July 19, 2020
I spent my morning working on the Gilgamesh lesson for world literature. Making the quizzes and the test, I was thinking about the the damn flood again. Yes, it serves as a plot device to explain Utnapistim’s immortality, but it seems superfluous in many ways. It seems to make sense when viewed with the nature v. civilization theme in the epic: that a balance must be found to preserve an equanimity between nature and the growth of humanity. Simply: if the arrogance of humanity allows it to grow too large and too careless, something will be done to temper it. In Gilgamesh, the flood is caused by the god Enlil, a divine personification of wind, air, earth, and storms, who states the reason for the flood: “‘The uproar of mankind is intolerable and sleep is no longer possible by reason of the babel.’”
Maybe we could read the flood as a pandemic of sorts, like COVID-19. It could be something that has been triggered by nature to attack the arrogance of humanity. No, I’m not attributing any sort of divine retribution here—indeed the god of the Old Testament blames “the wickedness of man” as his reason for sending the flood—but a sort of natural consequence of humanity’s carelessness. No, we cannot do anything we want with impunity. There will be consequences for our actions, and the spread of COVID-19 is happening as a direct result of continued arrogance—our direct defiance of reality. The OT divinity continues: “every imagination of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil continually.” Perhaps the “evil” here is the wanton disregard for reality, the arrogance that allows not for empathy and compassion, but maintains this fantasy that mind will overcome matter.
Is this purge necessary every so often? Is this a built-in self-correction in nature? Surely we’re not all guilty of this “babel,” yet we all seem to have to pay the price for the arrogance of a few. Sadly, it seems we elected these few to serve as our representatives. Maybe we are all guilty?
- Lawall, Sarah N.; Mack, Maynard, eds. (1999). "The Epic of Gilgamesh". Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces: The Western Tradition. 1. Translated by Sandars, N. K. (7th ed.). New York: W. W. Norton. p. 23.
- Lawall & Mack 1999, p. 55.
- Now the OT god also says something about the “violence” of the “corrupt flesh” of the earth, so there might be more going on here with the divinity’s psychological hang-ups. Yet, this could also be a metaphor for a disease or corruption that needs to be routed. It seems, too, that God is the very root of humanity’s arrogance. After the flood recedes, God says to Noah: “the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth [. . .] into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you.” Yeah, it sounds like the terrible trend is starting all over again. How could this not lead to human arrogance and “evil” when it’s encouraged by God? Maybe I just don’t get it?