To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Thursday, June 30, 2016

From “Technicians of the Sacred Expanded”: Genesis Three (Enuma Elish), with Commentary

Translation from Old Babylonian by Harris Lenowitz

When sky above had no name
          earth beneath no given name
   APSU       the first       their seeder
  Saltsea     their mother     who bore them
                                                                mixed waters

 Before pasture held together
            thicket be found
no gods being
no names for them
no plans

the gods were shaped inside them

LAHMU AND LAHAMU were brought out
while they grew
                 became great
ANSAR and KISAR were shaped
 Skyline       Earthline                  much greater

                                made the days long
                                added the years

ANU was their son
 Sky       their rival
ANSAR made his first son ANU his equal
Skyline                                 Sky
      ANU           NUDIMMUD
and Sky        got  Manmaker       equal
   (EA)          his fathers' boss
                                             wide wise
                                            full knowing
                      ANSAR         strong
stronger than Skyline his father
no equal among his brother gods

The godbrothers      together
stormed in TIAMAT
                   Salt sea
stirred up TIAMAT's guts
rushing at the walls

Not Deepwater hush their noise
 Salt sea struck dumb
They did bad things to her
          acted badly, childishly
until Deepwater             seeder of great gods
                           called up MUMMU
Speaker     messenger     makes my liver. happy
                                         come!                            TIAMAT
                                                            Let's go see Saltsea

 They went                         TIAMAT  
           sat down in front of Saltsea
          (talk about plans for their first-born gods):

Deepwater     opened his mouth      said
to TIAMAT              said loud:
"The way they act makes me sick:
during the day               no rest
at night                          no sleep

I'll destroy them!
      stop their doings!
It'll be quiet again         we can sleep”

When Saltsea heard this
                                      she stormed
                                      yelled at her husband
                                      was sick
                "Wipe out what we made?!
                 The way they act is a pain
                                                           but let's wait"

  MUMMU                                   APSU
 Speaker answered     advising Deepwater:           MUMMU
                                                             bad advice Speaker's
"Go onl
               Put an end to their impertinence
rest              during the day
sleep            at night”

When APSU       heard him
        Deepwater               his face gleamed
                                                                      for the hurts planned
                                                                               against his godsons
                                           hugged MUMMU
                                           set him in his lap
                                           kissed him

 What they planned in conference was repeated to their first born
They wept
         milled around     distressed
         kept silence                                                             


     Source: Translation from Enuma Elish by Harris Lenowitz, originally published in Acheringa/Ethnopoetics, new series, vol. 1, no. 1, 1975, pp. 31-33, & later in H. Lenowitz & Charles Doria: Origins: Creation Texts from the Ancient Mediterranean (Doubleday & Company, New York, 1975).

     (1) The god-world of Enuma Elish starts in turbulence & struggle: a universe the makers/poets knew or dreamed-into-life & felt the terror/horror at its heart.  It is this rush & crush of primal elements the poetry here translates into gods & monsters, reflecting as it does a natural & human world in chaos/turmoil.  The scene it leaves for us, replete with names of gods & powers, follows a story line encountered in many other times & places.  In the Babylonian Enuma Elish, tracing back to still earlier Sumerian sources, the two primeval forces are the god Apsu (Deepwater/Freshwater) & the goddess Tiamat (Saltsea), whose offspring will eventually destroy them both & lead the way for the triumphant reign of the new god Marduk, killing the goddess off at last & using her severed corpse to form the earth & sky, with humans coming in their wake.  The ferocity of word & image remains a key to poetic mind both then & now: the dark side of the joy & beauty that would be needed too to make their world & ours complete.
     (2)  “The Babylonian Creation Myth ... relates how the universe evolved from nothingness to an organized structure with the city of Babylon at its center. When the primordial sweet and salt waters – male Apsu and female Tiamat – mingled, two beings appeared, Lahmu and Lahamu, that is, mud and muddy. The image suits the southern Babylonian view over the Persian Gulf perfectly: when the sea recedes, mud arises. A chain reaction had started [...]” (Mark Van De Mieroop, Philosophy Before the Greeks: The Pursuit in Ancient Babylonia, 2016, p.4)
     And further: “The ancient Babylonians certainly were not humanists but deeply committed to a theocentric view of the world.  Yet, they believed that humans could have a firm knowledge of reality as the gods had created it, and continued to direct it, because at the time of creation the gods had provided the tools for understanding, as the Enūma Eliš shows. Creation in that myth was a work of organization: Marduk did not fashion the universe ex nihilo. Rather, he created by putting order into the chaos of Tiamat’s bodily parts. And just as he ordered the physical world, he organized knowledge and structured it through writing [...] the Babylonian theory of knowledge was [...] fundamentally rooted in a rationality that depended on an informed reading. Reality had to be read and interpreted as if it were a text. [...] ‘I read, therefore I am’ could be seen as the first principle of Babylonian epistemology.” (Ibid, p.10)
      (3) “What’s presented here, the Babylonian genesis retold, is the paramount interest, & the work of the ones who present it is an interest almost equal; & all of it crucial to the unfolding, changing recovery of cultures & civilizations that has now entered its latest phase.  To bring across this sense of myth as process & conflict, Harris Lenowitz & Charles Doria, working as both poets & scholars in Origins, make use of all those ‘advances in translation technique, notation, & sympathy’ developed over the last half century, from the methods of ‘projective verse’ to those of etymological translation or of that recovery of  the oral dimension of the poem that the present editor & others have, wisely or not, spoken of elsewhere as ‘total translation.’  The picture that emerges is one of richness, fecundity at every turning, from the first image of poem on page to the constantly new insights into the possibilities of ‘origin.’  And this allows that ‘clash of symbols’ which, those like Paul Ricoeur tell us, is both natural to mind & forms its one sure hedge against idolatry.”  (Adapted from J.R. in the pre-face to Origins, 1975)
      (4) “We live in an age in which inherited literature is being hit from two sides, from contemporary writers who are laying bases of new discourse at the same time that ... scholars ... are making available pre-Homeric and pre-Mosaic texts which are themselves eye-openers.” (Charles Olson, “Homer & Bible,” 1957)
N.B.  In the translation, above, god names are underlined throughout, with the English translation directly beneath.

No comments: