Assyriological Theory

There was a bit in the original manuscript of The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal in which I riffed a bit on the lesser known older version of the Epic of Gilgamesh, in which Enkidu, rather than catching a disease and dying, offered to retrieve G’s mallet, which had fallen into the Underworld. Once down there, Enkidu discovered he would not be allowed to return.

This version struck me as a slightly less harsh gloss of the Gilgamesh story, intended perhaps, I thought, for children. My editor wanted me to cut it though, because it came directly on the heels of the death of a major character, and she didn’t think I should be dicking around in the realm of clever Assyriological theories.

Here, for the blog, is the restored fragment of Jennifer and Danielle’s depiction of Gilgamesh’s fallen mallet.

Claire Calnan about to read the excised passage at the first launch of The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal. She's making fun of me because I've accidentally called her up at the wrong time, thinking it was her mistake and not mine. Photo by Ashley Winnington-Ball.

The other thing we wanted to tell you was about how, back in the old days of Mesopotamia, there was a version of the Epic of Gilgamesh prepared and carved into stone especially for children.

It was decided somehow, considering the Epic was widely used in school exercise books for the study of proper Cuneiform, that the death of Enkidu was needlessly harsh and confrontational for the child mind. So, in the altered version, instead of losing Enkidu, Gilgamesh actually loses a sort of croquet ball, and the Underworld is depicted as the deep ditch underneath a sewer grate. So we see the disconsolate Gilgamesh tossing aside his mallet, rending his garments and chopping his hair all because he’s lost his ball. No matter how hard he stretches and reaches through the grate – just like that man in Strangers On a Train – he cannot reach his ball. He can see it, but he cannot reach it. He thought he was strong as a reacher and instead learns the terrible lesson that, as a reacher, he is weak.

And so Gilgamesh grieves in Cuneiform:

I’ve lost my ball!
My ball has fallen through the sewer grate!
I have lost it!
My ball is gone forever! I will never roll that ball again!

And so on. The Mesopotamians, it should be noted, are highly regarded for their uncompromising culture of death. Their view of the world is considered to have been among the harshest that has ever stood in the history of culture. Still, they really shielded their children, didn’t they? We shudder to contemplate what their initiation rituals must have been like.

Neil, on the other hand...

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