The Epic of Gilgamesh


The Epic of Gilgamesh is the world’s oldest written story. First composed by the ancient Sumerians around 2,200 BC, it tells the tale of the mighty king Gilgamesh, his friend Enkidu and their adventures in a mythical Bronze Age world.

The Epic comprises of eleven stone tablets found in modern-day Iraq. Like the Greek Iliad and the Hindu Maharabatha, it is an epic poem that rhymed and flowed in its original languages. It would have been read aloud to large audiences and likely draws on older oral tradition. Some of the tablets are damaged, for which scholars fill in the blanks with later Akkadian and Babylonian transcriptions. Archetypes like the hero’s journey, trickster serpent, femme-fatale, wildman and Great Flood originate in the Epic. The original author is unknown.

Gilgamesh tablet

I listened to John Harris’s prose rendition in audio. His translation is succinct and dramatic while retaining the poetry of the original narrative and delivered with a warm and clear narration.

Gilgamesh is the king of the city of Uruk. One-third human and two-thirds god, his physical strength is rivalled only by his tyranny. Gilgamesh is a stalwart warrior and a stern king, but his oppressive rule and habit of sleeping with brides on their wedding night angers his subjects. Not daring to oppose him, the people of Uruk turn instead to the gods. To quell Gilgamesh’s hubris they create his equal – the wildman Enkidu. After first clashing, Gilgamesh and Enkidu become inseparable. Gilgamesh tames his new friend’s wilder instincts and Enkidu helps him become a better king. They set off to slay the monster Humbaba in the distant Forest of Cedars.enikidu a dngilgamesh

Main characters:

  • Gilgamesh (right), king of Uruk
  • Enkidu (left), the wildman.
  • Shamhat, a temple prostitute
  • Anu, king of the gods
  • Shamash, god of the sun
  • Ishtar, goddess of love and war
  • Siduri, tavern-keeper at the end of the world
  • Urshanabi, a ferryman and companion to Gilgamesh
  • Utnapishtim, a Noah like figure who lives at the ends of the earth

Gilgamesh proves his worth by challenging the forces of the world. The Epic is framed as such:

  1. Man vs man: Gilgamesh’s conflict with Enkidu
  2. Man vs nature: Gilgamesh challenges Humbaba the Terrible
  3. Man vs god: Gilgamesh incurs the wrath of Ishtar and the Bull of Heaven
  4. Man vs death: Gilgamesh wanders the earth in search of immortality

Tablet Eleven recounts the Babylonian Flood Myth, from which the Biblical story is derived.

Table Twelve, which was written later in Akkadian, is inconsistent with the story and is seldom included in retellings.

gilgamesh map

A dominant theme in the Epic of Gilgamesh concerns death and mortality. When Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh mourns for seven days and does not accept his death until a worm crawls out from his dead friend’s nose. Overcome with an existential horror that the same fate awaits him, Gilgamesh abandons his crown and roams the ‘open country’ on a quest for immortality.

Before taking him to the immortal Utnapishtim, the alewife Siduri grants him this wisdom:

 “What you want you cannot have. You will not find a life that does not die. When mankind was created by the gods they kept undying life for themselves, they gave death to man.

So Gilgamesh, fill your stomach, enjoy yourself, take pleasure every day and every night in every way you can, play, dance, refresh yourselves with baths. Wash your hair, put on clean clothes, take your child’s hand in yours and take your wife on your lap. That is life.”

After failing his final quest Gilgamesh returns to Uruk and accepts what cannot change. He emerges a better man for it.

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Language and Colour

Poetry Review: Mathias Svalina's The Wine-Dark Sea - Queen ...The language we use affects the colours we see. The way people categorise different hues is not universal across time or place. It is even possible to have a harder time seeing colours one’s language does not allow.

Homer, the Greek bard, wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey around 1200 – 850 BC. The colours he uses are beyond strange. Sheep are violet, honey is green and the sea is ‘wine-dark’. While Homer was likely blind, he compiled older oral accounts, and none of the Classical Greeks questioned his descriptions. The first to do so was future British Prime Minister William Gladstone (below). In 1858 he counted the times Homer uses colours in the Iliad and Odyssey:William Ewart Gladstone Biography - Childhood, Life ...

  • Black – 170
  • White – 100
  • Red – 13
  • Green – >13
  • Yellow – >13
  • Blue: 0

He concluded the Ancient Greeks were colourblind and could not see the colour blue.

Lazarus Geiger, a German-Jewish scholar,  expanded on Gladstone’s work by comparing Homer with other ancient texts. The Sanskrit Vedas, Icelandic Sagas and the Hebrew Bible do not mention blue either. The only culture who did have a word for blue were the Egyptians, the first to name the colour and the first to make blue dye.

BBB: Le bleu égyptien, premier pigment artificiel connu

When languages evolve, they always create words for black and white first, red second, then brown, purple, orange, yellow and green, then blue. It is also the last colour babies see. Aside from the sea and the sky, blue is nature’s rarest colour. Even toddlers do not register the sky as blue before they are told. It is simply white or grey.

Yet the ancients had the same eyes as us. They had evolved the three cones we use to perceive colour – red, green and blue. So why no word for blue?

The Zuni people of New Mexico use the same word for yellow and orange. A 1953 study by Lennenberg and Roberts found they were significantly slower in differentiating the colours than English speakers.How do Namibian Himbas see colour?

A similar study in 2004 by Jules Davidoff found the Himba people of Namibia, could instantly differentiate the seemingly identical shades of green in Picture 1 (left) but took longer to recognise the blue square in Picture 2 (right). Like Homeric Greek, the Himba language has no word for blue. Tone, not hue, is what separates their colours.

How do Namibian Himbas see colour?

Languages draw different boundaries around what constitutes a ‘basic colour’. For example, in English, the above colour is a shade of blue. In Japanese, it is shiro, a separate colour altogether. In other languages, blue is merely a shade of green. English has 11 ‘basic colours’ Himba has five, Japanese has 19.

Structurally the eyes of the Himba, Zuni or ancient Greeks are no different from English speakers. Most human eyes see blue, but without labelling and recognising it as a separate colour, the brain takes longer to register a colour’s essence. This is why artists and designers, who are more familiar with the names of different hues, are more perceptive to them. Language affects not only how we think, but how we see the world.

Sources: Gondwana CollectionInfolist, Journal of VisionLanguage LogRadioLab


Parasite 기생충 - Official Trailer - YouTubeParasite (2019) is a film by South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho and the first non-English language film to win Best Picture at Hollywood’s Academy Awards. The film examines the effects of wealth disparity through two families on opposing ends of the social spectrum.

Parasite was an Oscar darling. As well as Best Picture, it received the following awards and nominations in 2020:

  • Best Director: won
  • Best Original Screenplay: won
  • Best International Feature Film: won
  • Best Production Design: nominated
  • Best Film Editing: nominated

It was the first Korean film to ever win, let alone be nominated for, an Academy Award.

The Kim family live in a semi-basement apartment. They are resourceful but uneducated. Their fortunes turn when son Ki-woo’s friend offers him a job tutoring the daughter of the affluent Park family. Ki-woo accepts, but to do so he must pass as a university student. Once in, Ki-woo helps his family get hired too, all lying about their qualifications and relation to one another.

Parasite movie house is stunning - Parks live in a mansion designed by its architect former owner. They can afford tutors for their children, a chauffeur and a full-time housekeeper. The Parks are friendly and ‘nice’, though haughty and naïve. ‘She’s nice because she’s rich…’ Mrs Kim comments. ‘Hell if I had all that money I’d be nice too. Nicer even!’

Tonal shifts mark each act. While starting as a black comedy, the film takes a sinister turn and effortlessly blends thriller, horror and gothic. Careful attention is paid to its pacing and no camera shot, no line of dialogue, is without meaning or consequence. Symbolism abounds. The official premise describes Parasite as a ‘pitch-black modern fairy tale.’

An issue with film these days is a lack of originality. Nine out of ten of the 2010’s top-grossing films were either reboots, sequels or (in the case of Star Wars) both. Superhero flicks, or most big-budget all-ages action-adventure films, are often too predictable. Even if a film makes is visually stunning, well-acted or slick, it is all for nought if the audience immediately knows how it will end. The more films one watches, the more one notices clichés and tropes. Conversely, shoehorning twists or deux ex resolutions ruins a narrative if the unpredictability makes no sense. To work, a twist must be both surprising and plausible. Parasite achieves the balance perfectly.

Parasite movie review: Bong Joon-ho’s biting social satire ...

The opening scene shows the Kim family searching for a new wifi connection after a password encrypts the old. They are all capable workers, but in an economy where ‘an opening for a security guard attracts 500 university graduates’, their merit is irrelevant. Connections are paramount. Only through social connections can the Kims can find stable employment. The film’s stairway motif represent its characters’ social standing; whether affluence, near-poverty and destitution. 

Despite being one of the wealthiest nations in the world, South Korea suffers social inequality. In 2015 the top 10% controlled 66% of its wealth. Status and money are everything. Success depends on getting into the right university and the stress shows: South Korea has the second-highest rate of suicide in the OECD. In a society obsessed with image and hierarchy, however, the popularity of Parasite and its critique of social inequality shows people are changing the way they think.


Sources: IMDB, New York Times, VOA News

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The 2010s

העשור השני של המאה ה-21 – ויקיפדיהThe 2010s were the second decade of the 21st century. It was a time of increased globalization, political upheaval and rapid technological advancement.

The world economy recovered slowly from the Great Recession of 2008, but new wealth fell into fewer pockets. Neoliberalism prevailed as the dominant economic structure.

An earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, killing over 230,000, injuring 600,000 and displacing 1.5 million. It was the worst natural disaster of the decade.

Newsela | The Arab Spring

The Arab Spring: In 2011, protests erupted across the Arab world. Demanding democracy and a fairer economy, they overthrew the dictators of Egypt, Tunisia and Bahrain. With US air support, Libyan rebels toppled Muammar Gaddafi but plunged the country into civil war. The new government failed to assert control and by 2020 Libya was a failed state.

In Syria, President Bashar Al-Asad fought tooth and nail to hold onto power. When rebels came close to winning in 2015, Russia saved the regime through a relentless bombing campaign. By 2020 only a few regions still hold out. Over 500,000 people have died.

ISIS caliphateThe Islamic State, an Al-Qaeda splinter group, took over half Iraq and Syria in 2014. In Iraq, they slaughtered over 8,000 Christians, Shiites, Yazidis and other religious minorities. By 2019 Kurdish and Arab militias had destroyed their short-lived ‘caliphate’ with Russian and American air support.

Russia, under Vladimir Putin, annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Ukraine fought Russian-backed separatists on its eastern border.

The War on Terror continued. As of February 2020, NATO forces are still fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Groups like Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab threatened the safety of the Sahel and East Africa. In the US, more died from mass shootings than any previous decade. White nationalism became the leading cause of domestic terror.

China’s Xi Jinping rolls out the big guns for his European ...

China became the world’s second-biggest economy (overtaking Japan). In 2017 Xi Jinping (pictured)  made himself dictator for life and the strongest leader since Mao. China expanded its economic hold over the developing world through its Belt and Road initiative. Uighur Muslims became second class citizens.

Nationalism resurged across the globe. Hungary, Turkey, The Philippines, India, Brazil, and the USA elected authoritarian strongmen on populist conservative platforms. In 2016, Donald Trump’s election and Britain’s Brexit referendum upset the old balance of western democracy. Politics became more volatile and divisive.

iPhone X Software Secrets Revealed! Dock, Gestures & More ...Smartphones dominated the 2010s. Since Apple released the first iPhone in 2010, Chinese, American and South Korean companies have turned new models at a rapid pace. By 2019, over 3 billion people owned one. Smartphones of today include cameras, music players and constant access to the internet. We can now fit the sum of recorded human knowledge in our pockets.

Digital technology became the world’s strongest industry. Facebook went from 482 million users in 2010 to 2.5 billion in 2019 in addition to acquiring Instagram and Whatsapp. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos became the richest man in the world.

Leaps were made in progressive politics. 18 countries recognised same-sex marriage. Saudi women attained the right to drive and four countries (and 10 US states) legalised recreational marijuana.

Streaming services change the way we consume media. Instead of purchasing an album or DVD, we can now enjoy unlimited access to music, film or television through subscriptions to streaming services like Spotify or Netflix. The business model evolved in response to online piracy and dominated by the latter half of the 2010s, being much more popular with viewers.

Hip-hop, EDM and R&B became the most popular music genres.

‘Avengers: Endgame’ directors just explained some of the ...

Visual media developed significantly. Superhero films became the most popular cinema genre with Avengers: Endgame (2019) grossing over $858.4 million, the highest of all time. Following the likes of the Sopranos, HBO’s series Game of Thrones (2011-2019) showed what television could achieve with a big enough budget. Minecraft became the bestselling video game of all time. The Walt Disney Corporation acquired the rights to Marvel films, Star Wars and 21st Century Fox.

US stay is extended for 58K victims of 2010 Haiti ...

Major Natural Disasters

(Over 5,000 deaths)

  • 2011 Haiti Earthquake, 200,000 + dead.
  • 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami (Japan). 16,000 + dead.
  • 2015 Nepal Earthquake. 9,000 + dead

COLOR REVOLUTIONS AND GEOPOLITICS: The Technique of a Coup ...Revolutions:

  • Kyrgyzstan (2010)
  • Tunisia (2011)
  • Egypt (2011)
  • Bahrain (2011)
  • Libya (2012)
  • Ukraine (2014)
  • Sudan (2019)

Major Wars

(Over 10,000 casualties.)Siad Barre’s Fall Blamed for Somalia’s Collapse into Civil War

  • Mexican Drug War (2009 -)
  • Somali Civil War (2009 -)
  • Boko Haram Insurgency (Nigeria, 2009 -)
  • Syrian Civil War (2011 -)
  • Northern Mali Conflict (2012 -)
  • 2014 Israel-Palestine Conflict (2014)
  • War in the Donbas (Ukraine, 2014 -)
  • Iraqi Civil War (2014 – 2017)
  • Yemeni Civil War (2015 -)

Myanmar Follows Global Pattern in How Ethnic Cleansing ...Genocides: 

  • Rohingya Genocide (Burma, 2017), 24,000+ killed
  • ISIS killing of Christians, Shiites and Yazidis (2014), 8,000+ killed

New countries:

  • · South Sudan (2011)

New Technology

  • Smartphones
  • Cryptocurrency
  • AIDS treatment
  • Self-driving cars
  • 3D Printers
  • 5G network

Extinctions: Animal | Connie's Blog

  • Eastern cougar (2011)
  • Japanese river otter (2012)
  • Pinta Island tortoise (2012)
  • Cape Verde giant skink (2013)
  • Formosan clouded leopard (2013)
  • Bermuda saw-whet owl (2014)
  • Christmas Island forest skink (2017)
  • Western black rhinoceros (2018)
  • Bramble Cay memomys (2019)

Sources: Al Jazeera, The Balance, Counter Extremism Project, Cnet, I Am Syria, Mint Hill Times, Statista, Vox, Wikipedia

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Uttermost Part of the Earth

UntitledUttermost Part of the Earth (1948), by E. Lucas Bridges, is the definitive story of Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. The memoirs of the land’s ‘third white native’, it details his life amongst the indigenous Fuegians, their cultures and the effects of colonisation. Part autobiography, part ethnography, part history book and part adventure novel, Uttermost Part of the Earth is the most detailed account we have on a people now extinct.

Lucas Bridges (1874 – 1948) was the eldest son of Reverend Thomas Bridges, who established the Anglican Mission at Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego. He grew up amongst the coastal Yaghan people and, as a young man, explored the island’s interior, where previously uncontacted tribes lived.

AF Tschifferly, who rode from Argentina to Washington DC on horseback, convinced Bridges (below) to write down his stories. In his 70s, Bridges applied his lifelong energy to writing this book. It describes his later life – service in WW1, adventures in Paraguay and South Africa, only in passing. Tierra del Fuego is the focus.

The book five parts:Lucas Bridges y las creencias religiosas de los selk'nam ...

  • Ushuaia, 1826-1887: European exploration, Bridge’s early life, the Yaghan.
  • Haberton, 1887 – 1899: adventures on the coast, the Manek’enk (Aush), first contact with the Selk’nam.
  • The Road to Najmishk (1900-1902): Selk’nam conflict, adventures in the interior
  • A Hut in Ona Land (1902-1907) Bridges’ sheep farm. Selk’nam culture, Fuegian animals, myths and legends.
  • The Estancia Viamonte, (1907-1910) The story concludes.

Vivid descriptions bring the prehistoric wilderness of Tierra del Fuego to life, its rugged cliffs and islands, snowy forests, mountains, moors and bogs, and the creatures who call it home. Bridges alternates between the main narrative and such descriptions, peppering them with strange and fantastic anecdotes.

While his father dedicated his life to transliterating the Yaghan language, Bridges is most interested in the mysterious tribe beyond the mountains. After making contact, he lives and hunts amongst the Selk’nam hunter-gatherers (whom he calls ‘Ona’, their Yaghan name) for over ten years. He learns their language and customs, makes friends and enemies, and is eventually the only outsider initiated to their lodge. His accounts cover everything from courtship to clothing to secret societies and the Selk’nam’s (lack of) religion. Though the author veers on paternalistic, he treats the Fuegians with genuine respect and is free from the naked racism so common in his time. He tries but does not succeed, to ‘soften the blow of civilization’ and help the Selkn’am adapt. They left no records of their own.

The cast of characters can be bewildering. Many key players have unfamiliar Fuegian names. Bridges does well, however, in describing their backgrounds and personalities, while reminding the reader of past events. Memorable individuals include the insane ‘wizard’ Minkiyolh, the hunter Ahnikin and the gaucho Serafin Aguirre.

The many stories in these pages are fascinating, heartwarming and sad. There are true tales of abduction, murder, hunting trips, shipwrecks, escaped convicts, massacres and suicidal horses woven throughout its pages in simple and matter-of-fact prose.

Overriding the stories, however, is the sobering doom Bridges alludes to from the start. Civilization will triumph. Roads and airstrips will conquer South America’s last frontier, and guns, alcohol and measles will destroy the indigenous way of life.

Bridges does not discuss the Selk’nam genocide at length. That happened in northern Tierra del Fuego in the 1890s, before Bridges made contact. Those he meets are the remainders yet untouched by colonialism. Due to libel, Bridges does not disclose the names of murderous settlers. Their children were still prominent landowners when the book was published.

Obtaining this book was difficult. It went out of print years ago and the only copies online are expensive second-hand ones or third party reprints. I opted for the latter option and paid  $30 to have it delivered from New Delhi. It is a hefty book with well over 500 pages. Unfortunately its many black and white photographs and maps were barely visible. They are one of the books’ main draws.


This passage on page 336 stands out:

“Talimeoat was a most likeable Indian. I was much in his company. One still evening in autumn, just before business was to take me to Buenos Aires, I was walking with him near Lake Kami. We were just above the upper tree level, and before descending into the valley, rested on a grassy slope. The air was crisp, for already the days were getting short and, with weather so calm and clear, there were bound to be a hard frost before sunrise. A few gilt edged, feather clouds broke the monotony of the pale green sky, and the beech forest that clothed the lake’s steep banks to the water’s edge had not yet completely lost its brilliant autumn colours. The evening light gave the remote ranges a purple tint impossible to describe or to paint.

Across leagues of wooded hills up the forty-mile length of Lake Kami, Talimeoat and I gazed long and silently towards a glorious sunset. I knew that he was searching the distance for any sign of smoke from the camp-fires of friends or foes. After a while his vigilance relaxed and, lying near me, he seemed to become oblivious to my presence. Feeling the chill of evening, I was on the point of suggesting a move, when he heaved a deep sigh and said to himself, as softly as an Ona could say anything:

“Yak haruin.” (“my country”)

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