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Allusion is not Illusion

You'll pry my books off my cold, dead body. By the time you shift them all I'll be flat and dessicated.

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Lugalbanda: The Boy Who Got Caught Up in a War: An Epic Tale From Ancient Iraq - Kathy Henderson, Jane Ray The oldest written Sumerian story tells of the youth of Lugalbanda, father of the famous Gilgamesh. Lugalbanda was the youngest son of Enmerkar, who drained the marshes to build the city of Uruk (according to myth, at the direction of the goddess Inanna). Wanting to make Inanna's city the most beautiful, Enmerkar decides to conquer the beautiful neighboring city of Aratta and pillage all its lovely art. His sons all go with him, but during the difficult journey through the mountains, young Lugalbanda becomes seriously ill and is left in a cave to recuperate. He recovers by praying to the various Sumerian deities and is able to continue his journey through the mountains to find his family. Lost, he instead finds the monstrous Anzu birds and obtains their help in reaching Aratta, where the war isn't going so well but his brothers are happy to see him. He is sent back to Uruk to consult the goddess and uses her advice to end the war.

Aside from the lovely Ray illustrations and inherent coolness of translating a really ancient, previously obscure story, here are some specific elements I liked:

--The family. Everyone seems to get along, and instead of being jealous the brothers all love one another. They are depicted as weeping when Lugalbanda becomes ill.

--The gods. People just go talk to them when they have problems, respectfully but not grovellingly. Ans the gods talk back in straightforward ways, no vague signs or confusing prophecies.

--The "monsters". They have shark teeth and eat bulls whole! In most stories that would be treated as adequate justification for slaying them and stealing their treasure, but that doesn't happen here. Lugalbanda instead bakes them sweet cakes and decorates their chick (rather hilariously, really) with his make-up and hair wreaths. So it is pretty! The parent Anzu birds are so pleased that they offer him a gift.

--The war. Even though Enmerkar is her chosen dude, Inanna won't help him destroy Aratta. She tells him to just bring some artisans back instead. Both cities get dolled up and everyone is happy.

The title was a little misleading -- it makes Lugalbanda sound like an innocent bystander when in fact he insists on going to war because his brothers are going. But perhaps that was the original title. This question may even be answered in the extensive notes on source and translations, which I only read part of.