Two-Thirds Man, One-Third Nature: The Ecology of Gilgames
A talk by Dr. Rachel Bruzzone (Bilkent University, CCI)
Wednesday, 23 March 2022, 5:30 PM
The awakening of man from animal innocence, the chopping down of a forest, a devastating global flood—the epic Gilgamesh is filled with stories preoccupied with the relationship between man and the environment. In this paper, I will present a critical reading of the epic of Gilgamesh, designed to facilitate an ecological understanding of the epic for use in the classroom. Despite the epic’s antiquity, I will argue that it reveals a deep concern with how humanity can resolve the tension between human civilization and the natural world. I suggest that, similar to Shelley’s Frankenstein, this poem encourages the reader to question the limited perspectives of its own main characters. The “factual” details of the narrative conflict with the tone of the poem and the interpretations adopted by Enkidu and Gilgamesh. For example, the narrative suggests that assault on Humbaba and the Cedar Forest is not heroic at all but a transgressive and even sacrilegious act. This gratuitous violence epitomizes humanity’s alienation from, and hostility toward, nature, one of the central aspects of civilization as it is defined through the “taming” of Enkidu. The second half of the text, however, suggests that, however much we may violate nature, we ultimately are subject to it in the inevitability of death. Only by accepting the human dimensions of his life, and in particular the fact that he will die, can Gilgamesh transform from the wild and destructive young man we first meet into the wise and community-oriented king that the proem of the text assures us he will become.
This talk is a part of CCI’s Sustainability initiative. It is the first in a series of talks across humanities departments this year.