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Epic of Gilgamesh1
. Mesopotamia, current day Iraq, derived its name from words meaning, “the land between the rivers,” which refers to the Tigris and Euphrates. This land was inhabited during the fourth millennium B.C.E. and throughout time transcended into political and military organizations. The significance of these cultures revolved around important warrior figures and their impact on society. The most important figure that will be discussed is the protagonist from The Epic of Gilgamesh. Many consider it to be the greatest literary composition written in cuneiform Akkadian around 2150 BC. This epic portrays the life of the great warrior, Gilgamesh. It chronicles how his victories, both militaristic and internal, ultimately determined his superiority. This relates to the ancient Mesopotamian society in many ways, including the role of warriors and the dual nature of Gilgamesh.
It is evident from the beginning of the Epic of Gilgamesh how vital of a role warrior’s played in ancient Mesopotamian society. Warriors were considered top of the social hierarchy. All other authoritative figures were considered subordinate. Uruk’s inhabitants deemed Gilgamesh as their superior: “There is nobody among the kings of teeming humanity who can compare with him…Belet-ili designed the shape of his body, made his form perfect…In Uruk the Sheepfold he would walk about, show himself superior, his head held high like a wild bull.” 2 Gilgamesh epitomizes the ideal hero in the eyes of his society through admirable physical strength, bodily perfection, and bravery. This admiration directly pertains to ancient Mesopotamia and the earliest Sumerian governments. For instance, “When crises arose, assemblies yielded their power to individuals who possessed full authority during the period of emergency.”3 Back then, it was considered common knowledge that early governments based their decisions for the good of the entire community. Gilgamesh demonstrates these same tactics when he finds his community in danger. For example, Gilgamesh seized the Bull of Heaven, which came down from the skies, in order to protect his cherished citizens. 4 Protection of the city is Gilgamesh’s main objective. He states, “I shall face unknown opposition, I shall ride along an unknown road.” 5 Here, Gilgamesh seeks out to Pine Forest where he slays Humbaba, in order to exterminate evil and safeguard his city.
Sumerian cities also faced external tribulations because of their wealth and virtually defenseless entrances o their land. Because the land and location was so flat and vulnerable the cities built defensive walls and organized military forces.6 Gilgamesh built a very similar structure. The wall of Uruk was an amazing barrier that sheltered every square mile of land. The citizens of Uruk claimed the wall to be “the pure treasury.” 7 It becomes evident in Mesopotamian culture as well as with Gilgamesh that major defense mechanisms are needed in order to maintain security. When a city –state gains structure the next step is to become proactively aggressive; therefore, conquering and punishing other cities. For example, “External threats came later to Egypt than to Mesopotamia, but the invasion of the Hyksos prompted the pharaohs to seize control of regions that might pose future threats.” 8 In addition, Gilgamesh displays these same ideas when adventuring into the Pine Forest. Because its citizens adored Mesopotamia’s physical landscape, they would protect their land at all costs.
Gilgamesh’s image and qualities depict those of an ideal man. He controls a great deal of power and status, for he is believed to be two-thirds divine and one-third human. He also possesses power through his kingship. Gilgamesh displays a great amount of hubris. Priding himself with greatness he states, “Gilgamesh is finest among the young males! Gilgamesh is proudest among the males” 9 He is not only spiritually content, but also physically appealing. He represents the ideal man through wealth, handsomeness, and power. These traits were also important of the Egyptian pharaohs. Because the city valued their leader to such a great extent, they built massive pyramids as royal tombs. They also believed that heroes were gods living on earth.10 This helps comprehend the importance of Gilgamesh’s part divinity, part human character. Hammurabi of the Babylonian empire proclaimed that the gods named him “to promote the welfare of the people…to cause justice to prevail in the land, to destroy wicked and evil, ... more
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Egyptian Death Rituals
The death of Pharaoh
On a balmy November day in 1922 one of the greatest archeological finds ever would be made. It all started with the discovery of a single rough cut stone step, the first in a staircase that would lead to the most celebrated tomb of modern times. Howard Carter's discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen would capture popular attention like no other discover before or after it. With each item brought from the tomb the public wanted to know more and more about the boy-king of Egypt. Probably the most intriguing and perplexing question surrounding the tomb is the mystery surrounding the death of the young Pharaoh.
It has been over three thousand and three hundred years since the interment of Tutankhamen. Even with the discovery of the relatively intact tomb, or knowledge of teh king is sketchy, based upon a fragment here and a fragment there. Howard Carter remarked after the discovery of the tob that, We are getting to know to the last detail what he had, but of what he was and what he did we are still sadly to seek(Carter 11). Even so, the evidence left to us down through three centuries paints a picture of intrigue and strife leading to a murder committed by a trusted courtier.
To understand the circumstances surrounding this murder, we must start our investigation with the reign of Amenophis III, the ninth king of the Eighteenth Dynasty and most probably the father of Tutankhamen (see note 1). The one seed event of our tragic tale is Amenophis III's encouragement of the worship of the Aten, or the sun disk. As a sign of his reverence for the Aten, he built a temple to the Aten and named his own private pleasure barge Splendour of Aten (Desroches-Noblecourt 114-115). Egyptian pharaohs had ther idiosyncrasies like all people, and were tolerated in the religious structure of Egypt as long as the structure itself remained. The culture of Egypt centered upon its polytheistic religion. Everything in the empire had its patron god, and all were ruled over by Amen-Re. Every moment of their lives and on into their graves, the Egyptian lived knowing that their godes were responsible for everything in the world around them. Amenophis III would pass on his reverence of the Aten to his son Amenophis IV, and in so doing would mark the beginning of the end of the Eighteenth dynasty.
When he ascended the throne, Amenophis IV was already firmly planted in the worship of the Aten. Within two years he had banned the worship of all other gods, plunging the country into panic and disarray when the people were denied the worship of their tr aditional gods. At the heart of Egyptian culture was its religion. The polytheistic religion of the Egyptians permeated every aspect of life and death along the fertile Nile river. No other Pharaoh had ever dared upset the gods with such actions. When Akhenaten, as Amenophis IV was now calling himself, made the worship of the Aten the only official religion, he set forth a cultural shock wave that would profoundly affect his realm.
To simplify a theology inaccessible to the masses; to reconcile people and god by showing the latter as the orb shining impartially upon all; to proclaim what the priests had known ever since the time of the gods: that men were born equal and that only their wickedness differentiated them; to unite mankind by bringing it close to all other life, and reminding it of the intimate relationship between all mineral, vegetable, animal and human elements; and to suppress the practice of magic which could only paralyze moral progress-- such were th eleading ideas of Amenophis IV's great design (Desroches-Noblecourt 126-127).
Akhenaten's reforms were met with strong oppositions by the priesthoods. With Akhenaten's banning of their gods, they had lost much of their power. The new priests of the Aten took the tributes form the other temples and chased all the clergy who would not embrace the Aten into hiding. Akhenaten sent workers throughout the empire, removing the names of the other gods from monuments and temples. He moved the center of his empire from the traditional ... more
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