This work was commissioned by the Mythstories, Museum of Myth and Fable, Wem, Shropshire. (www.mythstories.com)
The project was to produce eight tactile ceramic relief tablets (40cm x 30cm approx) depicting scenes from the epic story of Gilgamesh, a half god, half human giant from ancient Babylonian times.
The scenes were designed and created by Neil Dalrymple using the ancient Babylonian style of stone sculpture.
This work tells selected extracts of the story of Gilgamesh and is made from stoneware fired clay. The tablets were textured, coloured and finished to give an impression of ancient stone.
On the one hand there are the gods, and on the other are humans: Breeds apart; but when they breed together all you get is trouble; big trouble!
Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, was two-thirds God and one-third human, and 100% trouble. 18 feet tall, a seething tower of testosterone. None of the women were safe from him and all men were his slaves.
The humans would turn their backs on the gods if they did not tame Gilgamesh so the gods created the King a massive playmate, Enkidu; part-man, part-beast. The two giants bonded in combat and then went off on noble adventures leaving the people of Uruk to get on with their lives.
Tragedy struck when Enkidu died and Gilgamesh experienced grief for the first time. Not just grief and loss, but also the realisation that one day death would come to him too.
Gilgamesh could not come to terms with his friend’s death or the looming destiny of his own final fate: He set off on a quest to find eternal life.
He walked to the end of the earth, to the dark mountain where the sun rose and set. He walked further through absolute emptiness between this world and the next; the gods’ domain. He needed to find Ut’napishtim and his wife, the couple who had saved the world from the great flood and had been rewarded with life eternal; he needed to find the secret.
After facing the temptations of the gods and navigating the sea of death he found them. Ut’napishtim said he would give up his secret if Gilgamesh could conquer the ‘little death’ of sleep, but he was so, so tired.
Gilgamesh was about to return defeated when Ut’napishtim’s wife pleaded with her husband – not eternal life, but what about rejuvenation?
Ut’napishtim told his boatman Urshanabi to take Gilgamesh to the place at the centre of the oceans, to hold the rope and send Gilgamesh diving down to fetch the thorny plant “the old man becomes young.”
Gilgamesh had the plant in his hand; all he had to do was return home. But half-way across the desert an oasis lured him to take his rest. As he slept a serpent smelt the magic plant and ate it from his hand.
Gilgamesh awoke to see the serpent slithering away, leaving its old dry skin discarded on the sand.
The plant was gone but the realisation had come, ‘it is not for man to live forever’.