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In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the mad and superhuman king can only be softened and made wise through traumatic loss of his Beloved, full confrontation with mortality, and finally, absolute humbling.

 

The root of the word humble does not come from humiliation—it comes from humus, that fertile, dark, nutrient-rich layer of soil comprised of all that has gone before and sustaining all that lives now. But what does grief powerful enough to actually humble truly entail, and how is it that we must each walk Gilgamesh’s quest to the land of Faraway?

 

What happens when the Beloved is not human, but instead Enkidu, panther of the wilderness, the wild creature made by the gods to save Gilgamesh from his own corruption? What happens when the Beloved is Humbaba’s forest in a literally burning world? What happens when the Beloved is of a species other than ours, co-evolved with humans for more than 80,000 years to access our love directly—yet constrained to painfully short lifespans? What happens when the loss of humans is not as bad? What happens to the witch when her familiar—her reciprocal relationship with the world—dies?

 

Gilgamesh Wilderness uses the architecture of the Ancient Near Eastern epic as a doorway into one particular and unique death, as all deaths are unique and particular: through that door—and the mad walk west to kill death itself rather than grieve or die again—a meditation, eulogy, elegy, and humbling emerge in answer to the central question posed by the great epic: how do we go on, hearts open, in the presence of mortality?

November 2021

 

ISBN 9781736525838

 

Jessamyn Smyth

Gilgamesh Wilderness

 

Praise for Gilgamesh Wilderness