Ancient Empires, Assyrian, Mythology, Sumerian

Tablet One – Gilgamesh

Gilgamesh, where are you hurrying to? You will never find that life for which you are looking. When the gods created man they allotted to him death, but life they retained in their own keeping.”

Anonymous, The Epic of Gilgamesh

 Gilgamesh

Myths are not simple stories. Nor are they easy.  Not surprising, for they are the signature of civilization, entrenched in our cultural experience, past and present.  Their influence resonates in our languages, religions, and customs to this very day, even within our supposedly sophisticated society.   A slender thread of mythology weaves itself into our books, music, videos and movies.  Humanity seeks to know, to understand, to believe in something that gives meaning.  In that sense, our generation is no different from the ancient Sumerians who lived in the southern part of the alluvial basin formed by the Tigris and the Euphrates.

Gilgamesh holds the honour of being the oldest literature and the first hero narrative. Although said to be an Assyrian tale which is recorded as five independent poems in approximately 2100 BCE, many scholars believe that the account was passed via Sumerian oral traditions.

Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, was wise, and discerned many mysteries and secret things.    He was created by the gods, who gave him a perfect body which was two-thirds god and one-third man. Shamash, the splendid sun gave him beauty; Adad the storm god, bestowed courage.  Even with these magnificent gifts, Gilgamesh oppressed his people until they cried out to their gods for deliverance.  The gods answered their prayers by creating an equal to Gilgamesh.  The stage is set for the hero’s quest.

The Gilgamesh myth is remarkable for its intellectual purpose.  Gilgamesh must overcome despair and grief in his pursuit of the meaning of life.  Only then can he achieve enduring fame.

“As for you, Gilgamesh, fill your belly with good things; day and night, night and day, dance and be merry, feast and rejoice. Let your clothes be fresh, bathe yourself in water, cherish the little child that holds your hand, and make your wife happy in your embrace; for this too is the lot of man.”
Anonymous, The Epic of Gilgamesh

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“Nights through dreams tell the myths forgotten by the day.” 

 C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections

Olympia

Mythology is a story of the sacred that has come down through the ages of humankind.  The breadth and depth of this discussion is immeasurable for it encompasses all cultures throughout time.  Even definitions and categorizations are complex and the subject of ongoing debate. But there is one certainty:  myths seek to answer those questions that give substance and meaning to our existence.  How did life begin? What happens in death? Why is there good and evil?  Why am I here?  What is my purpose?  We want to be masters of our universe, which can only be realized when we understand our place within that universe.

Joseph Campbell, a mythologist who wrote and lectured on comparative mythology and comparative religion, suggested that “Mythology is composed by poets out of their insights and realizations. Mythologies are not invented; they are found. You can no more tell us what your dream is going to be tonight than we can invent a myth. Myths come from the mystical region of essential experience.”   This is indeed a topic for deep discussion.  Even so, there is a genuine simplicity imbedded in these spell-binding mythological tales, each of which offers a wealth of imagery to amuse and stir our senses.  They reveal the power of love, courage, loyalty; and address the darker emotions of jealousy, cruelty and violence. They help us understand loss and the finality of death in our reality.

Olympia

As a ten-year-old, these thoughts were far from my mind when I searched the library shelves for books that would take me back to ancient Greece and the heroics of Hercules, the beauty of Aphrodite and wisdom of Athena.  I felt a connection with their stories that continue to this very day.  Perhaps being the master of our universe is merely being a voice within a universal conversation.

Civilizations pass; myths endure.

 

Ancient Empires, Greek

Masters of the Universe

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“Myths have a very long memory.”
Bryan Sykes, Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland

Olympia, Greece

Mythology! The very word has to power to evoke strong emotional responses because myths speak to the heart of human experience.  We long for certainty in a fragile and finite existence in order to build lives within reasonably secure surroundings. Instead, we are born into a complex world that hurls more questions at us than it does answers. Myths carry tradition within its narratives.  And because we are a curious species, we use them in an attempt to explain natural or social phenomenon.  Perhaps their greatest task is to provide us with the assurance of our beginnings and endings.

When we think of mythology, we think back to earliest times where supernatural beings and events seemed to have a rightful place in ancient civilizations.  Yet, there is clear evidence that mythology is well entrenched within our DNA. Karen Armstrong in A Short History of Myth wrote, “We need myths that will help us to identify with all our fellow-beings, not simply with those who belong to our ethnic, national or ideological tribe. We need myths that help us to realize the importance of compassion, which is not always regarded as sufficiently productive or efficient in our pragmatic, rational world.”  Michael Shermer, founder of the Skeptics Society, comes from a different perspective: “Myths, whether in written or visual form, serve a vital role of asking unanswerable questions and providing unquestionable answers. Most of us, most of the time, have a low tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty. We want to reduce the cognitive dissonance of not knowing by filling the gaps with answers. Traditionally, religious myths have served that role, but today — the age of science — science fiction is our mythology.”

We are a global community with the means to communicate and share knowledge.  What better way to celebrate our humanity than by recounting the myths, legends, folklore and tales that have come down through the generations.  Myths do indeed, have a very long memory.

Ancient Empires, Mythology

We Need Myths

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“We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.” 
J.R.R. Tolkien

To The Professor

Tonight, I joined other J.R.R. Tolkien fans from around the world in raising a glass to toast the birthday of this much loved author at precisely 21:00 (9:00pm) local time. The toast was simply “The Professor.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit, The Lord of The Rings, and The Silmarillion, created a collection of legends set in a fictional universe.  He once said that “War deepened and sobered my imagination and stimulated my love of fantasy.”  The months in the trenches of WWI made a lasting impression, which is reflected within his writings.  Even so, J.R.R. Tolkien did not yield to despondency.  His response was to embrace life as a grand adventure to be experienced abundantly and completely.

Over the past few months, I have considered the role of mythology in our world. We have an insatiable desire to give meaning to our existence and purpose for our involvement within family structures and within the wider community. What better time to start a series of posts on mythology than on J.R.R. Tolkien’s birthday.

Roads Go Ever On

By J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon. Continue reading

J.R.R. Tolkien, Mythology

A Toast to “The Professor”

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The River

“The mightiest river in the world is the Amazon.  It runs from west to east, from the sunset to the sunrise, from the Andes to the Atlantic. The main stream flows almost along the equator, while the basin which contains the affluents extends many degrees north and south of the equator.”

Theodore Roosevelt, Through the Brazilian Wilderness

The New Year is a beginning.  And when there is a beginning, there seems to be an undercurrent of promised adventures.  Humanity has always been fascinated by the unknown, the thrill of discovery, and the prospect for advancement.  What is less understood is the concept of risk.  Where there is the opportunity for reward, there is always a likelihood of some form of peril.

This River flowed northward toward the equator, but whither it would go, whether it would turn one way or another, the length of its course, where it would come out, the character of the stream itself, and the character of the dwellers along its banks – all these things were yet to be discovered.”

Theodore Roosevelt, Through the Brazilian Wilderness

Theodore “T.R.” Roosevelt, Jr. was a man of action and adventure.  His high-spirited personality and robust appearance belied his sickly childhood clouded by the presence of asthma. Courage and determination pushed him forward, despite losing his first wife and mother on the same day, February 14, 1884.   At 42, he became the youngest President of the United States and the first of three sitting presidents to win the Nobel Peace Prize.   His terms in office were eventful:  The acquisition of the Panama Canal Rights (1904); the Russo-Japanese War (1904 – 1905), the San Francisco earthquake (1906) and the Panic of 1907 where the New York Stock Exchange fell almost 50% from its peak the previous year.  Yet Theodore Roosevelt’s most dramatic adventure was 1913 – 1914 when he teamed up with Cândido Rondon, Brazil’s most famous explorer to follow the River of Doubt, an uncharted tributary of the Amazon, one of the most dangerous and treacherous rivers in the world.  Confident at the outset, the hardships, losses and sickness challenged their resolve. Surviving became a daily goal.

The expedition changed the map of the western hemisphere and the name of the river: Roosevelt River.   In his letter of May 1, 1914 to His Excellency the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rio de Janeiro, Theodore Roosevelt wrote “My dear Sir, I thank you from my heart for the chance to take part in this great work of exploration.”

Once an adventure starts, there is no telling where it will lead.  As we head into a New Year, may we be open to new ideas and possibilities, to seek the greater good, and to strive with great enthusiasm.

Rio da Dúvida, Roosevelt River, Theodore Roosevelt

Rio da Dúvida – The River of Doubt

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Autumn Rose

 

No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” 
 Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom

The Mbashe flows in a south-eastern direction from its source, Drakensberg, NE of Elliot, Eastern Cape of South Africa through an estuary by the lighthouse at Bashee, to its mouth, the Indian Ocean.   With a basin area of 6,030 km², its tributaries are the Xuka, Mgwali, Dutywa and the Mnyolo rivers.  On the banks of the Mbashe, the small village of Mvezo recorded the birth of a boy on July 18, 1918.  He was named Rolihlahla Mandela.    In the Xhosa language, Rolihlahla means “pulling the branch of a tree,” or “troublemaker.” Whether or not this was a foreshadowing of what his destiny would be, Nelson Mandela changed the way the world fought against social injustice. Facing insurmountable odds, he walked the long and difficult road to freedom – not only for his people, but for all who yearn for peaceful and fair-minded solutions.

“There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires” 
 Nelson Mandela

Today, twenty-two kilometres away from his birthplace, Nelson Mandela came home to Qunu, the place he grew up and remembered as his happiest moments.  Nelson Mandela once said, “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” 

Nelson Mandela has been laid to rest.  Even so, his voice, like the River Mbashe, continues to flow and nourish. We will carry on with his work, inspired by his life and vision.

Tread softly,
Brathe peacefully,
Laugh hysterically.”

Nelson Mandela (July 18, 1918 – December 5, 2013)

Mbashe, Nelson Mandela

On the Banks of the River Mbashe

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Giverny 2 2009

 

“My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece” 
Claude Monet

The Seine, rising from Source-Seine, 30 kilometres northwest of Dijon in north-eastern France, is one of the most important waterways within the Paris Basin.  It flows 776 kilometres to the English Channel at Le Havre.  The city of Paris boasts 37 bridges that span the Seine, including the celebrated Pont Louis-Philippe and the ancient Pont Neuf. Outside Paris, the Pont de Normandie, one of the longest cable-stayed bridges, links Le Havre to Honfleur, known for a picturesque port beloved by the Impressionist painters: Gustave Courbet, Eugène Boudin, Claude Monet and Johan Jongkind.

Claude Monet chose the village of Giverny, which is positioned on the right bank of the River Seine where the river Epte meets the Seine, to create his most beautiful masterpiece. The sighting occurred quite by happenstance when Monet looked out a train window on a trip between Vernon and Gasny. It was April 1883, the time of rebirth and transition.  It had been four years since the passing of his young wife, Camille who has succumbed to tuberculosis, September 1879 at the age of thirty-two.  Grief stricken, Monet turned to his art for consolation.  From the vantage point of a train, he knew, at first glance, where he would live and paint for the rest of his life.  He created his dreams and gave us the vision of beauty that came from a garden by the River Seine.

Today marks Claude Monet’s 153rd birthday.

“People discuss my art and pretend to understand as if it were necessary to understand, when it’s simply necessary to love.”
Claude Monet

Claude Monet, Impressionism, River Seine

The Garden by the River

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