Friday, April 4, 2014

Time Travel, Epic of Gilgamesh

If travelling through time were possible (I phrase 'possible' lightly, because, on some level I believe we access this remarkable ability almost daily — more on that in a moment) by means of an Einstein Rosen bridge to propel me backward and forward through time and space, I would travel somewhere between c. 2000-1400 BCE, Mesopotamia, to when The Epic of Gilgamesh was written.

This story gripped me. Written on twelve clay tablets, The Epic of Gilgamesh is among the earliest surviving literary works, dealing with friendship, death, and our quest for immortality. In the story, after the death of his friend Enkidu, Gilgamesh ventures on a quest to find eternal life in the form of the flower of immortality, a plant called, 'The Old Man Who Becomes a Young Man' that restores a person to their youthful state.  

Gilgamesh retrieves the plant by diving to the bottom of the sea, but a serpent later eats it after being attracted by its fragrance, and so Gilgamesh believes he has failed in quest, and returns to his city of Uruk empty handed. 

But he doesn't really fail. While reading this story for the first time back in 2008, in the comfort of a favourite armchair, I smiled at the fact that Gilgamesh had achieved immortality through the power of words. His tale survived for thousands of years, spanning multiple generations and formats, such as spoken word, print, and electronic text — to become one of the oldest surviving stories in history.

I would travel through time and speak with the author of the Epic of Gilgamesh (or Gilgamesh, if he really did exist), and tell him that he didn't fail. I would speak to him about the beauty of words, and the life that carries on even after we die. Writing and telling stories, shared in any culture is a vehicle for immortality.

The Future of the Book is its power to take us forward or backward in time, and, as a recorder of lives,  has an uncanny ability to take us to other times, places, and moments in our life.

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