The Monsters and the Critics: Mesopotamian Heroes, Myths, and Monsters

Karen Sonik

In the land bounded by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the first cities rose in Mesopotamia’s southern plains. Bastions of human civilization, ordered and protected by their patron gods, the cities were yet perpetually threatened by the wilderness beyond – the steppes, the deserts, the mountains, and the seas – which sheltered not only human enemies who rose at uneasy intervals to sweep violently over the cities of the plains but also those terrifying supernatural entities, the demons, that stalked their human prey in the darkness, and the monsters, those lonely and terrible denizens of the rocky mountains, the thickly wooded forests, and the tumultuous seas, that rose to challenge the power of the gods themselves. The relationship between the civilized and the wild was by no means a purely hostile one, however; rather, the visual and literary treatments of the subject are characterized by a remarkable subtlety and sensitivity of handling. Focusing here on the literary texts of the region, and especially the Gilgamesh narratives, this lecture explores that dynamic and unstable interface where order meets chaos, as well as more compelling questions about the role, interaction, and importance of heroes and monsters in Mesopotamia.

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