Posted by: religionthink | November 29, 2007

Greatly Beloved Were You To Me: Laments On The Loss Of A Friend

Greatly Beloved Were You To Me: Laments On The Loss Of A Friend

It is obvious that certain parallels stand out between the texts of the ancient Near East and it becomes obvious that although the same motifs are seen in each of these texts the literary structure is reworked by each culture. The essay below will look at three texts or songs of lamentation. The reader then is encouraged to farther investigate into the subject manner. These pieces of literature, most beautifully written, show the grief in the loss of a friend and possibly lover. The debate rages on the topic of homosexuality in these texts and it is important for the reader to research such claims. This essay however, is not aimed to prove or disprove such a point, but to look at the literature and song of each of the grieving persons.

We will first start with the lamentation of Gilgamesh. In the text of Gilgamesh, Enkidu dies as punishment for killing the bull of heaven. Gilgamesh, so distraught on loosing such a dear friend, goes on a journey in search of eternal life. He seeks out Utanapishtim a Noah/Enock type character who was granted eternal life by the council of the gods for surviving the flood. Gilgamesh is able to obtain the plant of life only to have it stolen by a water serpent when he falls asleep. Below is part the lament of Gilgamesh for Enkidu

Enkidu, your mother and your father are in the wastelands,
I mourn you …”
“Hear me, O Elders of Uruk, hear me, O men!
I mourn for Enkidu, my friend,
I shriek in anguish like a mourner.
You, axe at my side, so trusty at my hand-
you, sword at my waist, shield in front of me
you, my festal garment, a sash over my loins–
an evil demon!) appeared and took him away from me!
My friend, the swift mule, fleet wild ass of the mountain,
panther of the wilderness,
Enkidu, my friend, the swift mule, fleet wild ass of the mountain,
panther of the wilderness,
after we joined together and went up into the mountain,
fought the Bull of Heaven and killed it,
and overwhelmed Humbaba, who lived in the Cedar Forest,
now what is this sleep which has seized you?
You have turned dark and do not hear me!”
But his (Enkidu’s) eyes do not move,
he touched his heart, but it beat no longer.
He covered his friend’s face like a bride,
swooping down over him like an eagle,
and like a lioness deprived of her cubs
he keeps pacing to and fro.
He shears off his curls and heaps them onto the ground,
ripping off his finery and casting it away as an abomination.
Just as day began to dawn, Gilgamesh …
and issued a call to the land:
“You, blacksmith! You, lapidary! You, coppersmith!
You, goldsmith! You, jeweler!
Create ‘My Friend,’ fashion a statue of him.
… he fashioned a statue of his friend
His features …
…,your chest will be of lapis lazuli, your skin will be of gold.”1

Turning now to the Iliad we come to the lament of Achilles over Patroclus. Patroclus is a cousin and foster brother of Achilles and the two are close in the texts of the Iliad. Achilles is fond towards Patroclus when harsh toward others. Patroclus is eventually killed by Hector and Achilles, after mourning returns to the battle field to avenge the death of his dear friend. This leads to the death of Hector downfall of Achilles . 2 In Bullfinches Mythology states “Achilles heard the fate of his friend with such distress that Antilochus feared for a while that he would destroy himself. His groans reached the ears of his mother, Thetis, far down in the deeps of ocean where she abode, and she hastened to him to inquire the cause. She found him overwhelmed with self-reproach that he had indulged his resentment so far, and suffered his friend to fall a victim to it. But his only consolation was the hope of revenge.”3 We read of the greif of Achilles’ loss below.

Then said Achilles in his great grief, “I would die here and now, in that I could not save my comrade. He has fallen far from home, and in his hour of need my hand was not there to help him. What is there for me? Return to my own land I shall not, and I have brought no saving neither to Patroclus nor to my other comrades of whom so many have been slain by mighty Hector; I stay here by my ships a bootless burden upon the earth, I, who in fight have no peer among the Achaeans, though in council there are better than I. Therefore, perish strife both from among gods and men, and anger, wherein even a righteous man will harden his heart- which rises up in the soul of a man like smoke, and the taste thereof is sweeter than drops of honey. Even so has Agamemnon angered me. And yet- so be it, for it is over; I will force my soul into subjection as I needs must; I will go; I will pursue Hector who has slain him whom I loved so dearly, and will then abide my doom when it may please Jove and the other gods to send it. Even Hercules, the best beloved of Jove- even he could not escape the hand of death, but fate and Juno’s fierce anger laid him low, as I too shall lie when I am dead if a like doom awaits me. Till then I will win fame, and will bid Trojan and Dardanian women wring tears from their tender cheeks with both their hands in the grievousness of their great sorrow; thus shall they know that he who has held aloof so long will hold aloof no longer. Hold me not back, therefore, in the love you bear me, for you shall not move me.” 4

Moving on to our final example we come to the texts concerning David and Jonathan. The texts of I Samuel show a strong connection between the son of King Saul and the “rebel “ David. Many times through anger the king devised to kill the biblical hero David but was soothed by his son Jonathan. We read in the biblical texts of the pact between David and Jonathan.

When David had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that he was wearing, and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt. (1Sa 18:1-5 NRSV)

One account that occurs in I Samuel 20:14-23 Jonathan assists David in finding out the true intentions of his father King Saul. In this account we find the words of the writer of the text highlighting the relationship with the words “Jonathan made David swear again by his love for him; for he loved him as he loved his own life.”

The story ends with the tragic death of Saul and his sons in battle the found in I Samuel 31. According to the writer of the text, David was wrought with grief over the deaths and especially with that of Jonathan. In II Samuel 1 David chants a lament over his best friend and the dead king.

(He ordered that The Song of the Bow be taught to the people of Judah; it is written in the Book of Jashar.) He said: Your glory, O Israel, lies slain upon your high places! How the mighty have fallen! Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon; or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice, the daughters of the uncircumcised will exult. You mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew or rain upon you, nor bounteous fields! For there the shield of the mighty was defiled, the shield of Saul, anointed with oil no more. From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan did not turn back, nor the sword of Saul return empty. Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely! In life and in death they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions. O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you with crimson, in luxury, who put ornaments of gold on your apparel. How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle! Jonathan lies slain upon your high places. I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women. How the mighty have fallen, and the weapons of war perished! (2Sa 1:18-27NRSV)

At times it is a great task to come to a conclusion on how to place each of the texts in their proper context. Word puns, terminology, and other literary issues arise from the translations, commentaries, and supporting research. Also modern day religious, cultural, and social views come into play when reading such texts. It may be beneficial to the reader to farther study these texts and the concept and usage of the word “love” and how it was interpreted in each of these cultures.

1. The Epic of Gilgamesh. Translated by Maureen Gallery Kovacs. Electronic Edition by Wolf Carnahan, I998. Tablet X
2. “Achilles and Patroclus” Wikipedia
3. Bulfinch, Thomas. The Age of Fable. New York: Review of Reviews, 1913;, 2000.
4. Butler, Samuel.The Iliad of Homer. New York, . J. Black1942. Book XVIII

Farther reading:

Homosexuality and the Bible
Epic of Gilgamesh
David and Jonathan

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