The rendition of the historic, worldwide Flood recorded in Genesis of the Old Testament is similar to the account recorded on Tablet 11of the Sumero-Babylonian version of the epic of Gilgamesh, discovered in the 1800’s by British archaeologists in Assyria. Let us compare the two in this essay.
Alexander Heidel in his book, The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels, provides a background for the survivor of the Sumero-Babylonian Flood, Utnapishtim:
Utnapishtim was the son of Ubara-Tutu, the Otiartes, or, rather, Opartes of Berossus. According to Berossus, the deluge hero was the tenth Prediluvian king in Babylonia. Also in the Sumerian inscription he is referred to as king; there he occupies also a priestly office, viz., that of the administrator of the temple provisions of a certain god. In the Gilgamesh epic, Utnapishtim is not invested with any royal power or entrusted with any priestly office; from it we learn simply that he was a citizen of Shurippak (Tablet XI:23) and a man of considerable wealth (XI:70ff). (227)
N.K. Sandars in the Introduction to his book, The Epic of Gilgamesh, sums up the involvement by the pagan gods in the Sumero-Babylonian Flood narrative:
In the Gilgamesh flood Ishtar and Enlil are as usual the advocates of destruction. Ishtar speaks, perhaps in her capacity as goddess of war, but Enlil prevails with his weapon of the storm. Only Ea, in superior wisdom, either was not present, or being present was silent, and with his usual cunning saw to it that at least one of the race of men should survive. (41)
Column 1 on Tablet 11 begins the Sumero-Babylonian Flood narrative (Gardner 226). The sage Utnap…
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…nd his family to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” God promises that “never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” The offering of sacrifice, and its acceptance by God – these are repeated in both accounts of the Flood.
Gardner, John and John Maier. Gilgamesh: Translated from the Sin-leqi-unninni version. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984.
Harris, Stephen L. “Gilgamesh.” The Humanist Tradition in World Literature. Ed. Stephen Harris. Columbus, OH: Charles E. Merrill Publishing Co., 1970.
Heidel, Alexander. The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1949.
Ignatius Holy Bible. Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1966.
Sandars. N. K. The Epic of Gilgamesh. New York: Penguin Books, 1972.
Essay on Nonsense Language in Carroll’s Jabberwocky
The Importance of Nonsense Language and Sounds in Carroll’s Jabberwocky
“Wn a bby fst ts 2 kmnikt the wrds snd gibberish. ” No one knows what the baby is trying to say. The poem, “Jabberwocky,” written by Lewis Carroll, uses meaningless speech to either frustrate or amuse the reader. When trying to pronounce the nonsense words in the poem, the sounds of the words come out as gibberish. The sounds are the important element of the poem. Often, people like to hear poets read in languages they cannot understand. A woman leaving a reading by the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz said she was glad he’d read some of his work in Polish because the language sounded exciting, like horse hooves over cobblestones.
Sometimes a poem can mean little or nothing, yet the stimulus of words alone wins our attention. Some poets can even invent words themselves. Carroll combines two words (portmanteau) into one word to compose those weird sounds and words in the poem. In a unique way the meaningless words combine with recognizable words to create a poem almost comprehensible. The language and sounds allow a reader to reflect back on the concept of how to communicate Carroll’s theme of survial of the fittest, and besides the battle between animals, Carroll creates a battle for the reader to understand the language and sounds.
For an animal or reader to survive in Caroll’s poem it must kill before being killed, or understand the language before reaching the end. The setting of such survival is the forest, and Caroll’s forest is a fantasy land where words are foreign to the reader. “He left it dead, and with its head He went galumphing back,” (Carroll, 36) has reference to survival of the fittest. The head becomes the trophy of …
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…tree,” (Carroll, 36) describes the actual skill of using a tree for camouflage. The tree is the Dumdum and covers up the hunter’s stupidity. Is the Jabberwocky harmless? The forest people could have invented a wise tale about the creature for amusement. What the hunter killed was part imagination and part real; the way Carroll’s poem is.
The sounds and nonsense language are important elements of the poem. At the same time, we can use the grammar of the sentence to help us imagine the meanings of the nonsense words. The poem is playful and frustrating at the same time. We might say it “plustrate.”
Carroll, Lewis. “Jabberwocky.” The Discovery Of Poetry. 2nd Edition. Ed. Frances Mayes. Orlando: Harcourt Brace