In William Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” on plate 9, there is this aphorism:
The apple tree never asks the beech how he shall grow, nor the lion, the horse, how he shall take his prey.
In other words, a tree that bares a sweet fruit does not seek the council of one that bares a bitter nut; and the wild animal does not take hunting advice from a domesticated one.
In the Gilgamesh Epic, Gilgamesh is, as it were, a fruitful apple tree and free roaming Mesopotamian lion. It ill befits his nature to receive cautious advice from those not of his nature.
And yet, in Part 2 of the Epic, this is what happens. Before the young lion begins his journey to the Land of Cedars, and a hunt for the forest dragon, Humbaba, he receives unsolicited advice from the domesticated urban-dwelling horses of instruction:
The people collected and the counsellors in the streets and in the market-place of Uruk; they came through the gate of seven bolts and Gilgamesh spoke to them in the market-place: I, Gilgamesh, go to see the creature of whom such things are spoken, the rumour of whose name fills the world. I will conquer him in his cedar wood and show the strength of the sons of Uruk, all the world shall know of it. I am committed to this enterprise: to climb the mountain, to cut down the cedar, and leave behind me an enduring name.” The counsellors of Uruk, the great market, answered him, “Gilgamesh, you are young, your courage carries you too far, you cannot know what this enterprise means which you plan. We have heard that Humbaba is not like men who die, his weapons are such that none can stand against them; the forest stretches for ten thousand leagues in every direction; who would willingly go down to explore its depths? As for Humbaba, when he roars it is like the torrent of the storm, his breath is like fire and his jaws are death itself. Why do you crave to do this thing, Gilgamesh? It is no equal struggle when one fights with Humbaba, that battering-ram.”
Gilgamesh’s response is to turn to his companion Enkidu and laugh:
When he heard these words of the counsellors Gilgamesh looked at his friend and laughed. “How shall I answer them; shall I say I am afraid of Humbaba, I will sit at home all the rest of my days?”
“The weak in courage,” wrote Blake, “is strong in cunning.” Uruk’s city dwelling counsellors have learned caution and cunning, and “If the lion was advise’d by the fox, he would be cunning” (Plate 9).
But Gilgamesh is not a fox, but a lion, and:
The fox provides for himself, but God provides for the lion.
This youthful archetypal nature conquerer, shunning the advice of elders, and boldly going forward with a self-generated vision recalls the opening of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, in which a single-minded architect, Howard Roark, sets forth to bring new things into the world. The opening line of that novel is:
Howard Roark laughed.
Gilgamesh would have understood.