I’m teaching a world literature course this fall. We started with the epic of Gilgamesh. It’s one of the oldest surviving works of literature, probably written around 2500 BC. To put it in perspective, that’s about a thousand years before Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt. I’m pretty sure Abraham would have known the story of Gilgamesh–and known it as an ancient story.
When Gilgamesh was written, civilization was still a relatively novel concept in the Fertile Crescent. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that the central conflict/friendship of the epic should be between a civilizer (Gilgamesh) and a suspiciously feechiefied fellow named Enkidu. Two-thirds god and one-third man, Gilgamesh is stronger than anyone else in the world. When he becomes king of Uruk, he oppresses his people, taking whatever he wants because no one can oppose him. When the cry of the people of Uruk goes up, the gods order the goddess Aruru to make his equal. So she pinched off some clay and dropped it in the wilderness, and up came Enkidu:
His body was rough, he had long hair like a woman’s; it waved like the hair of Nisaba, the goddess of corn. His body was covered with matted hair like Samuqan’s, the god of cattle. The was innocent of mankind; he knew nothing of the cultivated land. Enkidu ate grass in the hills with the gazelle and lurked with wild beasts at the water-holes; he had joy of the water with the herds of wild game.
Civilization didn’t come easy for Enkidu. When friendly shepherds tried to give him a meal, he didn’t know what to do with himself:
All the shepherds crowded around to see him; they put down bread in front of him, but Enkidu could only suck the milk of wild animals. He fumbled and gaped, at a loss what to do or how he should eat the bread and drink the strong wine.
When at last Enkidu comes to the city of Uruk to meet the heretofore unrivalled Gilgamesh, the two become friends in a most feechiefied manner: by fighting first and shaking hands later.
Mighty Gilgamesh came on and Enkidu met him at the gate. He put out his foot and prevented Gilgamesh from entering the house, so they grappled, holding each other like bulls. They broke the doorposts and the walls shook. Gilgamesh bent his knee with his foot planted on the ground and with a turn Enkidu was thrown. Then immediately his fury died. When Enkidu was thrown he said, ‘There is not another like you in the world. Ninsun, who is as strong as a wild ox in the byre, she was the mother who bore you, and now you are raised above all men… [or, as Dobro Turtlebane would have said more succinctly, ‘You got what it takes, Civilizer!]…So Enkidu and Gilgamesh embraced and their friendship was sealed.
Enkidu and Gilgamesh go on to have many adventures together. More than once Enkidu gripes about having given up his wild life and gone civilized.
All that to say, feechie stories have a very long and august history, going back as far as Western literature itself. And yet, as a genre, feechie stories don’t always get the respect they deserve. Would you believe that there isn’t a single university in America with a Feechie Studies department? Not one! Maybe we should start a movement–or at least circulate a petition.
Because we happen to be one of “those” families (you may choose to define “those” as it suits you), we happen to own a lovely trilogy of Gilgamesh picture books by Ludmilla Zeman. Perhaps being fed a steady diet of such legends is precisely what has prepared my children for the complex realities of the world – evil, trickery, and yes, the existence of Feechies.
I ain’t no engineer or nuthin, but how exactly do you divide your heritage into thirds? Don’t hereditary mixes usually divide evenly by 2?
I wondered that myself, Aaron. 4500 years ago was a long time, though. All I can figure is that something about reproduction has changed in the meanwhile.
Or something about math.
If universities can have Women’s Studies, Africana Studies, and Environmental Studies departments, then it’s sheer absurdity for them not to have a Feechie Studies department.