Bricks And Mortar Essay, Research Paper
Bricks and Mortar
And so they traveled until they reached Uruk.
There Gilgamesh the king said to the boatman:
“Study the brickwork, study the fortification;
climb the great ancient staircase to the terrace;
study how it is made; from the terrace see
the planted and fallow fields, the ponds and orchards.
One league is the inner city, another league
is orchards; still another the fields beyond;
over there is the precinct of the temple.
Three leagues and the temple precinct of Ishtar
measure Uruk, the city of Gilgamesh.
–Gilgamesh, Tablet XI, lines 366-376
Apollo’s temple was built of ancient rock,
And there I prayed: ‘Grant us a home, Apollo,
Give walls to weary men, a race , a city
That will abide; preserve Troy’s other fortress,
The remnant left by the Greeks and hard Achilles.
Whom do we follow? where are we bidden to go
To find our settlement? An omen, father!’
–The Aeneid, Book III, lines 83-89
They protect, shelter, defend, preserve, guard, house, and outlast us. To a wandering man without a home, sturdy walls are a godsend, able to foster future generations of conquerors. To a restless man searching for immortality, walls may be the only things that outlive him. Gilgamesh and Aeneas came from similar backgrounds, but lived very different lives. Both were part man and part god, and both were respected by their followers. However, Gilgamesh was the king of a stable land; drowsy with power, he searched for adventure and excitement to stave off the boredom of the crown. Aeneas was driven from home, a leader of a band of exiles who had adventure seemingly drop into their laps. For both Gilgamesh and Aeneas walls had a very special meaning; walls were stability in an unstable world and more– they were a connection to the gods.
In some form or another, both men longed to have their fame live on. Gilgamesh chose to seek the How-the-Old-Man-Once-Again-Becomes-a-Young-Man plant, because it would grant him immortality. When he lost the plant, he realized he was fighting a losing battle. He decided, instead, to take pride in the glory of his city, strong and sturdy: “‘Study the brickwork, study the fortification.” He knew the quality of the brickwork and the fortifications, that the walls of Uruk would stand for a long, long time. After a life full of adventure and mishap, and after having lost a chance at immortality, the walls were one of the few things that could give him a sense of stability, permanence. He invited the boatman to experience the wonders of his city: “climb the great ancient staircase . . ..” The word “ancient” is also comforting, because it implies the city existed long before Gilgamesh, and would probably continue to exist long after he was dead.
Aeneas is also looking for permanence: “Give walls to weary men.” The word “weary” suggests a constant struggle. After years of searching for a home, the realization of walls would be the stuff of dreams. He went on to say “a race, a city that will abide.” He linked the survival of his people, the “race,” with the longevity of the city walls, so that the strength of the city would reflect upon the strength of the people. When he said, “preserve Troy’s other fortress, the remnant left by the Greeks . . ..” He was referring to the Trojan refugees. But the word fortress evokes images of tall, strong walls, unshakable and able to withstand any attack. By likening his people to a fortress, Aeneas was reemphasizing the importance of endurance in the fight for survival. Aeneas was spurned on by fate, knowing it was his duty to found a line of men who would become the future conquerors of the world, building an empire that would last for centuries.
Gilgamesh and Aeneas relied upon the structure of walls for a sense of endurance and balance, but the city walls also provided a link to their gods. Gilgamesh emphasized the importance of the temple in his description of Uruk: “Over there is the precinct of the temple. Three leagues and the temple precinct of Ishtar measure Uruk, the city of Gilgamesh.” The temple district is associated and should be synonymous with the gods. By singling out the temple district, he created an area unique to all others in the city, because it was the only precinct worth mentioning. The second sentence made the temple precinct of Ishtar an integral part of the city of Gilgamesh, as though it would not be Uruk without that particular precinct. It would have sufficed to say, “Four leagues measure Uruk . . .”, but naming the precinct brings the gods into the city, and making the temple an indispensable part of Uruk makes the gods an indispensable part of Uruk. The temple, as a fortified brick structure, is an outcropping of the city walls; the stability Gilgamesh feels from the city walls is identical to the feeling from the temple, but more so because the temple houses the ancient, immortal (and thus unchanging) gods.
For Aeneas, walls were a direct boon from the gods: “Apollo’s temple was built of ancient rock, and there I prayed: ‘Grant us a home, Apollo . . ..” It was important to Aeneas that Apollo’s temple be built of ancient rock because “ancient” suggests immortality and “rock” is permanent, both of which can be characteristics attributed to the gods; thus it is fitting that Apollo’s temple be characteristic of Apollo himself. Aeneas then pleaded with Apollo to provide walls for the exiles, and thereby fulfill his destiny. Thus when Aeneas obtained his walls, they could be attributed to the goodwill of Apollo.
The epics of Gilgamesh and Aeneas are both about finding stability in a shaky world. The walls Gilgamesh and Aeneas built for themselves represent such stability, and provided a means by which their fame could outlive them. But more than that, their walls provided stability in their connection to the gods, the gods being the epitome of permanence and immortality.