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Gilgamesh, Samson, Ulysses, Aeneas, and other Solar Heroes

The epic of Gilgamesh predates the works of Homer by about one thousand five hundred years. Its antiquity explains another of its unique features its centrality with regard to the world of the Bible and that of ancient Greece and Rome. Of course, the mythology on which the story of Gilgamesh is based does not accord with the monotheism of the Bible. Even in Genesis however the supreme God manifests a certain measure of plurality as indicated by the name Elohim, formed in the plural. According to the Rabbis the seventy translators of the Bible who produced the so-called Septuagint agreed that in Greek the word rendering Elohim should be in the singular to forestall any tendency to associate the God of the Hebrews with polytheistic notions current in the Greek world. Rabbinic commentators explain the plural reference to the Elohim as We in terms of the collegiate nature of the Court of Heaven in which God promotes the principle of consent in preference to issuing purely authoritarian decrees. In one regard, at least, the central issues thrown up by the epic transcend the divide between the monotheism of the Bible and the polytheism of Greece. Gilgamesh, whose father is Shamesh the sun-god, has a dual nature with both divine and human characteristics. He cannot therefore be satisfied with material concerns and values but restlessly seeks the eternal and an assurance of personal immortality. This, in terms of the narrative, he almost secures by plucking a sacred herb from the ocean bed but a serpent steals it from him when he is off his guard. One notes a parallel between the account of this incident and the role of the serpent in the biblical story of Eden. Let us consider further the fundamental affinities shared by motifs found in the epic of Gilgamesh, the Bible and the epics of classical Greek and Roman literature despite differences between them subject to issues of theology, ideology or culture. The epic of Gilgamesh contains the earliest known version of the Deluge story, long predating the biblical accounts about Noah and the Ark and Ovids account of Deucalions flood. Gilgamesh, Samson and Hercules in various ways evince a kinship with the power of the sun, a relationship that Jung explains in terms of the symbolism inhering in the manifestations of the solar hero representing the male libidinal urge to achieve union with the anima, the Eternal Female. This insight is corroborated by Robert Graves in the following passage found in The Greek Myths:2 (Penguin Paperback), 88-89. It may be assumed that the central story of Heracles was an early variant of the Babylonian Gilgamesh epic which reached Greece by way of Phoenicia. G has Enkidu for a beloved comrade, Heracles has Iolaus. Gilgamesh is undone by his love for the goddess Ishtar, Heracles by his love for Deianeira. Both are of divine parentage. Both harrow Hell. Both kill lions and overcome divine bulls, and when sailing to the Western Isle Heracles, like Gilgamesh, uses his garment for a sail. Heracles finds the magic herb of immortality,.as Gilgamesh. does, and is similarly connected with the progress of the sun around the Zodiac. Samson and Heracles present particularly clear cases of the solar hero. However, Jung

sees this figure in the many great wanderers that populate the ancient epics of Greece and Rome. The wanderer typically encounters grave menaces and challenges involving the slaying of some hideous monster or the thwarting of the seductive designs of a beautiful female, who is sometimes a goddess or a witch. In the epic of Gilgamesh the seductress is the goddess Ishtar, whose sexual advances find a parallel in those of Venus when she has designs on the chastity of Adonis. The quest is typically represented as a journey involving a period of traversing a realm of night and darkness analogous to the image of the suns passage through night, sometimes pictured as a great ocean in the west. In the classic tradition as in the epic of Gilgamesh the realm of night is also the underworld of departed souls. Many of the figures known to us in Greek mythology such as Charon the ferryman plying his boat between the realms of the living and the dead find precedents in the Gilgamesh epic. A horrific vision of the underworld is presented in a dream experienced by Enkidu, Gilgameshs fraternal comrade when mortally stricken. In this he perceives the souls of the departed as birdlike beings feeding on dust in a place of remorseless gloom. Clarences predeath vision of the underworld offers an interesting parallel. In the Hebrew Bible descriptions of the underworld are absent, not being compatible with a scriptural reluctance to divert attention from the practical this-worldly concerns and demands of religious practice. However, at least in allegoric terms the wanderings of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai involve a passage through the domain of death. According to Carl Jungs analysis the wanderers quest to achieve union with the anima is fraught with a daunting ambiguity as the anima conflates both the maternal and conjugal aspects of the anima, the eternally female. The role of Ishtar in this role has already been noted. The same confusion gives rise to a fear of committing incest, a danger that Oedipus did not avoid. His fate, though the result of his ignorance, imposes on him an incurable sense of guilt. Samson, whose very name points to his close association with the sun, ultimately suffers being blinded, the fate meted to Oedipus. As solar heroes they are deprived of light, the symbol of their motive force, the sun. Graves argued that Samsons fate of losing strength after being shorn also reflects a pattern of solar images that permeate his story, as hair represents the rays that emanate from the sun p.63 , 185 Samson does not of course wed his mother or literally commit incest. However, Delilah (night), his femme fatale, personifies a tainted relationship between a man and a woman, tainted, that is, according to the prevailing set of mores that informs the narrative, for she is seen as a temptress, a hostile alien, the quintessential shikse. In a similar framework solar wanderers encounter a series of aberrant, disreputable or hopelessly incompatible women. Potiphars wife is the bane of Joseph, who once dreams of being the central object of homage in the celestial sphere; the prostitute Rahab is the unlikely protector of Joshua, one able to arrest the progress of the sun. On the classical side, Circe temporarily ensnares Ulysses and Dido detains Aeneas though she is the one who incurs a tragic fate, an omen of Carthages ultimate destruction. Aeneas descent into the underworld imparts vatic powers to foresee the coming greatness of the Roman empire. In the light of Jungs theory of the Unconscious, in all such cases revealing the incongruity between a male and female lies the Oedipus complex with its deep-seated fear of incest, of losing the power to distinguish mother and lover.

Dante's Divine Comedy poses a case of introversion, in particular the introversion of the Homeric epic and the Aeniad. Introversion arises when one author adapts the model provided by another author to his or her own aesthetic needs and purposes. This means continuing and altering the same material provided by literary tradition. In the case we are considering an element of continuity resides in the fact that the spirit of Vergil accompanies Dante, or the projection of Dante as speaker and witness, in depictions of excursions into the realms of Purgatory and Hell in The Divine Comedy. It is of course Beatrice who guides Dante through Paradise. Even the most phantastic intrusions into worlds beyond or outside the physical world of daytime experience take their departure from a walk, the act of wandering in a natural setting, the hills of Malvern, Dante's dark forest, Bunyan's or Alice's English countryside, where the respective narrator falls asleep and then dreams. Introversion also involves the selection and massive expansion of some element suggested by an episode found in an earlier works. The descent into the underworld that forms a relatively small component of Homer's Odyssey or Vergil's Aenead becomes the entire arena of the Divine Comedy, except for the vestigal depiction of a walk on the surface of the earth that serves as a brief introduction to Dante's work. The Divine Comedy set a trend that has been continued and refashioned in the epic works of Milton, the Romantics, Victor Hugo and in fantasy literature in general. Perhaps William Blake's distinction between "the mental traveller" and the "cold-earth wanderer" in "The Mental Traveller" points to the two options that any creative writer may choose between. Either you describe the familiar world with its common objects and sights and allow these to serve as emblems of things eternal and universal or you enter the domain of dreams and visions, directly as it were. As Erich Auerbach noted in Mimesis, the Divine Comedy effectively proves a vehicle of the sharpest social and political criticism, not least because in the closed domain of the afterworld things are shown to be what they are without the possibility of a revision subject to the laws of progress and evolution. The same principle underlied Blake's vision of the human condition in "London." All this suggests that any exploration of universal truth, or at least any hopeful endeavour to pursue such an exploration, must engage the mind's so-called daytime faculties and the unconscious, the domain of dreams and wandering thought, irrespective of the strategies of a mental traveller or a cold-earth wanderer.

Four Fallacies to which the Process of History is Subject


Fallacy Number One: It is always a good idea to support my enemys enemy. Louis XVI of France supported the American Revolution despite the lack of any shared political outlook uniting the monarch and the American revolutionaries. In fact French military support for the cause of American independence undermined the French

regimes financial and ideological foundations and was a major cause of the French Revolution. . A similar mistake was made by the German High Command in 1917 in granting Lenin safe passage from Zurich to Russia in expectation that a Bolshevik takeover of the Russian government would result in Russias withdrawal from participation in the Great War. In the short term the strategy paid off. Russias withdrawal from that war allowed the German military to strengthen its dispositions on the Western front and achieve a temporary breakthrough on the battlefields of the Somme. However, in the longer term, the policy of favouring the Bolsheviks backfired as the revolutionary spirit inspired by Lenins coup infected the German heartland and provoked the overthrow of the Kaisers regime. The most recent example of the kind of errors that have just been mentioned we find in recent policies adopted by the administrations of United States presidents from the nineteen-eighties on. American military and financial aid was given to Saddam Hussein in his war on Iran and to the zealous Islamist freedom-fighters of Afghanistan resisting the occupation of the country by Soviet forces. Once the Soviet army of occupation had withdrawn, the wrath of Islamist fundamentalism turned on their whilom sponsors, as we today are all too well. aware. A related fallacy: I can rely on even the most unsavoury type to do my dirty work for me: Consider Hitler and the German Industrial magnates Fallacy Number Two: Im the king of the castle. At various points in history some great empire or nation believes it has a monopoly of power. Some of the great dissensions and crises in world history are foreshadowed by the apparent achievement of a great triumph. The late pope John Paul II once expressed regret that the Reformation broke out very soon after the explorations of Portuguese and Spanish navigators and colonisers had opened up the world to a new expansion of Roman Catholic missions. The British Empire achieved its apogee with the brilliant victories of Clive in India and Wolfe in North America on the eve of the American Revolution. The stunning German victories presided over by Bismarck sowed the seeds of the world conflicts of the twentieth century. Gladstone was well aware that the German annexation of Alsace-Lorraine laid a menacing booby-trap for the relations between the leading states of Europe. Just now we are beginning to wonder whether the victory of capitalism and democracy over the Soviet bloc and the emergence of the United States as the one remaining superpower are all they were cracked up to be. The untrammelled advance of capitalism and globalisation has exposed deep faults in the institutions in banking and finance that underpin the present economic system of the world. Fallacy Number. Three. "Human progress is inevitable"

At the heart of this fallacy lies the hubris that has led to the assumption that humanity is in sole control of planet earth. The exposure of this fallacy is relatively recent, though Milton in Paradise Lost saw Mammons avarice reflected in the rapacious exploitation of the earths resources, for in Book 1 (685-688)we read that by Mammon Men also, and by his suggestion taught,/ Ransacked the Center, and with impious hands / Rifled the bowels of their mother Earth / for Treasures better hid;" What we are now witnessing is an end to the industrial worlds rakes progress with the sobering and very late recognition that reliance on the never-never ends in the collapse of a private household as well as national and international economies. The best laid plans of mice and men become unstuck when some proverbial bubble finally bursts. We should take another look at Hogarths pictorial satire on the South Sea bubble showing a goat and a banner with the words Wholl ride? atop a giddily spinning fairground carousel. See http://www.library.hbs.edu/hc/historicalreturns/fb/explore9.html Why did so many of us suppose that increases in property values would be on the eternal increase and promise every greater credit options to finance consumption based on no productive effort or the well deserved fruits of industry in the original sense of that word.

Fallacy Number. Four "The way to Paradise is paved with good intentions" Most agree that absolute pacifism is wildly idealistic and Utopian and that war is sometimes warranted in the defence of ones homeland. However, wars fought for purely ideological reasons and in the pursuit of high ideals often end up in an indiscriminate and self-defeating free-for-all. We see this in the course of the Crusades, the Thirty-Year War, the wars that followed the French Revolution and the war in Vietnam, supposedly fought in defence of democracy but in truth a messy imbroglio interfering in a civil war. The present involvements in Iraq and Afghanistan will prove counterproductive if they provoke a cultural rejection of authority imposed by those perceived to be truculent aliens. Only a prolonged and even altruistic solicitude of the interests of the native population could win the true battle for hearts and minds`.