Mythical Journeys, Legendary Questsby Moyra Caldecott
One of the most persistent themes in myth and legend from the world’s many cultures is that of the story of the journey — the quest. In Mythical Journeys, Legendary Quests, noted writer on the topic, Moyra Caldecott, shows the connection between the sacred, mythic journeys as found in legend and story and the real journey of the individual soul towards
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One of the most persistent themes in myth and legend from the world’s many cultures is that of the story of the journey — the quest. In Mythical Journeys, Legendary Quests, noted writer on the topic, Moyra Caldecott, shows the connection between the sacred, mythic journeys as found in legend and story and the real journey of the individual soul towards enlightenment.
This perennial quest for reassurance in the face of human mortality is spread as wide as our existence on the planet and throughout history. Indeed Carl Jung and, more recently, Joseph Campbell have shown us that myth and legend are not just fantasy tales for children. They are powerful expressions, in code, of a deep yearning towards an understanding of human existence.
Moyra Caldecott has selected material from many cultures to illustrate this point: from ancient Egypt and Sumeria to aboriginal Australia, pre-Columbian America, Vietnam, India, Africa and Europe. With each legend retold, she provides background on its origin and detailed analysis of its meaning and significance.
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Read an Excerpt
1 —Gilgamesh: The Quest for Immortality (Sumeria)
A cycle of epic tales describing the adventures of Gilgamesh originated in Sumeria, the Tigris/Euphrates region of the Middle East, nowadays known as Iraq. The hero was said to have lived in Uruk not long before or after 5000 BC, at the height of the Sumerian civilization. Gilgamesh was described as the king of Uruk, one of the major cities of the region, others being Ur and Kish. Early tablets record his battle with King Agga of Kish, suggesting that in fact Gilgamesh was a historical figure. Later tablets exaggerate his prowess and ascribe feats to him that could only have been performed by a mythic hero with some divine blood in his veins. It came to be said that he was the son of a human father, King Lugalbanda of Uruk, and the goddess Ninsun.
The earliest records of his life are in Sumerian, but later the Semite peoples who overran the region took the story up and most of our information comes from clay tablets in the cuneiform writing of the Akkadian language. Babylonian fragments are older than the Assyrian, and trading links with the Hittites (from what is now modern Turkey) and the Hurrians (from what is now modern Armenia) later carried the epic even further afield. Fragments have been found by archaeologists in the archives of Boghazkoy, the ancient Hittite city, and at Megido, but most of what we have today were found in the ruins of the great library of Nineveh, which was sacked c.612 BC. The ancient Elamites were known to have performed a version of it as a drama. There is currently an English dramatic version in existence written by Robert Temple, author of an excellentverse translation of the epic called He Who Saw Everything.
Gilgamesh, the great king of Uruk, and his inseparable companion, Enkidu, returned in triumph from the conquest of the giant guardian of the cedar forests, Humbaba. The goddess of love, Ishtar, seeing the young man riding in the streets, his muscles rippling and his curls bound with gold, desired him and called him to her presence.
Gilgamesh stood before her proudly —aware of the scent of a thousand flowers, dazzled by the gleam of her skin and the jewels that twined in long strings around her limbs.
'Gilgamesh,' she said softly, 'come closer. I offer you the greatest treasure any man could desire.'
'What is that, my lady?' the hero asked cautiously, keeping his distance.
She smiled fondly and reached out her slender hand, each finger circled with a different gem.
'You will be my lover,' she purred. 'Come closer, mortal, and taste a greater pleasure than you have ever known.'
Still Gilgamesh held back.
'Come!' she repeated, this time a trifle impatiently.
'Great goddess,' he said. 'I am a king and already have all the treasure any man could desire.'
Her eyes narrowed.
'Forgive me, goddess, but all who have been your lovers are no more. To lie with you is to lie with death.'
'Go then, Gilgamesh, and taste the venom of my curse!' Her eyes flashed. Her lips tightened. Her voluptuous body seemed to harden and grow tall and angular. She towered over him and the sky darkened behind her.
Then Ishtar went to her father, Anu, god of the firmament, and demanded that he avenge the insult that Gilgamesh had given her. Her father at first refused and protested that Gilgamesh was a great hero and had much still to do for the gods.
But Ishtar grew shrill in her demands and declared she would open the seven gates that were between the upper and lower world so that the dead would escape and harass the living.
'Give me the Bull of Heaven, father, to trample down his kingdom, or the dead will outnumber the living on your earth!'
Anu sighed, and gave her the Bull of Heaven.
Copyright © 1996, 2007, Moyra Caldecott.
Meet the Author
Moyra Caldecott was born in Pretoria, South Africa in 1927, and moved to London in 1951. She has degrees in English and Philosophy and an M.A. in English Literature, and has written more than 20 books. She has earned a reputation as a novelist who writes as vividly about the adventures and experiences to be encountered in the inner realms of the human consciousness as she does about those in the outer physical world. To Moyra, reality is multidimensional.
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