“Gilgamesh, wherefore do you wander?
The eternal life you are seeking you shall not find.
When the gods created mankind,
They established death for mankind,
And withheld eternal life for themselves.
As for you, Gilgamesh, let your stomach be full,
Always be happy, night and day,
Make every day a delight,
Night and day play and dance.
Your clothes should be clean,
Your head should be washed,
You should bathe in water,
Look proudly on the little one holding your hand,
Let your mate be always blissful in your loins,
This, then, is the work of mankind. (1)"
Since man first put pen to paper to craft the story of his own existence, he has sewn tales of the tragedy of pride. Across the centuries and millennia of human literary history, Gilgamesh, Oedipus, King Lear, Willie Lowman and other protagonists share a fate unaltered by the progress of civilization or the passing of time. The blindness of hubris spells one’s doom.
We are all Oedipus. Like the oracles from the very texts of literary heritage, we have prophesized the climactic fall of our own civilization, but like our memorialized heroes, we march blindly to our demise. Humanity has placed itself upon a pedestal above all life and nature itself. We have altered the landscapes upon which our very lives depend without consideration of consequences, proudly believing the very ideologies and technologies that have brought our species to the brink of catastrophe will be the source of our salvation. But as Einstein, the great genius of the modern world noted, to continue the same behavior and expect a different outcome defines insanity. Like our tragic heroes, the only possibility of salvation will come from humility. To do so, we will have to reject everything we accept as cultural gospel, but all is not lost. We have not always succumbed to the folly of pride. We have an alternative past and future destiny.
For most of the hundreds of thousands of years that chart human history, people lived sustainably and peacefully on the Earth. Some still do. The myriad tribes of First People lived on the North American continent for tens of thousands of years without diminishing the resource base. The same can be said of Australia’s Aborigines and the Bushmen of Africa. In Eurasia, an extensive archaeological record dating to the dawn of agriculture and beyond finds no tools of warfare and details human cultures, living peacefully in small, egalitarian communities. Each of the sustainable, peaceful cultures shares a common thread of belief, worshipping Earth as the living embodiment of divine creation, the Great Mother (2).
Then, beginning approximately six-thousand years ago, a cultural shift swept across the Eurasian continent. Warriors on horseback, armed with military weapons of iron drove into Europe in waves from the Volga Steppe and Caucasus Mountains of modern day Russia. Over time, archaeological evidence records a violent cultural shift. Fortifications appear around settlements where none previously existed. Burial sites, once simple, respectful tributes to the deceased, are replaced with shrines to powerful men. Mass graves of murdered men, women and children convey a period of brutal warfare. Most telling is the replacement of once ubiquitous ceramic figurines depicting a voluptuous female form, tributes to the Great Mother, with ceramic images of male gods of war and domination (3). The peaceful, egalitarian people of Europe and their goddess Mother Earth had no defense against the armed horsemen from the East and their male gods of domination, and this is where the history of Western Civilization’s sustainable relationship with nature ends. Dating from approximately 3,000 B.C.E., a steady and constant deterioration of Earth’s natural infrastructures can be traced into the modern era.
Coincidentally, the earliest known work of literature, dates to roughly the same era as the neolithic cultural shift and puts to verse the saga of the overthrow of the Great Earth Mother’s reign. In the epic Sumerian poem The Epic of Gilgamesh, the world’s first literary hero, Gilgamesh, boldly dominates nature in both her physical and divine forms, laying to ruin primordial forests and openly defying fertility rites with the Earth goddess Ishtar. In spite of Gilgamesh’s successful dominance over nature, he cannot achieve his primary aim, immortality.
From the earliest sparks of our Western Civilization so eloquently depicted by the Sumerians, humankind has pursued the same epic, but futile quest. To justify our feelings of grandiosity, we have developed religious, political, economic and sexual credenda that reinforce our fatally-flawed hubris. In the ultimate argumentum ad hominem fallacy, we cite Christianity, democracy, capitalism, the suppression of feminine values and all the other dogmatic creations of western culture, as proof of the validity of our creed of male human dominance over all other living things, but for all our control over nature, even the most powerful among us is immune to her final judgment. We are destined rot in the bowels of the Earth and in doing so return back to the source that created us.
High on the power that dominion brings, we continue like our own tragic heroes engaging in and exalting the very behavior that precipitates our ultimate downfall. How sad. As the oracle suggests, our time would be far better spent letting our stomachs be full, gazing on the little ones who hold our hands and letting our mates be blissful in our loins.
1- Foster. Benjamin, R. (editor), 2001. The Epic of Gilgamesh. W. W. Norton and Company, p. 100 (Tablet 10, lines 77-91).The Epic of Gilgamesh (Norton Critical Editions)
2- See Gimbutas, Marija Alseikaite, 1991. The Civilization of the Goddess: The World of Old Europe. Harper San Francisco, p. 222.The Civilization of the Goddess: The World of Old Europe
3- Ibid, p. 48.
4- Ibid, pp. 364-399.
5- See Foster, B., 229 pages.