Epic News – A New Gilgamesh Fragment!

Brilliant listener EF writes:

I love your podcast!  The episode on Gilgamesh got me hooked, and I’ve been listening since then.  (Did you hear about the newly discovered fragment, that suggests Gilgamesh felt guilty about the mess he and Enkidu made in the cedar forest?)

What!? No, I did not! Here’s OpenCulture on the significance of the new lines:

These lines come from Chapter Five of the epic and cast the main characters in a new light. Gilgamesh and his companion Enkidu are shown to feel guilt over killing Humbaba, the guardian of the cedar forest, who is now seen as less a monster and more a king. Just like a good director’s cut, these extra scenes clear up some muddy character motivation, and add an environmental moral to the tale.

Hmm. Hmm. I’m not trying to be a contrarian here, but I wonder if these lines will improve the story or not.

I’m reminded of the notorious Han Shot First controversy. If you’re coming late to THAT party, the question is whether George Lucas improved Star Wars by clarifying that Han Solo acted in self-defense when he shot another patron in an early scene. The argument against the “clarification” is that in the original movie Han started the movie as a selfish outlaw, so the character’s arc (spoiler alert: he turns out to be a decent guy in the end) is more pronounced.

For Gilgamesh, I could see a similar argument. Feel guilty about killing the monster? Guilt is fine, especially later – but maybe at this point in the narrative our epic hero needs to be a little more one-sidedly heroic and a little less conflicted? Would it set up the later inner conflicts better if he hadn’t known them before?

You can find links to our episode on the Epic of Gilgamesh on this page. That’s episode one, actually – why not start the journey through the history of literature with us?  You can catch up quickly, I’m sure.

You can also listen to our bonus episode about the discovery of Gilgamesh on this page. (This is the much-loved episode about the Victorian researcher who thinks he’s confirmed the story of Noah. What would you do to celebrate? Maybe something highly improbable? Listen to find out!)

My thanks to EF for the tip!

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