Faces… If there is one thing upon which Gilgamesh would wager his life, it is that life is all about faces…
His own face now burns with a permanent redness; whether from anger or something deeper, he does not know. But it burns… and gets hotter with every passing encounter with the faces that fight to decry and destroy what he has achieved as king… and before that, as they would see if they gazed down from their indifferent heights and invested in understanding his noble life.
Once more, he clutches the jewel at his throat: the amulet taken from Enkidu’s dead body in the forest – the jewel bestowed on his lost brother by Ninsum, Gilgamesh’s half-goddess, half human mother.
He is becoming thin, he can feel it. There has been little sustenance of any nature in the past few days. Enkidu’s death has robbed him of all appetite. All he can do is to carry on…
With heavy tread, he returns to the city of Uruk – his city, though it now feels controlled by strangers – who do not wish him well. He tries to tell those who will listen that Enkidu is dead, that, though, together, they slew the dreadful demon Humbaba, his brother died like a hero, with their king, Gilgamesh, fighting to save him.
But, no-one is listening. He shuffles away, seeking the shadows. His bent and dirty form goes unrecognised as he hides from the people – choosing alleyways, where once he strode in splendour through the main streets.
He is surprised when he looks up and sees that his feet have brought him to the pillared front of the main temple – the home of the high priestess, Shamhat, his enemy… Everything in him curls inwards as her mocking voice calls to his ragged and dirty form. He sees her shape in the shadows, emerging to witness his disgrace. His greasy hand clutches his sword and raises it, but its power is absorbed by the temple and he sinks to his knees, screaming in frustration.
Then, from nowhere, the Fate Dancers encircle him and begin their dance; only this time, he is not in the King’s position – in the withdrawn east of the temple – he is in the centre of its pattern, his fate being spun like a toy in their cruel movements.
As their dance comes to a close – but before they withdraw – he sees two faces looking down at him from between the pillars of the Temple of Ishtar, but, when he blinks away the tears of rejection and sorrow, there is only one… Shamhat’s face shimmers as she gazes down on his…
“Rise and bed me, O mighty Gilgamesh. Give me of your luscious fruits,” she mocks. “Be my sweet man…”
The taunts burn him as nothing ever has before, though the words offer him everything he could have desired. His mouth fills with bile and he sputters his reply. His voice is a dull rasp. “In my pride you scorned me, yet now you offer yourself freely. Why do you mock me at this, my lowest estate?”
He sees it now. Shamhat’s motives are revealed. She will try to destroy the King in retaliation for the death of her lover, his brother, Enkidu…
With this anger, a wild energy at the heart of Gilgamesh returns to empower him and he leaps to his feet, shouting, “A curse of destruction on you and your temple of harlots”
Shamhat, her edges shining and twisting as though person and shadow have mixed, laughs and turns to enter the dark chambers of the temple. She disappears into the internal labyrinth of its passageways and Gilgamesh charges after her, blazing, as his fury consumes him… He does not see that the movements of the Fates have changed his sword into Enkidu’s axe.
Outside, in the brightly-lit city, the Fate Dancers are dancing, again.
Other parts in this series:
©Copyright Stephen Tanham
This narrative is a personal journey through that ritual drama in the persona of Gilgamesh.
Header image by Sue Vincent, © Copyright.
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.
The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.