On the topic of Izdubar, back in 1914, when Akkadian (the language of the Gilgamesh Epic) was only beginning to be well known to scholars, and the much older Sumerian language was poorly understood, the three cuneiform signs which make up the name “Gilgamesh” were all misread as “IZ.DU.BAR”. It was not until R. Campbell Thompson’s authoritative edition of 1922 that the name was recognized as Gilgamesh. I go into great detail on this subject in the next Asheville Jung Center Webinar on February 28th titled, “Cross-Cultural Symbolism in C.G. Jung’s Red Book: An Anthropological Exploration”. The first sign is not to be pronounced at all; it is what Assyriologists call a “determinative” – a sign which announces that a certain type of noun is to follow. There are determinatives for gods, for male and female humans, for birds, for fish, for items made of copper, and – in this case – items made of wood. (Actually, the original form of the sign was an erect phallus! Compare the Egyptian djed pillar which replaced the phallus of Osiris when he became king of the underworld.) The second sign is to be pronounced “BILGA” or “GILGA” and has the primary meaning of “grandfather” or “ancestor”.
The third sign is a kind of a visual pun. It is the sign for goat (MASH) but it is understood to be a gloss for the word for hero (MESH). So what we have in this name is a heroic progenitor or ancestor, who is – somehow – also made of wood. Then again, given Gilgamesh’s reputation with the young women of Uruk, perhaps the original reading of the determinative is not inappropriate! Jung was aware of the change of the reading of the name – in his library there is a copy of J.V. Pritchard’s classic Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, which contains a good translation of the entire epic.
While we are on the subject of Jung’s library, in addition to the bust of Voltaire in the study he also had a Neanderthal skull (a model, I think) in the library. So we have a strong contrast between the urbane, witty, erudite Voltaire and the Neanderthal, who likely reflects Jung’s concept of the “million year-old man”.
The encounter between Jung and Gilgamesh/Izdubar itself carries a mythological valance. Readers who are familiar with Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival may well recognize in it the two encounters between East and West in that epic. In the first, the unprepared Anfortas, riding from the Grail Castle (of which more in my webinar) in the West encounters in battle the unprepared (and unnamed) eastern knight whose goal is the Grail. Their collision – symbolic of the alchemical massa confusa – results in disaster for both of them: the eastern knight is killed, and Anfortas is rendered impotent by a spear thrust through his groin, as a result of which his land goes waste. In the second, the well-prepared Parzival, riding in search of the Grail Castle, but also in search of his lady-love, encounters in battle a man who turns out to be his half-brother from the East, who fights for love and gems. In this case, neither can prevail in battle, and they declare a truce, during which they discover that they share the same father. And the Easterner’s complexion – under European misconceptions of heredity of the day – is a mixture of white and black. The result of their encounter is the healing of the Waste Land. So Jung encountering Gilgamesh and each warning the other about going too far in the other’s direction – partakes of this alchemical meeting of the pairs of opposites – a theme which was to occupy much of Jung’s later thought. He called it enantiodromion: the running together of the opposites.
It is true that Jung in his later writings inveighed against the appropriation by Europeans (and I suppose, by extension, Americans also) of the trappings of Eastern religions and argued instead that we should acknowledge and affirm the spiritual poverty of post-Reformation Christianity. The metaphor he uses is of a beggar stumbling into a ornate Eastern palace and claiming it as his own. But now, in the 21st Century, at a time when easterners have increasingly appropriated western materialism, perhaps it is no longer so inappropriate for westerners to seek eastern spirituality! Or, perhaps, if we do explore that ornate palace, we will find that it is not so unfamiliar and exotic as we at first thought. As Novalis wrote, “Where are we going? Always home!”
Don’t miss this Thursday night Webinar on February 28! Reserve your seat, sign on live (or recorded), and speak directly with the Dr. Hoffman during this 2 hour Webinar. This is the fourth installment of our Red Book series titled “Cross-Cultural Symbolism in C.G. Jung’s Red Book: An Anthropological Exploration”.