One of the many things at which I dabble but never take a deep interest in is ancient history — you know, all the really old stuff that happened in places like Rome, Sumer, Atlantis and so on. As a result of this wishy-washy, hot and cold, neither here nor there fascination, I have recently been reading a book on Sumerian literature, something that most people don’t even know exists (i should clarify that it is Sumerian literature, not books, of which most people are unaware. Obviously, many people are aware of the existence of books) and so I thought I would share some bits of this fascinating culture’s mythology with all the unwashed masses out there. Here, then, is an extremely informal retelling of the great Sumerian epic “Gilgamesh And The Echidna.”
One sunny Sumerian day, about five thousand years ago, the great warrior king Gilgamesh, whose name translates as “Big, Muscly Dude With Long Pointy Beard,” was sitting in the shade of a ziggurat in Uruk, a city known in its day as “The Las Vegas of the Euphrates,” being entertained by his pet echidna, Joseph Wilson, whose name translates as “Joseph Wilson.” Joseph Wilson was a very special echidna, for he had been made from the wood of a tree from the garden of Inanna, the Goddess Of Sarcastic Comments, and could not only play chess and checkers but also sing and dance – he was especially good at standards such as “I Got Rhythm” and “Singing In The Rain.” As Joseph Wilson was about to launch into the second verse of “Singing In The Rain,” Gilgamesh heard a terrible rumbling, as if the earth itself had eaten too much bad chili, and suddenly a crack appeared in the earth, and into the crack that appeared in the earth fell his beloved pet echidna, Joseph Wilson. Down Joseph went, sinking into the stygian darkness like a spiky marsupial falling into a very dark place, and causing Gilgamesh much distress, for Gilgamesh knew well that what lay under the earth was the dreaded Sumerian underworld, Irkalla – the Land Of The Dead and kingdom of Ereshkigal, Goddess Of The Underworld. Peering down into the hole, Gilgamesh saw that his echidna had landed in Ereshkigal’s arms and so he yelled out, “Oi! Give me back me echidna, ya bloody wanker!”
And up from the hellish depths sounded a sepulchral voice…
“I don’t think so, knucklehead. Joseph Wilson is a very entertaining little fellow, and we have no cable down here and our internet is always conking out on us! So nuts to you!” replied Ereshkigal before running away with Joseph Wilson lifted high over her head. Gilgamesh then realized that there was no other solution to this problem than to descend into the underworld to retrieve his musical marsupial. Usually this would be the kind of task that would fall to Gilgamesh’s servant, Stepin Fetchit, but that particular day Stepin was away at an NAACP meeting, so Gilgamesh had to do his own dirty work for once.
Storming home in a huff (a huff was a sort of ancient Sumerian chariot) Gilgamesh went into his armory to make ready for his excursion into the much dreaded Land of the Dead, a terrible place where souls were lost, the senses dulled, and the French fries always a little too salty. Putting on his armor, which, like pretty much everything else in Sumer, was made of mud, was a bit of a bother without Stepin to help him, so he called out to his neighbor’s Mexican gardener Enkidu, who came round and helped to strap him into the armor with the help of some Krazy Glue. Then Gilgamesh grabbed his shield, strapped to his belt a small bag full of odds and ends that might come in handy when facing the undead, and picked up a large petrified salami which he had brought back after his last trip to Italy. Making his way back to the hole in the ground into which Joseph Wilson had fallen, Gilgamesh tied a rope to the ziggurat and ordered Enkidu to stay by the rope till he was told otherwise or until the immigration people came round, whichever happened first. Then the great warrior king Gilgamesh climbed down the hole into the netherworld to retrieve his beloved echidna.
After what seemed like several hours of climbing down the rope and then some unpleasantly carpeted stairs, but was in fact only about 1 minute and 17 seconds, Gilgamesh arrived at the bottom of the crevasse ( a crevasse was an ancient, Sumerian hole in the ground.) At first, he could see for only about five cubits in front of him, so dark was the underworld into which he had bravely descended. But as his eyes adjusted to the gloom Gilgamesh was able to see more and more cubits, and eventually he noticed a sinister gated wall off in the distance. This, he knew from watching documentaries on the History Channel, was the first of the seven successive gates to the underworld. And so, steeling himself for the fearsome task ahead, his petrified salami in hand, the great warrior king set off to rescue his echidna.
Arriving at the first of the seven gates, Gilgamesh was stopped by its monstrous guardian, an eight armed creature wearing the skins of the dead, an undersized bowler hat, and garish, neon-green spandex tights. When this civil servant from hell asked Gilgamesh to surrender his underwear, Gilgamesh diplomatically replied…
“What the bloody hell for, ya wallaby’s arsehole?”
“It is the law of Ereshkigal, o’ foul-mouthed one. All must surrender an item of clothing as they pass each gate. Don’t blame me, dude, I just work here.”
“Bah! Screw the bloody rules!” said Gilgamesh, as he struck the many-armed guardian’s head with the petrified salami, causing him to cry out in much pain and reach for a bottle of aspirins. And so it went as Gilgamesh made his way through the seven gates. Each time the gate’s fearsome guardian would ask for an item of clothing, and each time Gilgamesh would knock them senseless with the petrified salami and continue merrily on his way. Finally, still fully clad in his mighty armor of mud, Gilgamesh arrived at the door to Ganzer, the underground palace in which Ereshkigal dwelt with her husband Nergal and a family of slightly retarded millennials. Gilgamesh thumped his mighty fist on the massive wooden door and yelled, “Oi, it’s Gilgamesh ‘ere! I’ve come for me echidna! Give him over if you know what’s good for ya, ya dumb wombats!”
At this stately introduction the door was opened by Charlie Chan, who had been invited over for the weekend and who explained that no other visitors were being permitted at this moment as the Queen of the Underworld and her family were in the middle of filming their reality TV show, “Keeping Up With ‘Kigal”. Displeased at this unexpected impediment, Gilgamesh kicked the door in and stormed into the gloomy palace. After beating the camera crew senseless with the petrified salami and choking several TV executives to death with their own beards, Gilgamesh confronted Ereshkigal and demanded she hand over his echidna.
“Oi! Give me back me echidna, ya platypus’s bollock!” he yelled ferociously while wildly waving his salami in the air.
But Ereshkigal was not one to be easily intimidated, for was she not the Queen of the Underworld? Did she not command an army of the undead? Had she not been the head of the AV club in High School? No, Ereshkigal was not one to give up her ill-earned echidna so easily, and so she repeatedly struck Gilgamesh with a can of salmon that she carried for such purposes till his head throbbed and his ears rang. Gilgamesh was so enraged by this piece of fishy business that he smashed Ereshkigal’s head with the frozen salami, causing her to bounce off the walls of her palace like a manic pinball (pinball was an ancient Sumerian game that involved bouncing dwarves off palace walls.) Neither Ereshkigal’s family nor Charlie Chan could let this pass, so they attacked Gilgamesh by throwing balls of mud at him, for in Sumer, below as above, there wasn’t much but mud. Overwhelmed by so many opponents and blinded by the mud in his eyes, all Gilgamesh could do was to swing his salami wildly around in the hopes that it would hit someone. It was at this point that Joseph Wilson, who had been sitting quietly on the sidelines, eating a bowl of sugared ants and enjoying the show, decided to take action. Grabbing a rope conveniently dangling from the ceiling, Joseph Wilson swung around like some spiky little Errol Flynn, kicking his master’s assailants in the back of their heads while singing an Irving Berlin medley which, for some strange reason, included snatches from Judas Priest’s “Beyond The Realms Of Death.”
Thanks to Joseph Wilson’s distraction, Gilgamesh was able to find himself a bottle of Seltzer and soon sprayed the mud out of his eyes. His sight restored, Gilgamesh and his salami swung into action. Undead bodyguards went flying all over the place, walls and ceilings came crashing down, and soon he and Joseph Wilson had laid waste to their enemies and the palace was littered with the corpses of the dead, the moans of the dying, and the sounds of retarded millennials taking selfies in front of the carnage.
By now Ereshkigal had stopped wildly bouncing off the walls and stood up, dusted herself off, and confronted Gilgamesh and his echidna. Furious, she pulled out a scythe and threatened to behead Joseph Wilson, stating that if she couldn’t have the magical marsupial, neither could anyone else. Enraged by this threat against his echidna, Gilgamesh reached into his little bag of odds and ends and pulled out a fistful of marbles, which he threw into Ereshkigal’s path as she charged towards them at full speed. Stepping on the marbles, Ereshkigal went comically flying through the air, allowing Gilgamesh enough time to grab the scythe and slice her head clean off. Being the Queen Of The Underworld, however, this did not kill her, though it did stop her from doing any line dancing for a while. Grabbing her head and placing it on a nearby pile of corpses, Gilgamesh told Ereshkigal to leave well enough alone and allow him and Joseph Wilson to depart in peace or he would call PETA and have her charged with echidna-napping – just imagine the furor that would cause on social media! Fearing that the outrage of millions of tweeting pinheads would be damaging to her incipient career as a reality TV star, Ereshkigal grudgingly allowed Gilgamesh and his echidna to depart for the upper world, but not before putting a curse on Gilgamesh that his mud armor would mysteriously turn to brown sludge as soon as the rains arrived – which is why you very rarely see Sumerians wearing mud armor these days. And so Gilgamesh and Joseph Wilson departed for the upper world, where they lived and danced and sang happily ever after, all while being very careful to avoid large holes in the ground.
And that, boys and girls, is the tale of how Gilgamesh vanquished Ereshkigal and her army of the undead and rescued his beloved echidna from the underworld. Some day, i will get around to telling you the story of how Gilgamesh convinced the IRS to given him a 30 day extension – but that is a tale for another day.