The Lighter Side of The Epic of Gilgamesh (the first tablets)

What many believe to be the likeness of Gilgamesh.

I think Gilgamesh is an incredible story, my print version from the Norton Anthology of World Literature is easy to follow. However, there were major details missing that I had to look up. For example, none of the female characters seemed to have names. I had to look up the name of who was being referred to as the “Goddess of Love” (to become Gilgamesh’s wife in part 1), and in addition, who was being referred to as “the harlot”, who actually plays a crucial role in bringing Enkidu in union with the world of Mankind. The former appears to be named “Ishtar”, and the latter woman appears to be Shamhat.

I make no scholarly claims with my synopsis of part 1 that appears below. Think of this blog posting as kind of like part of a World Antiquities Amateur Hour.

Gilgamesh is the king of Uruk (imagine Iraq in the Bronze Age, around 2500 BC). He is a bit of a jerk. He seems to feel that all the women of the kingdom are at his disposal for his sexual pleasure, married or not. He also takes boys from their families as recruits for his army.

Enkidu, a really hairy wildman.

There is a wildman, Enkidu, running around the forests and lands outside the kingdom, living among the wild animals. As any street kid would tell you, no kid ever chooses the street. Enkidu’s situation was worse than the street. He was in wilderness, competing for food with gazelles, tigers, and other wild beasts, living on nothing but grass, not able to care for much more than himself. Kind of like Gilgamesh. It’s not Enkidu’s fault that he is a wildman. Enkidu was flung like a piece of dirt into a random wilderness area by his creator, the goddess Anu, and Enkidu just had to cope. That’s got to be pretty hard. Living on grass, no friends, no school, no PlayStation.

Enkidu is kind of cool for anyone who believes in animal rights, since he destroys Gilgamesh’s traps set up for wild animals, and lets any animals already trapped to escape. Gilgamesh may be the King of Uruk, but Enkidu has the rest of the animal kingdom on his side. While Enkidu seems to be a bit of a small-scale troublemaker, Gilgamesh realizes that Enkidu may well have the same God-like powers as he, so while he wants Enkidu brought to him, he does not want to do it in a way that would rile him if captured.

What follows is the first use of the Tender Trap known in world literature. How does one capture a wild man whose fighting powers compete with your own? You don’t fight him. You give him an offer he can’t refuse. Gilgamesh probably guessed correctly that Enkidu hadn’t had any sex throughout his whole life, and has a lot of pent-up sexual energy that has never been channeled properly, because he may never have been in bed with a woman let alone actually ever seen a woman. So, Gilgamesh has an idea.

Get a trapper to bring with him, as a “trap”, a hooker from the cathouse down the street. It would have to be a hooker who is attractive-looking, with some gentility and patience, since Enkidu has never “done it” with a woman before, and he would otherwise be all awkward and clumsy. Shamhat the Harlot was recruited to, upon meeting him, take her clothes off at no provocation, and use her feminine wiles to get him to “do it” with her.

Oh, they do it all right. For seven whole days. And this was several thousand years before the invention of Vaseline. The story also makes it unclear as to whether they even had meal breaks. And my dad always warned me never to fall in love with a piece of tail. Since Enkidu never had a dad to listen to like that, he blew it forever by telling Shamhat he loved her. The animals of the animal world, as if they were jilted, now rejected him. His one-ness with the animal world was broken. Reduced to common humanity, his only hope now was to make whatever connections he could with the world of man. Maybe start by getting a haircut.

Shamhat sensed that Enkidu was not too clued-in about life inside the walls of Gilgamesh’s kingdom. Enkidu had that bravado about surviving the wilderness that a person who survived the street would have. He’s all like: “Bring on Gilgamesh! There’s nobody stronger than me! I’ll panel him to the ground any day!” And Shamhat’s all like “Don’t boost. Gilgamesh is moody and will become angry at the least excuse. He is also 2/3 God and 1/3 man. You don’t have a chance.”

Meanwhile, back in the Kingdom of Uruk, Gilgamesh had been waking up from disturbing dreams. They didn’t have psychiatrists 25 centuries before Christ, so Gilgamesh went and told his mom about his dreams. His mom said with clinical detachment, I think the imagery in your dreams, coupled with your excessive closeness to your mother (referring to herself in the third person) indicates latent homosexual impulses. You are going to meet up with some guy and he is very strong, and you will become drawn to him as if he were a woman, and he will be loyal to you.

Shamhat led Enkidu to the part of the kingdom where Shepherd’s tents were, and knowing that the Wildman had arrived, the shepherds offered Enkidu their best bread and wine and laid it before him. He thought meh! and felt like going back outdoors to run up to a wild female animal and suck milk from it like he always used to. But Shamhat pussy-whipped him into staying and respecting the customs of the kingdom. He drank the wine and ate the bread, and got plastered.

While Gilgamesh and Enkidu indeed become friends, and may have even sealed the friendship with a fist bump, I don’t think Bronze Age folks dressed like this. Looks like something from the Flintstones.

Then a messenger comes into the tent bearing news that Gilgamesh is about to marry Ishtar, the Goddess of Love. Then, upon hearing Gilgamesh’s name, Enkidu becomes enraged again. It was probably the liquor that triggered the rage, but now he goes to find Gilgamesh, and Shamhat follows him out of the tent. Now, Gilgamesh will meet his match, people thought as they recognized Enkidu when he passed them in the street, and we will be rid of this arbitrary ruler once and for all. Enkidu finally met Gilgamesh, and blocked his way, which you never do with a 2/3 deity. There were no words exchanged. Just men doing what men must do. They fought like bulls, and Enkidu was thrown. In the end there were no winners, and the fury of both were spent. Each realizing that the fight ending in a draw, they became bff’s.

(With pictures from wherever, scattered all over the ‘Net)

In Memoriam, 2013

Katherine Wowchuck – Jan 8 – At age 111, she was the oldest Manitoban alive.

Eugene Whelan – Feb 19 – Age 88. Minister of Agriculture under Trudeau.

Stompin’ Tom Connors – Mar 6 – I don’t know how many people remember that he once had his own variety program back in the early ’70s. He had compilations that went platinum. A 2006 concert CD went double platinum. His three number-one hits on the Canadian country charts were: Big Joe Mufferaw (1970), Ketchup Song (1970), and Moon-Man Newfie (1972).  Ranked #13 as The Greatest Canadian (beat out by heavy hitters like Pierre Trudeau, Terry Fox, Tommy Douglas, and David Suzuki. Although they could have made room by leaving out Don Cherry, who is #7, ranking above Sir Alexander Graham Bell). Stompin’ Tom lived to age 77.

Max Ferguson – Mar 7 – Longtime host of the eclectic “Max Ferguson Show” on CBC Radio. Lived to age 89.

Paul Rose – Mar 14 – Infamous FLQ member who belonged to the cell that kidnapped Quebec cabinet minister Pierre LaPorte in the 1970 “October Crisis”. Died at age 69.

Ralph Klein – Mar 29 – Conservative Premier of Alberta for over a decade and former journalist. Died at age 70.

Rita MacNeil – Apr 16 – Age 68. An amazing singer, having had a variety show on national TV for a number of years. Many of her albums went double platinum. The last time there was an overweight singer with a beautiful voice, was Debra Iyall, the lead singer of the California new wave group Romeo Void. If you didn’t know what she looked like, you would be blown away Debra’s voice. When executives heard her voice, they were similarly impressed, until the band showed up in person for audition. Needless to say, they remained an “Indie” group, and relatively unknown. I guess we’re not so shallow here, north of the border. We know a good vocalist when we hear one.

Doug Finley – May 11 – Age 66. The loyal Tory who helped bring Stephen Harper to power.

OK, so I guess he *wasn’t* holding a feather. Some generous soul turned the flipbook into an animated gif, to save you the trouble of having to look for a copy. This graphic is linked to the originating website, where a PDF of this also exists.

Elijah Harper – May 17 – Age 64. I don’t know if I can still find the flipbook of Elijah sitting as MP for the Manitoba riding of Rupert’s Land, holding a feather, quietly shaking his head, casting his “Nay” vote to the Meech Lake Accord in 1990. It was predictable that he would vote “No”, but something about it made the whole thing larger than life. Yes, they were giving out animated flipbooks, just so you can see Elijah saying “No” again and again and again — as many times as you would care to flip the pages to see an animated sequence of photographs of Elijah shaking his head.

Henry Morgentaler – May 29 – Age 90, Guardian of women’s right to choose over many decades. To hear it, it was just him spearheading the movement, and he did succeed in overturning the abortion laws in Canada.

Doug Ingelbart – Jul 2 – Invented the computer mouse in 1968. He died at age 88. He also helped pave way to the creation of the World-Wide Web and graphical interfaces generally.

Alex Colville – July 16 – Famous painter, a companion of The Order of Canada. Age 92.

Peter Appleyard – July 17 – A grand master of the jazz xylophone, I remember his many appearances at the Oakville Jazz Festival.  He performed and recorded alongside all of the jazz greats. Age 84.

Virginia Johnson – Jul 24 – One half of the Masters and Johnson team that gave America so much to think about with regards to their sexulality in the 1960s, died at age 88.

John Weldon Cale – Jul 26 – The songwriter known as “J. J. Cale”, who gave Eric Clapton songs like “Cocaine” and “After Midnight” died at age 74.

Eydie Gorme – Aug 10 – She was 84 when she died in Las Vegas, so how young was she, exactly, when she was the better half of “Steve & Eydie”?

Roy Bonisteel – Aug 16 – The host of the now-defunct CBC program Man Alive spanned many decades from the late ’60s to the late ’80s. Was age 83.

Sir David Frost – Aug 31 – British political journalist best known for his interview of the late Richard Nixon. He was 74.

Ray Dolby – Sep 12 – Yes, that Dolby: the inventor of the noise reduction system that bears his name died at age 80.

Lou Reed – Oct 27 – Former Velvet Underground member died at age 71. He is survived by his wife, Laurie Anderson. Just about everyone who has made hit records in the Rock and Prog Rock genres since the early 1970s owes him a debt of gratitude.

Jack Munro – Nov 15 – The friend of no politician or business tycoon, the lumberjacks of British Columbia owe this union leader a great debt to his legacy. Lived to age 82.

Doris Lessing – Nov 17 – (Age 94) 2007 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Peter Wintonick – Nov 18 – A documentarian best known for his 2-hour long documentary from the late ’80s with the title: Necessary Illusions: Noam Chomsky and the Media. Lived to age 60.

Frederick Sanger – Nov 19 – (Age 95) Two-time winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, the British biochemist won once for elucidating protein structure, particularly of insulin, and another time for his work with recombinant DNA.

Nelson Mandela – Dec 5 – We thought he would live forever, but after passing on his mantle at age 94, South Africans have to find their way without him.

Peter O’Toole – Dec 14 – The star of Lawrence of Arabia was 81.

Geoff Stirling – Dec 22 – OK. I’ve ignored Newfoundland long enough. Geoff Stirling, broadcasting titan who showed his love of CanCon regulations by showing 6 hours of incoherent badly chopped together videos on NTV on an overnight “program” that did not seem to have a name. That, and some token actual local programs, probably topped it up to the required 33% that kept the CRTC happy. At least the rock videos saved us from looking at ads. Lived to the ripe old age of 92. That Arizona air must be good for your lungs. Long may your big jib draw, Geoff.

The day the elevator music died

Mood, a Concord, Ontario subliminal marketing company (for lack of a better description, but you can click to view the website),  has announced it is ditching the Muzak brand name which it owns and merging its operations with the parent company. There is an article on the New York Times website that goes into this at some length.

Muzak had been providing retail stores, workplaces, and indeed, elevators with music to induce productivity, purchasing tendencies, and other things conducive to smooth running offices, stores and the like. The original idea behind Muzak was that you were not supposed to think about the music as you were going though the store. It is intended to be unobtrusive. In recent decades, you may have noticed that Muzak doesn’t do this anymore. Instead it pipes in ’70s music, or more recent hits. I must say that such music has been played with such mind-numbing regularity that it could qualify as mindless as the originally intended music was. Fleetwood Mac is an example of a band I hear all the time in stores, and this once-favourite band of mine has now dissipated into mental oblivion with repeated playings as I am browsing for food or clothing. And I guess that is the point of all this. You are not supposed to think about the music at all. If  “Go Your Own Way” is played so often that I am barely conscious of it playing, then Muzak — excuse me, Mood — has done their job.

In Memoriam – My personal highlights

In some kind of loose chronological order:

Johnny Otis: The Godfather of R&B, whose real name was Ioannis Veliotes (his parents were Greek), made his debut in Big Band music in the late 1940s, then had a long string of hits between 1950 and 1951. He discovered Etta James (who also died this year). He died on January 17.

Earl Scruggs: Where would the Beverly Hillbillies be without him? Died on March 28.

Adam Yauch: The first rap singer I have ever heard of that died non-violently (although cancer would also not be my personal first choice of “ways to go”). The former Beastie Boy was 47. Died on May 4.

Levon Helm: The influential drummer of the early 70s rock group The Band. Died April 19.

Kitty Wells: While I never was a country music fan, Kitty was notable for headlining shows during a time when it was widely believed that any entertainment headlined by a woman would flop. She proved them wrong, and made loadsadough for both herself and her chauvanist bosses. Good on her. Died July 16 at the ripe old age of 92.

Neil Armstrong: On July 20, 1969, Neil set foot on the moon, the first Earthling ever to do so. Neil, who described himself as a “nerdy engineer”, died on August 25.

Peter Lougheed: The long-ruling Alberta premier who jealously guarded the province’s right to control their oil resource from the federal clutches of Pierre Trudeau; whom people in Eastern Canada referred to as “The Blue-Eyed Sheikh”, died on September 13 at 84.

Raylene Rankin: Former member of the Nova Scotian Folk/Celtic group The Rankin Family died way too young of cancer at age 52 on September 30. I confess that I was not able to play their Celtic selections in my days as college DJ, because I couldn’t pronounce the titles.

Elliott Carter: If you had not heard of Elliott Carter, I hadn’t either, until I heard that this neoclassical composer, who remained prolific past age 100 finally gave up the ghost at age 103. Of “natural causes”, according to CBC. Just the very thought of living that long is worth some kind of award. He died on November 5.

Dave Brubeck: However, I have heard of, and continue to listen to, Dave Brubeck. I mistook him for having composed for A Charlie Brown Christmas, but I had the wrong set of episodes (that composer was Vince Guaraldi, who is still among us). He did compose for Charlie Brown cartoons, but it was for the series called “This is America, Charlie Brown”. Brubeck died on December 5.

Ravi Shankar: I am not a big fan of his music, but he gets credit for collaborating with George Harrison beginning in 1966, along with many other notable Western musicians both before and after. He died at age 92 on December 11.

Laurier Lapierre: The co-host of the current affairs program This Hour Has Seven Days (along with Patrick Watson), which ran in Canada in the late 1960s and early 1970s, who became Canada’s first openly gay senator, died on December 17 at age 83.

History of chemistry – My writings

I have previously contributed to Wikipedia’s History of Chemistry article, and have since seen it taken over and re-written from everyone from scientific illiterates to people from cultures who had at least a notable chemistry tradition, but rarely did it delve into science; yet, they would plaster the history article with information that blew the contribution of their country out of proportion. Much of my writing is there, at least the tone and points of information is there.

But even if they deleted everything I wrote, I would still be happy if what remained was an improvement and was more scholarly. I am not the World’s Leading Authority on chemistry’s history, and my guess is, neither are the best contributors to this article. I just went to that article just now, and it looks well-referenced and not as flaky as before. But it has taught me that writing for Wikipedia is an invitation to flakiness and informational instability. If you like those sorts of challenges, then make an account for yourself on Wikipedia and begin writing.

Over the next little while, I have a desire to offer the world my writing of the history of chemistry, free of flakiness, as far as I can see it. I propose that it will be in a series of writings rather than one impossibly long article. Later, I will try to do the same for math.

Rewriting history: Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher is younger and prettier in this photo than I remember her back in 1981...Hmm...

Today, news about the release of “secret” documents relating to the Margaret Thatcher government circa 1981 have been making the rounds in the news, and a CBC webpage has made a report that would claim to rip the lid off these secret documents.

Well, nothing of importance seems to have come out of this, if you read all the way to the bottom. Although it crosses my mind that while the riots were happening, weren’t we all awash in the media sentiment surrounding the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana? Aw, maybe I’m just being crumudgeonly.

We are told that the release of these secret documents tells us that Thatcher never ceases to “fascinate” us; although for anyone who lived through the rise of neo-conservatism in the early 80s found little of this surprising or even worthy of reporting. Yes, the Canadian (Mulroney), American (Regan), and British (Thatcher) governments moved hell and earth to make sure that their policies were rammed through their respective houses of government, while firing, reassigning, or rebuffing anyone that stood in their way; and while ignoring the ensuing rise in unemployment, debt, or any other social ill that resulted.

The “secret” documents, though inconsequential, seemed to be well-timed to the release of a new play about Thatcher to be premiered in London, starring Meryl Streep. The photo posted on the CBC website was not of Thatcher, but of Streep playing Thatcher. Their caption did not remark on this, but instead carried on the discussion about Thatcher as if this photo was really of her. Maybe it was CBC incompetence, but no. The photo and article were both from the AP newswire, offered without editing or change by the CBC. The CBC did, however, have the good sense to offer a video news report that showed a mix of Streep and Thatcher ’81 in the same report, with at least some clarity as to which was which.