The 365 Commitment

Bull of Heaven

Buried deep in the hallways of the Royal Museum of Art and History in Brussels is a small 5X4 terracotta relief plaque of the epic Sumerian Hero Gilgamesh slaying the Bull of Heaven. This piece of art dates to around 2000 years BC and is a remnant of one of the oldest surviving set of poems known to humans. The epic tales of Gilgamesh. The origins of these stories were probably from an ancient Mesopotamian king who has a rather creative scribe that would write of his king’s many exploits. Many classical traditions have much in common with these stories, having tales of Gilgamesh’s travels and interaction with the heavens and the netherworld. This caused quite the stir when the translations were discovered in the late 1800s. Tales of surviving floods and other similarities are in the poetic work such as seven years of plenty and famine. Which work came first? Who knows. Clearly cultures have been borrowing from each other for as long as there was a person who liked to tell stories by the camp fire.

I like the story behind the Bull of Heaven, because of some of the inspiration it can provide if you really think it through. Ancient stories have a tendency to do that. The reason the story survived for so long is because encapsulated in the narrative is usually a powerful life lesson or two immortalized by the story teller. There are few versions of this story, and the probably have a lot to do with the constellations in the starry night seen back in ancient times. The queen of heaven, or Inanna, known as Ishtar by some cultures, was the goddess of sex, love, war, justice and political power. I mean, why not throw all those concepts together, right?

Represented by the planet Venus, I am sure that there was some observers that saw the planet make its way through various constellations and crafted a story around this epic flight through the heavens. At any rate, Innana gets mad, jealous, upset by Gilgamesh. The story is mostly unclear on this subject, but you can probably guess. Gilgamesh probably turned her advances down and so naturally she begs for the assistance of the Bull of Heaven to attack Gilgamesh. With his companion, Enkidu, they slay this bull and taunt the goddess, for which Enikdu is condemned to death by the gods.

There is a lot of analysis around fear of death, consequences of action, the devastation and destruction bad decisions can have on a society, and above all the danger of insulting powerful women! I personally think it is interesting to contemplate the struggle we all must face to overcome personal weaknesses and like Gilgamesh can ascend to greater heights only by conquering our greatest fears.

I look forward to another year trying to conquer the bull of heaven. Two down, five more to go.

Guy Reams


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