A Vernon author has gone back to the beginnings of civilization to bring back lessons for the societies we live in today.
Murray Shaw — an author, artist and retired mental health therapist who wrote 14,000 social histories in his 35-year career — became fascinated with the Epic of Gilgamesh 18 years ago, and spent the last 10 years drawing from everything he could get his hands on related to the King of Ancient Sumer who lived in 1200 BC. That decade of research and writing has culminated into his newly released book, titled Gilgamesh as the Beginning and End of Western Civilization.
The book is Shaw’s poetic rendering of the classic Gilgamesh story and he’ll be sharing from his book during a launch event at the Okanagan Regional Library on Oct. 23 from 7-8 p.m. There’s a key question he’ll be asking those in attendance: is the West in decline? (Spoiler alert: the answer, according to Shaw, is yes).
The Epic of Gilgamesh is where written literature begins; it’s the oldest written story in the world dating to 2200 BC, set in the ancient Sumerian city of Uruk in what is now southern Iraq. King Gilgamesh is the first original hero — a model for Hercules — and yet he was flawed in ways that Shaw says reflect our modern society.
“I call them his foibles, and there are four: disregard of women, disregard of the environment, valuing wealth and fame above everything else and a search for immortality. These are the thrusts of all of his adventures, and they are, ironically, ours too.”
Shaw grants that our civilization has made progress on equality of women, but said Gilgamesh’s disregard of the environment and lust for wealth and fame are dangerously prevalent.
Shaw also has his own theories about the Epic’s heroine, Inanna, who as Uruk’s goddess of love and beauty was more or less the original Aphrodite or Venus.
“What happens in the story is Gilgamesh rejects Inanna’s romantic overtures,” Shaw said. “There’s been all kinds of scholarship on that that question of why he would do that, and I think I have come up with the answer in the book.”
Shaw plays this thesis of his close to the chest, which means those who are curious will have to wait until the free Oct. 23 event to hear it straight from the source.