Sumerian mythology and the history of the Ideologisation of masculinity, rape, uprooting and betrayal
The best way to understand the present is to try to capture the spirit of the moment and live it. And you can do this by thinking the moment together with the past, the sum total of the moments that brought it to the present.
When we look at the Middle East, the Middle Eastern people, and Kurdistan and the present situation of the people in Kurdistan, we see that everything that is sacred has been condemned. The betrayal of one’s own society, one’s own sociality and one’s own understanding of free life is enough to understand this condemnation. In the Middle East, there is betrayal and collaboration that gives its own sacred to the rulers with its own hands. This image presents itself to us at every moment and invites us to re-examine the history and historicity of society.
The mythologies that have been narrated and passed down to the present day are one of the few sources for explaining some periods of history. In this sense, Sumerian mythology contains references to the emergence of hierarchy, patriarchy and the slavery of women and men. Even if we can establish the first break in the social status of women in the Babylonian creation myth Enūma eliš, the actual break had already occurred with the Sumerians. Tiamat’s defeat in the battle against Marduk, the splitting of her body by his death blow, became a symbol of the desacralization of woman and her removal from the Council of Gods.
The removal of the woman from the Council of the Gods is such a decisive event that it should not be interpreted as a simple expulsion from the Council after the battle between two parties. Her removal from the council, which could be called politics, illustrates her ousting from life, her degradation, the killing of the female elements of life and society, leaving behind the social male and female identities as the forms of the woman [Turkish: karı] and the ruling man. In order to understand the emergence of these norms, we need to look at the time before the Tiamat-Marduk myth, which is supposed to represent the break in the gender status of women.
It must be investigated how the mentality of the man, which caused the break, was able to develop. Although this process had been written down in the Sumerian scriptures, it remained unnoticed due to misleading interpretations. The degradation of society was immediately equated in time with the degradation of women. No real consideration has been given to how both sexes were degraded together, although the reality of the lying, despotic man can only be made possible by the ideologisation of masculinity. The degradation of male individuals in society creates the men who degrade women, and these two relationships construct – in a mutually supportive way – the hierarchical-statist systems. It is in this sense that the Gilgamesh Epic should be studied.
This founding epic of the city of Uruk is the story of the denaturalization of male identity, the hegemony of masculinity over other men, and its use as a central means of belittling society.
In the Muzaffer-Ramazanoğlu translation of the Gilgamesh epic, one can once again recognize its falsification, the optimism of fictionalized mythology aside. In the same way, it should not be forgotten that what is written as a historical novel is a falsification of history in novel form, that society is repressively broken by it without being hurt. Nor should it be forgotten that in this sense, historical novels serve systems of domination based on hegemony and have the function of ideologizing history. For this reason, the mistaken belief that history can be appropriated by reading historical novels is nothing more than implanting into one’s own mind the image of history that the ruling system is trying to create.
The Gilgamesh epic should not be read as a woman or through the eyes of a woman, but rather the narrative told there should be viewed with reference to how the natural course of human/social and natural life developed and was brought to a standstill. In the epic, female sexuality is used to turn the “mountain man” Enkidu into a “city man”. This is the first step towards its degradation. The mountain man Enkidu is from a rural tribal society. To see what constitutes the second and actual degradation, we need to look at the epic again:
Enkidu, you who do not know life,
I want to show Gilgamesh, the uneven-tempered one!
See him, look at his face:
He is beautiful in manhood, he has dignity,
Rich in abundance all over his body;
“Strength, violence, hath he but thou,
No rest by day or night.
Enkidu, give up your naughtiness! Gilgamesh – Shamash has shown him love,
Anu, Enlil and Ea broadened his mind:
Before you came from the steppe,
Saw Gilgamesh dream about you at Uruk:
Stand up, Gilgamesh. Tell the dream,
And spoke to his mother:
“O mother, in the dream of my last night
When I was swollen and swollen, I went deeper and deeper among the men;
Then the stars of heaven gathered around me –
The weapon of Anu came down on me;
I tried to lift it, but it was too heavy,
I wanted to move it and couldn’t move it.
“Uruk-land gathered here
The men kissed his feet;
And I leaned against them and they stood by me,
I picked it up and carried it to you.”
Gilgamesh’s mother, who knows everything, spoke to Gilgamesh:
“Perhaps, Gilgamesh, one like you
Born in the steppe,
Growing up, the plains made him –
See him and you will have joy;
Men kiss his feet!
You will embrace him, lead him to me!
The strong Enkidu is it,
A companion to help a friend out of trouble!
He is the strongest in the land, he has strength,
Like the feast of Anu mighty is its strength!
As over a woman, you murmur above him,
… …but he will save you again and again.”
In the footnote to this part, the translator points out above all that the relationship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu is not a homosexual one and that this is a misleading event, and that the dream told by the epic poet is the culmination of his art. However this explanation obscures Gilgamesh’s rapist existence. Gilgamesh’s dream, however, is described in a wording that describes a rape. Here it is important that the word “woman” is not used. The description “like a woman” is used as if the feminization of the man should actually be defined.
Gilgamesh’s perverse dreams, which appear throughout the epic, point to the type of man the Sumerian priests tried to create. In the form of Gilgamesh, masculinity was robbed of its existence as a natural gender identity and ideologized. To regard woman not as a woman, but as a woman by whom one satisfies oneself, is a hegemonic ideology that Gilgamesh was allowed to carry out. To regard woman as an object of satisfaction, to achieve every goal through this object of satisfaction, to degrade other men by means of this object, to lure them into the trap, to deprive them of their naturalness and to make them conform to themselves, these were the essential characteristics of Gilgamesh. These are also the essential characteristics of the rapist man type.
Enkidu is first lured into the trap and re-educated with the help of the woman. With the help of the woman, he is made to stop being himself, and he is torn from his social life. It is interesting that this part of the epic almost tells the story of Kurdish men who emigrate to Turkish or European cities. The interpretation of what happened to Enkidu is essential to understand the situation in which the male identity has been placed. Using female sexuality to make women stop being themselves is a method that has been widely used since the Sumerians. Enkidu is then persuaded to be taken to Gilgamesh. Enkidu himself, unaware of what will happen to him, sets out to change Uruk’s fate.
At the same time, the Gilgamesh epic tells of the first conflict between city dwellers and barbarians. It contains details of the urban-rural conflict. The humiliation of the rural dwellers and their identification with dirt on the one hand, the seduction of city life and its identification with cleanliness on the other hand are among the motives that appear in the Gilgamesh Epic. It also reflects the fact that it was translated by European or European-minded men. The following part of the epic proves this fact:
Bread ate Enkidu until it was saturated,
Drink the intoxicating potion – the seven jugs!
His innermost being became free and cheerful,
His heart rejoiced and his face shone! –
He washed away his hairy body with water:
He anointed himself with oil and became a man.
He put on a robe, and he is like men now.
Humbaba [guardian of the cedar forest in Lebanon], made a beast in the eyes of the reader, was to be interpreted by his reaction to the felled trees:
“Who is it that rapes the trees, the children of the mountains? Who is it that cuts down the cedars?”
Enkidu’s handling of Humbaba’s fighting tactics – after the event that Gilgamesh reports “on him I satisfied myself as on a woman,” that is, after the rape of Enkidu by the king/man – shows that the event that happened to Enkidu now forms a line. “Enkidu opened his mouth and said to Gilgamesh: my friend, do not listen to what Humbaba tells you!” You shall kill Humbaba, Enkidu says to Gilgamesh. Enkidu’s behavior after the rape illustrates how the collaborator-traitor line develops as a result of rape. To conclude that behind every betrayal, behind every collaboration, there is a rape, the case of Enkidu is as important as knowledge of the present.
The city of Uruk was under the protection of Inanna. Around 3 000 B.C.E. the first state was established here. Since Gilgamesh was one third man and two-thirds God, he was the strongest man in the city, as strong as an ox. This description, based on the importance of the ox in agrarian societies, also shows how the myth of the holy bull came into being. Gilgamesh’s struggle with the goddesses went hand in hand with his attacks on rural society, for the purpose and aim of his attacks on women and society were the same. The epic is through and through the product of an ideological construction and at the same time aims to create an ideological construction. The Gilgamesh figure, king and soldier at the same time, points out how the state came into being and what kind of people it had to consist of. The epic depicts the emergence of the state, the reduction of masculinity in the form of the reduced woman and the feminized man, the creation of ruling masculinity personified in kings, and the objectification of woman, the woman as a concubine alongside Gilgamesh.
Enkidu’s degradation by Gilgamesh’s rape sets a historical precedent. Afterwards Humbaba is attacked. It turns out that this attack is not only on Humbaba, but on all people of the rural tribal society. Here, the people of the rural tribal society are either killed or “courted” like Enkidu and thereby degraded and assimilated into city life. The whole epic from beginning to end tells how the individuals of the rural tribal society are torn out of their sociality by different methods, removed from their free existence, enslaved and accustomed to a life that is not theirs. In a certain sense the Gilgamesh epic is an assimilation story, in a broader sense that of the first village evacuation.
It may even be the first historical example of the degeneration currently taking place in the Middle East. The brutality of the IS, which manifests itself as rapist-manly imperialism, is the concretization of the ideology of masculinity created in Uruk on Iraqi soil. Although I do not like to use the term degeneration, I use it in this context because those who can rape their own sacred in such a way have certainly been torn out of their own humanity and their own genealogy of meaning by a mental or physical rape. In order to fight against the IS, to resist and protect the sacred of the Middle East, one must move away from the traitorous and collaboratorial line.
Betrayal and collaboration in Kurdistan are an expression of the maintenance of the Enkidu line created by international treaties until today. This line is still embodied by the Democratic Party of Kurdistan/Iraq (PDK) and others. Just as Enkidu became Enkidu, so these parties were brought to the traitorous and collaborator line by the same methods. To expect resistance to the IS attacks from these parties, which have suffered international degradation, is a historical impossibility anyway.
To understand the present, history must be considered and the moment must be interpreted together with its roots. Their role in this context makes the study of mythologies a necessity. Every term that appears in mythologies is to be seen as a step of new construction. To qualify these determinations not as explanations of Sumerian invention but as artistic discourses would prevent us from understanding historical and social reality.
The last words of Enkidu, the figure of the man feminized in relation to the ruling man, who did not escape rape and therefore adopted the traitorous line and collaborated with his enemy, could indicate that he understood his own truth at the hour of his death:
An evil curse has put a curse on me, my friend.
Not like someone falls in the middle of a fight, I die,
The battle frightened me, so I die without glory.
Yes, Enkidu was cursed. Every tree he turned his back on, every one he betrayed, cursed him. All the children of Humbaba cursed and condemned him. Nature, the rural tribal man and his sociality demand that Enkidu and all who become Enkidus never forgive.
Dilzar Dîlok, Member of the Central Committee of the PKK