the film to be every bit as terrible as I had expected, just on purely cinematic grounds: a nonsensical story, inconsistent characterization, illogical motivation, goofy CG effects, etc. However, unlike many viewers,

Keep your bling, give me the treasures of the Western Cultural Tradition

In chapter 8 of the Book of Proverbs, Lady Wisdom says, “Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold; for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her. … I walk in the way of righteousness, in the paths of justice, endowing with wealth those who love me, and filling their treasuries.” This is a saying any true-hearted student of the liberal arts, like myself, can heartily endorse, but it is not a saying that would have much appeal in the modern world, most of whose denizens would much rather have the bling. I’ve never gone in much for wealth or celebrity, myself, but since I was a child I have always hungered for wisdom and understanding. This explains why, as I contemplate the Lenten call to almsgiving (and my own abject poverty) I am inspired to offer you, dear readers, the benefit of my education, which is among the few (and the greatest) treasures I have accrued in my life.