Winged Sun Disc = Anfloga


The Amber Route
The Aviary of Death
Death's Sting: Daily Telegraph, 28 Oct 2000

Creative Evolution
The original search for immortality was over the seas

On page 297 of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, 2011-2014, by Yuval Noah Harari, it was stimulating to come across a passage headed The Gilgamesh Project. The first paragraph reads as follows:

"Of all mankind's ostensibly insoluble problems, one has remained the most vexing, interesting and important: the problem of death itself. Before the late modern era, most religions and ideologies took it for granted that death was our inevitable fate. Moreover, most faiths turned death into the main source of meaning in life. Try to imagine Islam, Christianity or the ancient Egyptian religion in a world without death. These creeds taught people that they must come to terms with death and pin their hopes on the afterlife, rather than seek to overcome death and live for ever here on earth. The best minds were busy giving meaning to death, not trying to escape it."

The remainder of the excerpt can be found here:

Those words by Juval Noah Harari led me to re-visit my essay from 1999, see here, from which the following is extracted:

Dr Samuel Noah Kramer entitled his seminal study of the past: History begins at Sumer. Literature therefore also begins at Sumer, notably with the Epic of Gilgamesh, on which Kramer commented that : "Its motivating theme, man's anxiety about death and its sublimation in the notion of an immortal name, has a universal significance that lends it high poetic value." (174). The epic's origins can be traced back to 1,700 BC, and probably much further; and it tells of Gilgamesh, king and citizen of Uruk, and Enkidu, the hairy wild man, perhaps a vestigial Neanderthaler (Renault), who lives among the animals. Enkidu is tamed by a woman of the city, and Gilgamesh and Enkidu then join forces and engage in heroic adventures as comrades-in-arms. Their hubris attracts the displeasure of the Gods, and Enkidu is singled out for death. A terrifying passage describes the trance-like dream and premonition of Enkidu, here quoted from the (slightly edited) prose interpretation of Nancy Sandars: "I stood alone before an aweful being. His face was sombre, like the black bird of the storm. He fell upon me with the talons of an eagle and he held me fast, pinioned with his claw, until I smothered. Then he transformed me so that my arms became wings covered with feathers, and led me away to the Hall of Irkalla, the Queen of Darkness, to the house from which none who enters ever returns, down the road from which there is no turning back. There the people sit in darkness; dust is their food and clay their meat. They are clothed like birds, with wings for covering, they see no light. I entered the house of dust and saw the kings of the earth, their crowns put away for ever; rulers and princes, all those who once wore kingly crowns and ruled the world in the days of old." (89). The horrific fascination exerted by this excerpt is attested by its virtually verbatim repetition in The Descent of Ishtar to the Underworld, and Nergal and Ereshkigal, two other Mesopotamian poems. (Dalley 155, 168).

Gilgamesh grieves deeply over the death of Enkidu, which has awakened his apprehension of his own mortality. He embarks on a quest for eternal life, and in so doing becomes, as Andrew George remarks, the first man to discover the technique "of sailing an ocean-going craft". (xiv). On a distant island over the ocean he finds the flower of immortality. But on his return, in a moment of inattention, a snake steals the flower from him, and his fate is to die like other men; although his name would be remembered. The tale of Gilgamesh was known to cultured persons in the Near and Middle East for many centuries.


The serpent depicted above is the very same serpent that led Eve astray in the Garden of Eden. By persuading Eve, and Adam, to eat of the tree of knowledge their mortality was revealed to them, and they were to suffer the knowledge of their inevitable death. Before this they had enjoyed the bliss of ignorance, amountng to eternal youth, along with the other animals in the Garden. Similarly, Gilgamesh, in his nautical search for immortality, was robbed of it by the cunning serpent. The "black bird of the storm", who fell upon Enkidu with the talons of an eagle, holding him fast, "pinioned with his claw, until he smothered" is identical with the anfloga that falls upon the seafarer.

Some comment is necessary on the following critical remark, in connection with The Seafarer: "The work has clearly made a great impression on Ms Beamish, though I'm surprised to see the suggestion on her website that it was inspired by the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh - a poem lost in antiquity until discovered in cuneiform in the 20th century and vanishingly unlikely to have been known to the anonymous Old English poet." Although this critic is not otherwise overly severe, and is obviously not linguistically gifted, it is vanishingly unlikely that "Ms Beamish" considers The Seafarer to have been "inspired" by the Epic of Gilgamesh. Since the epic has been influential in many, many ways throughout millenia, and across many culures, its message about the search for immortality is not specific. In any case, although it has no relevance in this context, the Akkadian text of the Epic of Gilgamesh was discovered in 1849 AD. See below for further comment.

From Bird, Ship, Sun, Sea: The more one paddles in these waters the more one comes to respect the extent to which the traffic of the pre-Christian world in intellectual matters, as much as in goods, was wholesale and continuous. The Seafarer poet, as already implied, was a learned man. Anglo-Saxon verse, certainly by the time the poem was inscribed, was already archaic and backward-looking, partly perhaps because of apprehension at the close of the first millenium, intensified by fears that with the depredations of its pagan cousins from Scandinavia, the society's culture was doomed. In fact it was effectively ended less than a century later, though its final demise was to be sealed by the Christian Norman-French. It is noted by scholars such as Ida Gordon and Sam Newton (11) that much of this verse "is composite, in the sense that it draws freely on a common poetic stock" (Gordon 2); to which I would add, and on a common intercultural heritage.

Harari wrote, as recorded above: "The best minds were busy giving meaning to death, not trying to escape it." But the real significance of death, and the emphasis of its import in the minds of humankind, was that it furnished certain classes with power over others. It is less easy, pace torture, to exert mental power over a man for whom death has no meaning, or for whom the afterlife holds no terror. The sale of indulgences depended upon fear of the hereafter.

It is possible that anyone who has succeeded in reading this far on this site may be wondering what this has to do with The Seafarer. The point is that the poem is evangelical: it is offering the prospect of immortality to those ready to adopt the faith offered. Although, as a devout Christian co-temporary of mine once remarked, his faith was not essentially a matter of "pie in the sky when you die." Nevertheless, the familiar opinion of a well-known thinker is worth quoting: "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people". The seafarer, in his description of the ways he has toiled, is discernible as an oppressed creature.

"It's a poem almost impossible to translate but the version employed, by Charles Harrison-Wallace, is as good as any that I know - it even manages to convey the alliterative nature of the original. I rather think that 'hail scoured my skin' even outdoes the original hægl scurum fleag (hail flew in showers) but 'middle isthmus' won't do for middangeard (middle earth). There's a strangely effective version by Ezra Pound - here - in which he substituted as far as possible the modern equivalent for every word of the Old English (Bitter breast-cares have I abided), sometimes retaining the original (hail-scur flew)." The truth, however, is that Pound seldom in fact found the genuine modern equivalent of every word.

While not disapproving of this critic's approval, his linguistic instincts can only be described as sad. The modern language nearest to Anglish is modern Swedish. In the Swedish language "skura" is cognate with scurum, and means "scour" and "scrub" as much as "shower". Moreover, fleag is cognate with "flay", "flog"; ie removal of skin. Pound's "hail-scur flew" is not English, though causing his bamboozled admirers to commend his imaginary mastery of Anglo-Saxon. "Middle isthmus" is an almost perfect equivalent of middangeard. Incidentally, geard (Swedish gård) does not mean "earth"; it means "yard" (enclosure), or "garden". Interestingly, and incidentally, in Swedish, humankind is female.

Placed on this isthmus of a middle state,
Born to die, and reasoning but to err.
Pope, not Pound

In The oral text of Ezra Pound's "The Seafarer", in the Quarterly Journal of Speech, 1961, 47:2, 173-177, J.B.Bessinger concludes by noting that Ezra's "poem has survived on merits that have little to do with those of an accurate translation".

Back to Methuselah, 1921, by George Bernard Shaw, is wildly entertaining. The Gilgamesh Project matures in 2170 AD.

Other recommended reading:

Armstrong, Karen; Where has God Gone?; in Newsweek, July 12th 1999
Ayto, John; Dictionary of Word Origins; Bloomsbury 1990
Baring, A.& Cashford, J.; The Myth of the Goddess; BCA 1991
Bentley, G.E.Jr. ed; William Blake's Writings Vol I; Jerusalem (1804-20); OUP 1978
Bessinger, J.B. Jr; A Short Dictionary of Anglo-Saxon Poetry; University of Toronto Press 1960.
Blackie; Compact Etymological Dictionary; Blackie & Son, Glasgow no date, c 1945
Bunyan, John; The Pilgrim's Progress; Penguin 1987
Burgess, Anthony; You've Had Your Time; Heinemann 1990
Cavendish, Lucy; In a Dark Country; in The Sunday Telegraph Review, Aug 1st 1999
Cassell; Concise English Dictionary; Cassell Publishers 1989
Chadlington, Peter; How to Rest in Peace; in The Spectator, July 31st 1999
Chambers, R.W., Förster, M., Flower, R.; The Exeter Book of Old English Poetry; facsimile; London 1933
Chapman, George; The Conspiracy of Charles, Duke of Byron, 1608. [Byron's speech at the end of Act III]
Childe, V.Gordon; The Prehistory of European Society; Penguin/Pelican 1958
Cooper, W.R.; The Horus Myth in its relation to Christianity; London 1877
Cummins, W.A.; King Arthur's Place in Prehistory; Alan Sutton 1993
Cunliffe, Barry: The Ancient Celts; OUP 1997
Dalley, Stephanie; Myths from Mesopotamia; World's Classics; OUP 1989
D'Annunzio, Gabriele; Halcyon, trans. J.G.Nichols; Carcanet 1988
Eliot, T.S.; The Waste Land; a facsimile & transcript of the original drafts including the annotations of Ezra Pound; ed. Eliot, Valerie; Faber & Faber 1971
Eliot, T.S.; The Sacred Wood; Methuen 1960
Ellis(-Davidson), Hilda R.; The Road to Hel; CUP 1943
Faulkner, R.O.; The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead; ed Andrews, Carol; British Museum Press 1993
Franklin, Benjamin: "Nothing is certain, except death and taxes"; letter to Jean-Baptiste Le Roy, Nov 13, 1789.
George, Andrew; The Epic of Gilgamesh; Penguin 1999
Glosecki, Stephen O.: Shamanism & Old English Poetry; Garland, New York & London, 1989
Gordon, Ida R. ed.; The Seafarer; University of Exeter Press 1996
Graves, Robert; The White Goddess; Faber & Faber 1959
Graves, Robert; The Crowning Privilege; Cassell & Company 1955
Grierson, H.J.C.; The Poems of John Donne;Vol. I; OUP 1912
Hamer, Richard; A Choice of Anglo-Saxon Verse, Faber & Faber, 1970
Hawkes, C.F.C.; The Prehistoric Foundations of Europe; to the Mycenean Age; Methuen 1940
Hooker, J. & Lewis, G. ed; Selected Poems of Alun Lewis; Unwin Paperbacks, London 1987
Janssen, Frans A.; Dutch translations of the Corpus Hermeticum. Articles.
Jones, Griff Rhys, fwd.; The Nation's Favourite Poems, No 23; BBC Books, London 1996
Joyce, James; Ulysses (1922); The Bodley Head, 1960
Kipling, Rudyard; Verse; Inclusive Edition 1885-1918; Hodder & Stoughton
Klaeber, Fr. ed.; Beowulf; D.C.Heath & Co, Boston 1950
Kramer, Samuel Noah; History Begins at Sumer; Doubleday, New York 1959
Lawrence, D.H.; The Ship of Death and other poems; Faber & Faber 1941
Lee, Laurie; Home from Abroad;
Margoliouth, H.M. ed; Vala, by William Blake; (1804?); OUP 1956
Marsden, John; The Fury of the Northmen; BCA 1993
Marvell, Andrew; Miscellaneous Poems; 1681
Masefield, J.; Salt-Water Ballads; 1902
Merriam, C.Hart; The Dawn of the World; Mythology of the Mewan Indians of California; Cleveland 1910
Newton, Sam; The Origins of Beowulf; D.S.Brewer 1993
Nordgren, Ingemar. I am grateful to Dr.Nordgren, of Källby, Västergötland, Sweden, for drawing this point to my attention.
Pollard, J.; Birds in Greek Life and Myth; Thames & Hudson 1977
Power, Carla; Lost in Silent Prayer; in Newsweek, July 12th 1999
Radice, Betty; Who's Who in the Ancient World; Penguin 1973
Renault, Mary; The Nature of Alexander, Allen Lane 1975, p.191: "The coast dwellers, as Nearchus later agreed, were 'more like beasts than men', covered with hair on body as well as head, using no tools but stones, living on raw fish, drinking from brack pools dug out with their claw-like nails, quite possibly an isolated pocket of Neanderthals." Nearchus was a commander under Alexander at the time of his invasion of Asia, 325 BC.
Rieu, E.V. trans.; The Odyssey, V; BCA/Penguin 1987
Rugg-Gunn, A.; Osiris and Odin: the Origin of Kingship; H.K.Lewis 1940
Sandars, N.K.; The Epic of Gilgamesh; Penguin Books 1964
Skeat W.W.; A Concise Etymological Dictionary of the English Language; Oxford 1882
Simek, Rudolf; Dictionary of Northern Mythology, trans. A. Hall; D.S.Brewer 1993
Smithers G.V.; "The Meaning of The Seafarer and The Wanderer"; Pt.1 Medium Ævum 26 (1957); pp.137-153; Pt.2; 28 (1959) pp.1-22; Appendix; 28 pp.99-104.
Spenser, Edmund; Colin Clouts Come Home Again; 1595
Tacitus, Germania, G.9; trans. H.Mattingly; Penguin 1948
Taube, Evert; Vals i gökottan; CS-1025-1, Columbia DS1003; 1935
Tennyson, Alfred; Poems and Plays; OUP 1965
Vorren, Örnulv & Manker, Ernst; Lapp Life and Customs; trans. Kathleen McFarlane; OUP 1962
Wallis Budge, E.A.; Egyptian Religion: Egyptian Ideas of the Future Life; 1899, Arkana reprint 1987
Watterson, Barbara; Gods of Ancient Egypt; Sutton Publishing 1996
Wessén, Elias; Våra Ord, Norstedts, Stockholm 1960
Yates, Frances A.; Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition; RKP 1964

Reader One [Tweedledummer]

Click on picture for full Tweedle views.


      Look out, Reader One!



Here comes the anfloga!  

Reader Two [Tweedledum]

I get the sense that it somehow manages to keep its footing (with the exception of the comment that the Anglo-Saxon poet wrote with an "Empsonian ambiguity"; how ahead of his time!) .

The meditation on the transition of anfloga is the most compelling argument. Somehow I find myself convinced of the epoch- and culture-spanning relationship between The Seafarer and the Epic of Gilgamesh.

I would like to see three things change in this paper.

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Why not critique a different paper ?

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"Much of the literature of translation is not about errors in translation; it is about errors in understanding the original."
E.Bruce Brooks

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