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In search of the myth in history : the narrative of the quest from sacred to secular Zimmerman, Kate Ballantyne 1993

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IN SEARCH OF THE MYTH IN HISTORY:THE NARRATIVE OF THE QUEST FROM SACRED TO SECULARbyKATE BALLANTYNE ZIMMERMANHon.B.A., The University of Guelph, 1986A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OFTHE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OFMASTERS OF ARTSinTHE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES(Department of Anthropology)We accept this thesis as conformingto the required standarflTHE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIAOctober 1993© Kate Ballantyne Zimmerman, 1993In presenting this thesis in partial fulfilment of the requirements for an advanceddegree at the University of British Columbia, I agree that the Library shall make itfreely available for reference and study. I further agree that permission for extensivecopying of this thesis for scholarly purposes may be granted by the head of mydepartment or by his or her representatives. It is understood that copying orpublication of this thesis for financial gain shall not be allowed without my writtenpermission.(Signature)Department of ^AnthropologyThe University of British ColumbiaVancouver, CanadaDate^October 14, 1993DE-6 (2/88)ABSTRACTFollowing the work of Edward Said, the constructed truth of the Western Otherthrough a tradition of literary imagery (tropes), and the way these constructions inform andguide the agency and praxis of a dominating West, are now fundamental concepts for muchanthropological analysis. Through examining the Western narrative of "the quest" as itappears in three different periods of Western history, this paper examines the emergence ofliterary tropes from mythological narratives. In so doing the paper raises two questions:First, in what way does the advent of symbolic coding for language, or literacy, change therelationship between the social actor/agent and narrative? Second, in what way does myth,in its anthropological sense, maintain its presence in the Western historical tradition? Thispaper, then, is an anthropology of the West. Of particular relevance here are the works ofEdward Said, Jonathan Hill, Jack Goody, Walter Ong, and Northrop Frye.Keywords: myth, metaphor, mythological narrative, literacy, literary trope, action11TABLE OF CONTENTSAbstractTable of ContentsAcknowledgement^ iv.etlicq-A ion •^ 1The Quest^ 4The Epic of Gilgamesh^ 6The Mad and The Odyssey 9Venture to the Interior 15On the Road^ 18Discussion and Conclusion 19Footnotes^ 33Bibliography 35ForYanet Digby ZimmermanandThomas Adam ZimmermanivIN SEARCH OF THE MYTH IN HISTORY:TIHE NARRATIVE OF THE QUEST FROM SACRED TO SECULARIn his examination of the phenomenon he calls Orientalism, Edward Said hasdemonstrated the critical relationship between Western literary tropes and the politico-historical association of the West with the Oriental Other. The constructed truth of theOther through a tradition of imagery, and the way these constructions inform and guidethe agency and praxis of a dominating West are now fundamental concepts for muchanthropological analysis. By examining the Western discourse of Otherness Said hasimplied a further question: What are the discourses of self in the West that bothcontribute to the construction of identity and inform social action? This paper examinesone of these discourses, specifically that of the quest. The objective is not to examinethe notion of the self, but rather the relationship between the narrative of the quest,with its mythological origins, and the quest as a metaphor which operates in bothsecular literature and social action. The paper will illustrate, then, how a mythologicalnarrative, which takes place out of specific time and space, is unmoored from itsoriginal context to become a guide for social action in objectified, historical time andspace.The project should also be understood in relation to Jonathan Hill's editedvolume, Rethinking History and Myth. A principle concern of this work is to challengeany lingering notions of indigenous cultures as Levi-Straussian "cold" societies. "Cold"societies were defined as structurally frozen and a-historical, or unable to demonstrate areflexivity toward historical process (Hill 1988:1-5). Where Hill and the book'scontributors are concerned with discovering history, or historical consciousness inmyth, my purpose here will be to attempt to find myth, or elements of mythicconsciousness, in history.Said, a literary critic, and Hill, a "neo-structural" anthropologist, may appear torepresent disparate points on the map of socio-cultural theory, but in extending theimplications of their work they come to an interesting convergence. Where a reflexiveawareness of historical process and event is encoded in the narratives of oral-mythbased cultures, we must also consider the notion that the anthropological concept ofmyth has an informing presence in literate state level cultures. When Said speaks of theliterary tropes that inform and guide social action and policy in the West, he reveals theoperations of a powerful pejorative mythology. In a purely pejorative sense, myths arefanciful delusions - self-serving stories fabricated out of misinformation, or anuncritical apprehension of the unfamiliar. But to consider that myth in itsanthropological sense has an informing presence in the Western cultural tradition mayenlarge our understanding of the persistent power of Said's tropes.Literary tropes and the narratives they compose have their origins inmythological narratives. As discussed throughout Hill's volume, myths have a broadtypological range. In general, however, "the needs of community life and ofindividuals within the community find their reflection in the myths that are recalled,told and retold, thereby enveloping the myths in the context of community life"(Vecsey 1991:24). Further, "Myths tend to anchor the present generation in ameaningful, significant past, functioning as eternal and ideal models for humanbehaviour and goals" (Vecsey:24). These statements are made in connection withcultures relying on oral traditions, but their equal application to Western literary tropesand the power these have to inform social action is suggestive. Through an examinationof the Western narrative of the quest I hope to show how myth is present andoperational in what is otherwise known as the historical tradition and consciousness.This is not to suggest that the myths of indigenous cultures and the informingliterature of the West are exactly synonymous. In looking for the myth elements in the2latter, we are clearly looking for a particular configuration of myth. In the same way,the contributors to Hill's volume have discussed particular configurations of historicalconsciousness as this is present in cultures relying on oral traditions. Perhaps theclearest example of a reflexive awareness of historical event in orally based cultures isin Janet Chernela's discussion of the narratives of the Arapaco of Northeastern Brazil(1988:35-49). Briefly, Chernela relates how the Arapaco's myth concerning the birth ofa snake-human culture hero, through the union of a woman and an anaconda, istransformed, and generates a novel semantic category created to encompass the non-native technology of whites (eg. firearms). The anaconda, who is the mythic ancestorof the Arapaco, and thus the body of their creation, is transformed into a submarineladen with white technology. Chernela's discussion of these narratives relates not onlyhow the second myth incorporates historical event (the introduction to and acquisitionof white technologies), but also how it serves to empower the Arapaco sense ofautonomy in face of Western state domination (Chernela 1988).For the mythic consciousness, then, "If human actors are perceived as havingany power to change their conditions, it is because they possess some form ofcontrolled access to the hierarchical structuring of the mythic power of liminal, neither-here-nor-there beings" (Hill 1988:6). For the historical consciousness, on the otherhand, "social action in the present... is informed by knowledge of past times that arequalitatively the same as the present" (Hill 1988:6). The historical past is understoodas being inhabited by fully human ancestors and "culture heroes" (or villains) who werethe agents of social change in an objectified time and space. To affect change throughhuman action, or agency, is the source of empowerment for the historicalconsciousness.Said's concern is with the narratives, and narrative techniques, which bothinform and guide this action. What is not the concern of most work demonstrating howliterary tropes inform and affect action in the historical socio-political process (Said,3Berkhofer 1978, White 1973, for instance) is tracing the process of the emergence ofliterary tropes from myth narratives. Through an examination of the Western narrativeof the quest, I hope to trace this process. In so doing I am concerned with raising twoquestions: first, how does the transformation of oral myth into literature change therelationship between social actor/agent and narratives? Second, how and where doesmyth, in the anthropological sense, maintain its presence in an historical tradition?The pieces chosen for analysis are the Sin-leqi-unninni version of The Epic ofGilgamesh, Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Laurens van der Post's Venture to the Interior,and Jack Kerouac's On the Road. These works have been chosen as a representativesample of the various forms of the quest theme as it appears in different stages ofWestern history. It is their "various forms" that are of interest here. Gilgamesh is amyth in almost the same sense that we speak of indigenous mythologies; On the Roadis clearly not. By focussing on the theme of the quest that unites these works I want totrace the process of this transformation, and so address the question posed above. Thetheme of the quest has inspired an enormous and fascinating literature over the agesthat would be difficult to encompass in even the most ambitious study. The pieceschosen for analysis here have been selected in order to accord with the objectives of thepaper.The QuestJanice Stout has defined the quest as "a journey of search. Its goal is bothradically uncertain and radically significant, beyond definition or rational assessment"(Stout 1983:88). This part of Stout's definition applies more broadly to both theimpulse to leave and the resolution to endure the hardships of the journey. InGilgamesh, the driving restlessness of the hero is lamented by his mother, the goddessNinsun, who raises the following lament to the sun god Shamash, "Why have youraised up my son Gilgamesh and laid on him a/restless heart that will not sleep?"4(Gardner and Maier: 115). Bruce Chatwin raises the queries of Pascal in thisconnection: "Why, he asked, must a man with sufficient to live on feel driven to diverthimself on long sea voyages? To dwell in another town? To go off in search ofpeppercorn?" (Chatwin 1987:161). Where Pascal laments the urge, Walt Whitmanrevels in it: "Sail forth - steer for the deep waters only,/Reckless 0 soul, exploring, Iwith thee, and thou with me,/For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared togo,/And we will risk the ship ourselves and all. (from "Passage to India," quoted inStout 1983:87).It is only comparatively recently that quest narratives with no stated goal,however symbolically coded, have arisen. Kerouac's On the Road is such a narrative.More generally, however,The goal of the quest may be either proximate or ultimate - proximate in thesense of a materially real, obtainable object, however magical or totemic;ultimate in the sense of an abstraction such as Truth. In either case, it is deeplyinvolved with the self-realization of the questing hero, who proves and findshimself in the course of his journey (Stout 1983:88).We should take the time to notice here that the quest is fundamentally a malenarrative, and one of preeminent importance. A great many of the most highly praisedliterary accomplishments of the West are concerned with some form of quest: Dante'sInferno, Milton's Paradise Lost, Shelley's Prometheus Unbound, Melville's Moby Dick- The list could form its own great bibliographic essay. Whether the narrative of thequest has been made artificially important for women is a very significant questionwhich unfortunately cannot be addressed here, but should be kept in mind. Thequestion is posed in a very particular way. It is not to suggest that women cannotidentify with, produce narratives of, or enact the quest. It is to suggest that becauseearly male control over letters and literacy (Crawford 1991:153; Ong 1977:22-26)favoured the transcription and enshrinement of "male narratives," and because of howthe relationship between narratives and social action changes, the Western traditionbecomes increasingly built around male mythology. In a remarkably profound way,5women increasingly must be apprehending their lives, even understanding the identityof "woman," through male narratives because there is almost no choice. Thisproposition should gain sense as the paper progresses, but it forms its own topic ofenquiry and so will not be discussed here. For now I will situate and present thenarratives, identifying their individual quests.The Epic of GilgameshSin-leqi-unninni, whose version of Gilgamesh is used here, is said to have beenan exorcist priest of the Middle Babylonian period (1600-1000 B.C.) in the AncientNear East (Gardner and Maier 1985:vii). His version of the epic was transcribed nolater than the thirteenth century B.C. in the Akkadian language of the MiddleBabylonian period (Gardner and Maier, p.vii; Tigay 1982:12). This version is acompilation of several much older Sumerian myths that were originally independenttranscriptions, most all dating back to the early third millennium. Sin-leqi-unninni'sversion is felt to be the one most closely preceding the standardization of the epic, andthe one upon which the standardized texts of the first millennium were based. There isgeneral agreement among scholars that the epic of Gilgamesh "is the most significantliterary creation of the whole of ancient Mesopotamia" (Tigay 1982:10, quotingKramer 1959:180-81). This has been indicated both by the wide area over which tabletsof the epic have been found, and the very fact of the unbroken concern in ancientSumeria with its transcription.The epic follows the deeds of the hero-king Gilgamesh, of whom it is said"Two-thirds of him is divine, one-third human./The image of his body the GreatGoddess designed" (Gardner and Maier, p.6'7). It is his "one-third human" that propelsthe narrative, since the two quests it contains are driven by the hero's knowledge of,and insecurity over, his mortality.In the first instance Gilgamesh is proving himself too wild for his kinglyposition in the city of Uruk. He keeps the warriors up carousing all night, and chases6down all the young virgins. Day and night he does this until finally it is too much forthe elders of the city, who implore the gods to do something. Anu, supreme of thegods, instructs the mother goddess Aniru to create an equal to Gilgamesh such that thetwo latter might "square off one against the other, that Unik may have peace" (Gardnerand Maier, p.68). Aruru thus creates the wild man, Enlddu.Enkidu indeed proves equal to Gilgamesh. After exhausting themselves in battlewith each other, the two come to a truce, marking the beginning of their famousfriendship. They embrace, and Gilgamesh immediately proposes to Enkidu that they setoff to kill Humbaba, god of the cedar forest. Thus begins the first quest.Humbaba is understood as a malevolent deity, and Gilgamesh's motive forkilling him is to "drive evil out of the land" (Gardner and Maier, p.107). But his morecompelling motive, dictating the magnitude of the task, is to immortalize himself.Whether defeated or victorious, the battle with Humbaba will assure that "...I will havemade myself a name." "They will remember [me], afterward,/the child born in myhouse..." (Gardner and Maier, p.109).The friends do defeat Humbaba, but the penalty for their hubris and vainglory,in particular Gilgamesh's, is the death of Enkidu. Upon Enkidu's death, Gilgameshwatches over the body of his companion "until a worm fell out of his nose" (Gardnerand Maier, p.216). The hero is stricken with such fantastic grief that he is compelled toseek out Utnapishtim, the only mortal chosen by the gods for everlasting life.Utnapishtim (roughly "he found life") is also referred to as "the remote one," and toreach him Gilgamesh "must cross the same Ocean which was the last boundary of theknown or knowable earth to all the ancients, Greeks, Semites, or Sumerians [theAtlantic]" (Sandars 1972:38). So begins the second quest.It is not, however, precisely Enkidu's death that has propelled this secondjourney. Gilgamesh is not in search of Utnapishtim and the secret to immortality in thehopes of returning his friend to life. Rather, he is struck by the reality of death in a7way that he has not yet experienced: "Me! Will I too not die like Enkidu?/Sorrow hascome to my belly./I fear death; I roam over the hills./I will seize the road; quickly Iwill go/to the house of Utnapishtim...(Gardner and Maier, p.196). His grief isembedded in tremendous insecurity over the thought of his own death.Gilgamesh reaches Utnapishtim, but the wise-man has disappointing news:"From the beginning there is no permanence" (Gardner and Maier, p.224). Notsurprisingly, this does not satisfy the hero, who then effectively asks Utnapishtim howit is that he, a mortal, was favoured by the gods for immortality. Utnapishtim's story isthat of Noah, chosen by the gods to build an ark to save his own family and the animalworld from the great flood.At length, Gilgamesh embarks to leave. He has just cast off when the wise-man's wife points out to Utnapishtim that after such a long and heroic journey,Gilgamesh is leaving with nothing. Utnapishtim, with little drama, then gives toGilgamesh the plant of everlasting life, called The-Old-Man-Will-Be-Made-Young, sothat he will have something to show, in Uruk, for his labours. But on the returnjourney, in an equally undramatic moment, the plant is quietly seized by a serpent whocarries it off, leaving behind a shedding of its skin. For the toil of his journey, whichhas wasted and wizened him, Gilgamesh is rewarded with knowledge of his ownmortality and of the truth of human finitude. He thus returns to Uruk in solemnity, andin the end is able only to praise the great city and the achievement it represents. It isthe serpent who, by shedding its old skin and so appearing to restore its body to thesuppleness of youth, gains the plant of everlasting life - and this he does on the back ofGilgamesh's toils.I have dwelt on Gilgamesh for two reasons. First, it is the earliest known questnarrative and as such can be understood as a kind of "control" narrative against whichsubsequent changes can be measured. Second, though Gilgamesh is referred to as anepic, there has been some controversy concerning its status as being an epic poem as8distinct from a cycle of discrete narratives. Gilgamesh has, in general, been classifiedan epic, and what marks the transition from myth to epic, it will be argued, also markscritical changes in the relationship between the social actor/agent and narratives. Thechanges this transition engenders also effects a change in the "location" of myth inhistory.The Iliad and the Odyssey"Just as all men were once said to be born either Aristotelians or Platonists,Northrop Frye has suggested that we may likewise be divided into Iliad critics andOdyssey critics" (O'Loughlin 1977: 30). This is a very useful distinction for purposeshere. Although it may be pushing the boundaries of the genre to call the Iliad a questnarrative, to do so will illustrate an important development. First, however, a fewwords on Homer and his relationship to the two epics.It is now commonly understood that Homer was not the "original author" ofeither the Iliad or the Odyssey (Lord 1960:141-157). Homer was an oral poet, "asinger of tales," and likely an exceptional artist who wove an equally exceptionalversion of the tales, in what was otherwise a long and rich tradition of oral epic poetry.Though the Greeks had developed their own distinct narratives, such themes of epicpoetry as the quest preoccupied the whole of the ancient world. The Greek narratives,beginning with the works of Homer, are seen as influenced by those of the AncientNear East (Lord: 141-157; Pritchard 1969; Frye 1990c:5-6). Remarkable parallelsbetween the Gilgamesh epic and later Greek (Homer) and Semitic (Old Testament)narratives point to this influence. What we want to keep in mind is that the earliestdates ascribed to Homer are between the ninth and the seventh centuries, making hisrecitals a minimum of four hundred years later than the Sin-leqi-unninni version of theGilgamesh epic. During a period of at least four hundred years then, a more or lessstandard representation of the quest narrative is circulating in the Near East, and it isthis standardized narrative that influences the compositions of the Greek oral poets.9There would of course be as many versions of Gilgamesh as there were oral poets, butimportant features of the epic, such as the hero's mortality and the nature of his quests,would remain consistent. The tradition of oral poetry in Greece, however, had aminimum of another four hundred years before a "standard" version of two of itscentral tales emerged, thus another four hundred years for moulding into newconfigurations.Speaking of the transcription of Homer's epics Albert Lord says, "Proteus [theGreek sea god endowed with the ability to change shape] was photographed, and nomatter under what other forms he might appear in the future, this would become theshape that was changed; this would be the 'original" (1960:124).Recalling Frye, we could perhaps modify his observation to suggest that, inrelation to the Gligamesh epic, "all men" could be divided between critics of the fightwith Humbaba and thc.rse of the journey to Utnapishtim. This might be so since the twoHomeric poems effectively present us with a separation and separate development ofthe two quest themes contained in the Akkadian epic. Of the many developments thatthe Homeric poems represent, one of the more important for purposes here is the"mortalizing" of the heroes, Odysseus and Achilles. This is a central issue in definingepic as distinct from myth, and one source of the confusion about the classification ofGi/gamesh (Gardner and Maier 1985:37-38). Frye has said that epic falls within "amode of literature in which...the central characters are above our own level of powerand authority, though within the order of nature and subject to social criticism" (Frye1990a:366). Gilgamesh falls within this definition, yet the hero is two-thirds god,which places the work closer to the side of liturgical myth than that of quasi-secularepic. In the case of the Homeric poems, however, Odysseus and Achilles are fullyhuman; it is their ancestry, one or more generations removed, that is Olympian. TheHomeric heroes are "god-like," but not themselves gods. This issue will be taken up infull in the later discussion.10The Iliad recounts the events of the Trojan war. Troy has been besieged foralmost ten years by the Greek forces of King Agamemnon. The forces have been led toTroy to vindicate the kidnapping of Helen, wife of Agammemnon's brother, Menelaus.Helen was carried off by Paris, brother to the Trojan prince, Hector, the latter beingthe leader of the Trojan forces. The events of the Iliad take place within the span ofabout one week, and open as preparations for the final campaign are being made. Butthe charms of another woman, Chryseis, complicate the scene.A plague has broken out among the Greek forces and the seer Calchas councilsAgammenon that it can only be remedied if the latter returns Chryseis, his prize from aformer battle, to her father, a priest of Apollo. Agammenon is incensed by this councilbut finally agrees, pacifying his anger by taking the slave-girl Briseis as compensation.Briseis had been given to Achilles, the best of the Greek warriors, by Agammenon, ashis prize for the same battle. Achilles is outraged at this high handed act, which hefeels Agammenon can only justify because of his kingly position. The hero Achillescannot be pacified, and in retribution withdraws both himself and his Myrmidon forcesfrom the coming campaign, leaving Agammenon with these words: "A pettynincompoop and craven I shall be called if I yield to you at every point, no matter whatyou say. Command the rest, not me. I have done with obedience to you" (Rieu1979:30).Achilles' withdrawal results in terrible losses for the Greek armies at the handsof the Trojans. Achilles is eventually petitioned by Odysseus and prince Aias to rejointhe forces, Agammenon having repented and agreed to reward him very handsomely.Odysseus and Aias are chosen to speak with Achilles because of the high regard thethree share for each other. But Achilles responds to the petition with the following:"There is much in what you say. But my blood boils when I think of what happened,and the vile way in which Atreides [Agammenon] treated me in public, like somedisreputable outcast" (Rieu, p.178). He holds firm on his vow to stay out of the war.11Achilles' pride very nearly causes the defeat of the Greek forces. This potentialoutcome becomes too much for the hero's great friend, Patroclus, who is granted leaveto join the war. In so doing he allows the Greeks to hold out against the Trojanonslaught. But the price is his life, and Achilles' tremendous grief at this loss inciteshim to rejoin the war. With the return of Achilles, who is by now driven by grief andrage, the Greek forces finally defeat the Trojans.The Iliad is not generally considered, or at least not primarily considered, anarrative of quest. It is an epic concerned with the tragedy that results from the pride ofmen, or hubris. But to see it as a quest is to see the synonymy between Achilles'obsessed need to maintain his reputation, and Gilgamesh's desire, in the instance of hisfirst quest, to make a name for himself. In Gilgamesh, an act of war against the god ofthe cedar forest will make the hero's name and preserve it for all time. In the Iliad,however, Homer's tale speaks of a far greater distance from this mythical moment oflegendary name making. Achilles is known as a great warrior and leader of men inbattle - he is already a legend. His concern is to maintain this legendary status. Wehave in Homer a much greater depth of time and a much firmer location in space.Achilles' life as a mortal is lived out in this geography and temporality, and sonarratively cannot be satisfied with a single act of heroism. He must maintain his heroicstatus over time and in space, and in so doing makes hubris and its consequences theinforming issue of the entire epic. Thus, it is by considering the epic a quest,synonymous with the first of Gilgamesh's, that we can discover the most importantchanges to this quest theme.In the case of the Odyssey there is little dispute that this epic is fundamentally anarrative of quest. It is, in fact, perhaps the richest source of metaphors for later questliterature. The Odyssey also shares a synonymy with Gilgamesh, here with the latterhero's voyage to Utnapishtim.The epic follows Odysseus on his return journey from the war at Troy.12Odysseus is prince (sometimes referred to as King) of Ithaca, where he left his wife,Penelope, and son, Telemachus. When Agammenon called the Greek princes to war,Odysseus had so deeply resented leaving his family and kingdom that he feignedmadness to escape the obligation. There is an important irony here in that it is becauseof Odysseus that Agammenon was able to amass any army at all for the war with Troy.Odysseus had been a suitor for the hand of Helen along with all the other Greekprinces. It was his suggestion that her final decision be honoured, not contested, andthat thereafter all the suitors take an oath to protect her from violence. For this reason"the rape of Helen" "launched a thousand ships."The theme of the Odyssey is the hero's tremendous desire to return home - thequest is the quest for home. In the first three years of the voyage, he and hisaccompanying armies are embroiled in several fantastic confrontations. At the will ofthe gods, or as the result of unfavourable winds, the hero and his men are driven toplaces of either temptation (eg.the land of the Lotus-Eaters, the home of Circe), or ofgreat danger (eg.the home of the Cyclops, Hades). But responding to a challengepresented to him by the goddess Circe, Odysseus reveals a further cause for theobstacles to his return when he says: "I could not refuse this challenge to myadventurous spirit" (Rieu 1965:166). Whether erected by the gods or by himself,Odysseus overcomes the obstacles to his return. The fourth year of the voyage beginsthe longest detainment. For seven years Odysseus is held captive by the nymphCalypso, who tries to woo him. But the hero never falls prey to her beauty and charms,and the detainment only intensifies his longing for Penelope and home.When Odysseus does finally reach Ithaca, his homecoming is marred by thechaos at his palace. In his absence his palace has been over-run by suitors for the handof Penelope, who has, nonetheless, remained faithful to her husband. It is not until hehas killed all the suitors, and so restored order to his household, that he can finally besaid to have reached home.13There are some striking parallels between Odysseus' journey and that ofGilgamesh to Utnapishtim. Both must cross great waters that mark the boundarybetween known and unknown worlds; both must visit the land of the dead, and aregiven the secret to surviving this ordeal by goddesses; both are beguiled by beautifultemptresses; and both are, of course, worn and wasted by the great sufferings of theirjourneys. The reward in the case of each journey is power, knowledge and wisdom,marking the heroes as exceptional men.1There is, however, an interesting transformation from the earlier Akkadiannarrative to the later Greek one. Gilgamesh is travelling away from his home in Urukin search of immortality. The mortal Odysseus is trn-velling back to Ithaca to reclaimhis home. There is a significant passage in Gilgarnesh where he is counselled by agoddess with the following words:As for you, Gilgame.sh , let your belly be full,Make merry day and night.Of each day make a feast of rejoicing,Day and night dance and play!Let your garments be sparkling fresh,Your head be washed; bath in water.Pay heed to a little one that holds on to your hand.Let a spouse delight in your bosom (Gardner and Maier, p.214).Gilgamesh is given this council just before he is to cross the Great Waters to reachUtnapishtim, where he will find out that man's lot is to be mortal. "Home," asdescribed to him above (mundane, meaning "of this world," and domestic), issomething of a consolation prize for the hero. Fur Odysseus it is the prize, even whilehis journey is driven as much by his own desires as the wiles of the gods, and in hisabsence his home is the site of increasing chaos.This brings us again to the issue of temporality in Homer's epic. Oilgamesh'sjourney to Utnapishtim has been worked over centuries such that the central issue of thenarrative becomes the knowledge that a mortals man's home is the place of hisbelonging and identity, and to be content with this is to Fuld fulfillment. Odysseus14embodies this wisdom, and yet Odysseus' identity is that of legendary hero. To be alegendary hero is to "kill the god of the cedar forest" - that is, to make a name foroneself, and so define and establish one's presence in the world (and it is alsonoteworthy, in the case of all three epics discussed, that to make a name for oneselfalways points home, the place for which a reputation is being made). By definition,Odysseus cannot spend a lifetime at home. But neither, as in the case of Achilles, will asingle heroic act suffice, after the performance of which he can settle down. Odysseus,then, embodies this great paradox: to be a legendary hero and the finest prince or kingone must move and act because this defines one's presence in the world. It is only athome, however, where identity and "real life" are, and to neglect this truth is to incitechaos. Only in action is there life, only at home is there life, and Odysseus' quest is theresult of this paradox.Venture to the InteriorIt is not so difficult to place Laurens van der Post and his account of journeyingin Africa in the mid-twentieth century. Van der Post was born in colonial SouthernAfrica in 1909. He lived out his life between Southern Africa and Britain. In 1949, afew years after service in the Second World War, he returned to Africa. On thisoccasion he was solicited by the British government to explore and map out regions ofCentral and Southern Africa not well known to colonial interests. It was believed thatthese regions might hold promise as sites for food production that could then supplyportions of "the Empire." Out of this expedition van der Post produced Venture to theInterior. What is of interest in van der Post's narrative is not so much the eventsthemselves but the commentary they elicit on his life of travel.The title of the book is both a descriptive phrase and a metaphor. In his chapterentitled "The Journey Through Space" he says:a voyage to a destination, wherever it may be, is also a voyage inside oneself....At these moments I think not only of the places I have been to but also of thedistances I have travelled within myself without friend or ship; and of the long15way yet to go before I come home within myself and within the journey(1971:47).Earlier, in his preface, van der Post frames his contract in Africa in the following way:On the morning of May 10th, 1949, I sat, full of resentment, at Air TerminalHouse in London... .1 was painfully aware that once again my life was notproceeding according to my conscious plan  Ever since as a soldier I leftEngland in 1940, I had been longing and planning to get back, but hitherto theover-all pattern of my life had shown very little regard either for my planningor my longing (1971:7).Like Odysseus, van der Post's journey is a quest for home, and his search isaggravated by a series of barriers raised by outside forces. Venture to the Interiordetails one of these barriers.However, like Achilles, and the "Achillean Odysseus," van der Post betrays hiscomplicity in the creation of these barriers. In the Second World War the author wastaken prisoner by the Japanese. It was, he tells us, some time before he could controlhis sense of "humiliation" at being so indisposed: "I had been dogged by the thought ofmy friends and countrymen going out daily to battle, while I withered behind prisonwalls" (1971:7). Much later in the book there is a more revealing passage in which theauthor openly states the modus operandi of his life, subsuming, of course, the tale ofhis journey in Africa:I am at heart too much of a nomad to trust and understand love of just oneplace.... I am sure one cannot love life enough; but I believe, too, one mustn'tconfuse love of life with the love of certain things in it. One cannot pick themoment and place as one pleases and say, 'Enough! This is all I want. This ishow it is henceforth to be' (1971:124).Van der Post must move and act to feel his presence in the world. The need tomake and keep making his name, as exemplified by his humiliation at being kept out ofactive duty during the war, is of equal importance to defining this presence. The twoare synonymous, as only action can "make a name," and action is movement - and herewe must broaden our understanding of "movement" to include the act of writing. Thus,where the informing narrative of Venture to the Interior is the quest for home, to"come home within himself and the journey," we have the Odyssean paradox: Only in16action is there life, only at home is there life.But here, of course, we are in fully "real" time and space. This book is apersonal narrative by a particular man about an actual journey in a specific geography.We can trace this journey in the book's accompanying maps. The temptation is to callthe book a complete inversion of our starting point in the myth/epic Gilgamesh. Theplaces Gilgamesh goes to, the encounters he has, "he" himself, occur in the symboliclanguage of myth. Their function is to encode inward experience with a culturallyintelligible imagery. Van der Post's journey is the myth's narrative realized on theplane of historical time and geographic space. His journey is like Gilgamesh's, andeven more like Odysseus', in a mimetic sense. In his journey he poses the questionsthat the earlier narratives are meant to answer through a culturally intelligible imagery.But like becomes a very powerful dynamic in the telling of the journey, becausethe fantastic imagery of myth is now used as a descriptive imagery for encounters withreal people in real places. This phenomenon is perhaps best illustrated by juxtaposingthe description of Venture to the Interior on the book's cover against a passage fromGilgamesh. Just before Gilgamesh is to cross the great waters to reach Utnapishtim, heis warned by the goddess Siduri with the following words:Gilgamesh, there has never been a crossing,and none from the beginning of days has been able to cross the sea.None but Shamash crosses the sea; apart from Shamash, no one crosses.Painful is the crossing, troublesome the road,and everywhere the waters of death stream across its face.This journey has no absolute spaciality or temporality, it is rather the narrativeexpression of an experience of danger, dramatically placed as a journey beyond theknown world. Compare this with the following passage from Venture to the Interior,and it is not difficult to see the semantic relationship:On foot across the mountains of two lost worlds of Central Africa. Adventure,discovery, and tragedy teem in this famous account of a journey to the sinister,primeval heights of Mt Mlanje and the cloudwalled uplands of Nyika.17Van der Post himself is not quite so shameless in his use of imagery, but it is certainlynot difficult to understand how this distillation comes to be on the back cover.Historicized and located, the imagery of myth becomes the "artistry" of trope.Returning to the notion that van der Post's narrative is an inversion ofmythological narrative, it is this only in so far as it is part of the more encompassingnotion of "transformation." Myth narratives in the Western tradition are transformed inmany different ways. There are of course "purely" literary transformations, that is,authored narratives in "unreal" or fictitious settings. Examples over time would includeThe Inferno, Prometheus Unbound, Paradise Lost, and Moby Dick. To these could beadded more contemporary examples such as Herman Hesse's Siddhartha, TomRobbin's Jitterbug Perfume, Gene Rodenberry's Star Trek series, and George Lucas'Star Wars. I have not included such works in this study as the concern is not to findwhat I will call "poetic" transformations of myth such as these mentioned. The concernis rather to find how the transformation of myth into literature - the unmooring of mythfrom its original context - changes the relationship between social actor/agent andnarrative. For this reason my interest is in narratives that are explicit in their situatingof the quest in "real" time and space. This will lead us to a discussion of where and inwhat way myth, in the anthropological sense, maintains its presence in the Westernhistorical tradition. Before beginning this discussion, however, it is worth examiningone further example.Jack Kerouac's On the Road was first published in 1957, and is said toepitomize the philosophy of the "Beat Generation" of the late 1940's and the 1950's."Beat" was meant to connote weariness and defeat. In the words of the Dictionary ofModern Thought, Kerouac, and others such as Allen Ginsberg, Neil Cassidy,exemplified, in a manner deliberately anti-literary, the various trends [of theBeat Generation]: rootlessness, rejection of the affluent society and of all socialvalues, a predilection for modern jazz, resort to ill-assimilated oriental religions(eg. Zen) and to drugs, pseudo-relaxation ("coolness"), and free sexuality(Bullock 1990:73).18Kerouac himself understood the Beats to be "saintly beings in a pagan world," and thequest in his work is for freedom from a perceived socio-cultural environment ofmeaninglessness.On the Road is an only somewhat fictionalized account of a road trip taken byhimself, Neil Cassidy, and others - a trip that took them several times across thebreadth of America and into Mexico. The journey is frantic and relentless, and drivenby the desire to reach destinations that, once reached, must be abandoned for thepromise held in other places. If we can associate this quest with those discussed above,it is an Odyssean journey in search of home and belonging. What distinguishesKerouac's narrative is the overt statement that only in action is there meaning andpresence in the world. Just as he and his companions are taking off on their third trekacross the country he says, "We were delighted [by the departure], we all realized wewere leaving confusion and nonsense behind and performing our one and noblefunction of the time, move" (1983:133, italics original). The destinations of the journeyare established in effect only to give geographic direction to the movement. The questfor meaning and freedom is fulfilled only in the movement, and the destinations, whichmark an end to the movement, are invariably reached only to give a point of departurefor the next leg of the journey. The travellers are in search of home, a place ofmeaning and belonging, but "home" appears to be an empty metaphor, or at least onethat states a seemingly impossible contradiction: that home is movement.DiscussionAt this point it is worth restating the objectives of this paper. The intention is toillustrate how a mythological narrative, which takes place out of specific time andspace, is unmoored from this original context to become a guide for social action inobjectified, historical time and space. Since the focus is on the narrative of the quest, Ihave chosen Gilgamesh as our earliest and most myth-like narrative, a kind of control19against which the later questing narratives are being weighed. While illustrating the"unmooring" of myth, we should be able to observe some features of the process of theemergence of Western literary tropes, the socio-political use of which has been welldocumented in anthropology (Said, Berkhofer, White). Observation of this processinvolves us in two questions: First, how does the transformation of myth into literatureaffect the relationship between the social actor/agent and narratives? And second,where and in what way does myth, in the anthropological sense, maintain its presencein an historical tradition? In order to approach these questions we need to know moreabout the linguistic structure of mythological narratives.Northrop Frye has proposed that there are three discernable modes in thelinguistic and literary history of the West. These three modes are modelled somewhatafter those outlined by Giambattista Vico in the early eighteenth century, but Fryehimself notes that in the development of his own analysis little of Vico remains, beyonda suggestive starting point (1990a:5). For Vico, the three modes of verbal expressionwere the poetic, the heroic or noble, and the vulgar. Frye has called these,respectively, the hieroglyphic, the hieratic, and the demotic. As he explains, Vico'sterms "refer primarily to three modes of writing... The hieroglyphic phase, for Vico, isa 'poetic' use of language; the hieratic phase is mainly allegorical; and the demoticphase is descriptive" (1990a:5). These phases do not describe strict divisions. Frye isnot suggesting, for instance, that poetic verbal expressions do not occur in the demoticphase, and neither is he proposing that the principles underlying language in its first(hieroglyphic) phase could not, in a much broader sense, continue to be applied tocontemporary language use. Instead, his three phases are meant to highlightascendancies in Western language use that affect and reflect the condition of theWesterner in relation to his/her social and natural world.Further, Frye's analysis is not one of "stages of evolution," with the baggagethat such an analysis would imply. That it is not evolutionary is evident in his use of20the notion of "linguistic and literary ascendancy" rather than "linguistic and literaryprogress" (see Frye 1990a:37). Ascendancy is one mode dominating another - verymuch a linguistic rendering of Gramscian hegemony - and not one mode irreversiblysucceeding another in a fictional chain of qualitative improvement.The Gilgamesh epic is among the earliest pieces of literature to emerge in thehieroglyphic phase of language. The hieroglyphic phase is pre-Platonic, and, in Greece,refers primarily to Homer while further denoting the pre-Biblical cultures of the NearEast, and much of the Old Testament. Language in this phase isPoetic and "hieroglyphic," not in the sense of sign writing, but in the sense ofusing words as particular kinds of signs. In this period there is relatively littleemphasis on a clear separation of subject and object: the emphasis falls ratheron the feeling that subject and object are linked by a common power orenergy... A corollary of this principle is that there may be a potential magic inany use of words. Words in such a context are words of power or dynamic force(Frye 1990a:6).We can know this about pre-Platonic literature because of the survival, throughroughly four thousand years of literary production, of verbal structures which operateaccording to the same principle of subject/object conflation. The reference here is tometaphor in its various forms. In understanding the special nature of metaphoric verbalstructures, ancient texts are transformed from ones of ornamented story telling to onesof primary human experience. The basic character of metaphor, a very simple one, is astatement of identification which gives "A is B." In pre-Platonic literature, the simile,"A is like B," is another form of metaphor (Frye 1990c:7). The metaphoric statementproclaims that two things, A and B, are the same thing, whereas literally they are twodifferent things.Frye uses examples from Genesis to illustrate, citing for example, "Joseph is afruitful bow." In Gilgamesh we find the king given as "like a wild bull rising upsupreme." As twentieth century readers our inclination is to dismiss these statements asornamentation or "poetic licence," resolving their paradox by acknowledging the21identification of rewards with the story of the man Joseph, or great strength andfertility with the man Gilgamesh. But these statements do not emerge in language asobservations from a distance - that is, they do not emerge as an author's observations ofother people's lives. Another man, Joseph, has not conducted himself such that anauthor writes of the rewards that follow his conduct. Rather, Joseph (or Gilgamesh) isan element of personality, and "fruitful bow" (or "wild bull") is a natural objectbetween which there is no spatial distance (Frye 1990a; 1990c:7). The linguisticassertion that "A is B" can only emerge in a context where the space which separatesthe uttering subject from the surrounding world of outside objects is not present - "A isB" is an annihilation of this space, and is not a self-conscious literary tool, but a pre-self-conscious, that is, pre cogito ergo sum verbal presence in the world.Metaphor provides the fundamental structure of myth. A myth is a cluster ofmetaphors (only the simplest form has been discussed above), and what metaphor doesto space, myth does to time (Frye 1990a; 1990c:7). A myth does not recount the eventsof a removed and objectified past. Rather, the recounting of myth asserts that what isbeing spoken, or ritually enacted is what happened long ago (Frye 1990a; 1990c:7).This should not be understood as suggesting that myth is in some way static, or that amyth's pan-temporal relevance is an indication of a static (or "cold") culture. Mythschange, and are created, as we have seen earlier, to encompass novel experiences. AsFrye says, "a myth is designed not to describe a specific situation but to contain it in away that does not restrict its significance to that one situation. Its truth is inside itsstructure, not outside it" (1990a:46). Terence Turner phrases the issue this way: "Mythis an attempt to formulate the essential properties of social experience in terms of aseries of "generic events," at a level transcending any particular context of historicalrelations or events" (1988:252, italics original). Myths, then, neither describe norexactly represent; rather, they encompass experience within a culturally intelligibleimagery.22Finally then, for purposes here, myths function as what psychologists refer to as"coping mechanisms:" They assuage fears and anxieties that may result frominsecurities over the needs for belonging, purpose, and meaning. As Vecsey says:Cognitively, myths describe the world in living terms in order for people toknow and possibly control it, while pleasing the esthetic sensibilities of storytellers and audience with their style, emotion, and power... They can makenarrative sense of a world full and paradoxical, thereby adapting the individualto society and society to the larger universe. They help define what humanity is,and what it is not, facing people to the aspects of life which are felt to be mostthreatening (1991:25).In this way, a myth is effectively an answer, and not a question.As mentioned earlier, there has been considerable controversy over theclassification of Gilgarnesh as either myth or epic. The Sin-leqi-unninni version ofGilgarnesh discussed above, like the epics of Homer, is written with the structure ofsubject/object conflation discussed above in association with myth. But there areseveral features of epic that make it a distinct narrative form. To fully explore thedistinction between myth and epic, although relevant to the present discussion, wouldinvolve a very lengthy digression (see Lord 1960; Parry 1971; Havelock 1973; Frye1990a, 1990b; Goody 1991). The most relevant distinction for purposes here is themortality of the hero. As Gardner and Maier say, "epic is a useful concept herebecause, unlike myths,'... the epic deals with a human, not a divine, protagonist"(1984:37). More specifically, as quoted earlier, in epic narrative the hero is "above ourown level of power and authority, though within the order of nature and subject tosocial criticism" (Frye 1990b).When we include the features of length of composition and narrative centralityto a society, epic as spoken of here is found to be particular to literate cultures, It is theevent of becoming "alphabetized" (or "chirographic" as Walter Ong calls this[1990:42], since "alphabet" glosses a complex history of the development of symboliccodes for language) that gives birth to the epic. Jack Goody has said that "writing23effectively led to a new 'tradition', involving a new mode of transmission and possiblyof creation, modifying and developing both form and content" (1991:100).Goody's suggestion is based in some part on the evidence of those sourceswhich eventually lead to Sin-leqi-unninni's version of Gilgamesh. The transcription ofthis version is dated at no later than the thirteenth century B.C., and not before thesixteenth. This places the version roughly one thousand years later than the earliestknown tablets relating to the narrative, dated as from the early third millennium(Gardner and Maier 1984:vii), and which themselves constitute some of the firstexamples of the application of script to oral narrative. The earlier works, however, donot make a coherent narrative in the way the Sin-leqi-unninni version does (as epic),and they are, as noted before, referred to as being a cycle of myth narratives. Ofparticular interest is that the mortality of the hero, Gilgamesh, is not an issue ofconcern in the early cycle of myths (Tigay 1982:26-27). In these narratives Gilgameshis a culture hero in a much more (and I hazard this term) "purely" oral-mythic sense - afounder of institutions and cultural forms. His transformative powers to create culturalspace from an undifferentiated cosmos are the narrative concern, and the issues of hismortality and whether he can maintain the body of youth forever and so defy death arenot of particular interest. Indeed, the narratives concerning Utnapishtim and the Delugemyth are not found in association at all with those concerning the culture hero (Tigay1982:25). What the Sin-leqi-unninni version seems to indicate is the narrativeincorporation of a changing socio-cultural experience within an idiom that cannot yetquite contain it. That is, it seems to indicate the emergence of an historicalconsciousness in the language of myth (see, Frye 1990a:34). It is indeterminatewhether writing actually effects the emergence of historical consciousness, as bothGoody (1991) and Walter Ong (1990) believe, or whether it is a reflection of such aconsciousness having emerged. But there can be little doubt that it is the most powerfulagent in sustaining, enhancing, and developing such a consciousness.24Writing is effectively the "unmooring of myth from its original context." Thisoriginal context is oral/aural with a metaphoric use of language for narratives of specialsocio-cultural concern. The language of myth conflates subject and object, is notsituated in "real" time and space, and is populated with immortals - ancestors, cultureheroes, and deities. Further, recalling Hill, it is the control of mythic narratives that isthe source of empowerment for the mythic consciousness. To restate: "If human actorsare perceived as having any power to change their conditions, it is because they possesssome form of controlled access to the hierarchical structuring of the mythic power ofliminal, neither here-nor-there beings" (1988). This power is both personal andcommunal, and myths, as stated above, can also be crudely understood as "copingmechanisms:"The content of mythology is a life-and-death matter, where humans realize,face, and communicate the furthest reaches of their potential, incorporatingemptiness into fullness, struggle into solidarity, limitation into completeness,death into life (Vecsey 1991:29).The Sin-leqi-unninni version of the Gilgamesh epic, which Jeffrey Tigay (1982) hasestablished as derived from the earlier cycle of myth narratives, indicates a very deepchange in both the form and content of the earlier myths. Our concern now is to try tounderstand in some measure how these changes might have come about, and in whatway they appear to affect a change in the relationship between the social actor/agentand narratives.Walter Ong has said that "all script represents words as in some way things,quiescent objects, immobile marks for assimilation by vision" (1990:91). This is incontrast to the oral where the word is a kind of participatory event. "Sight isolates,sound incorporates," Ong says. In a most literal sense, script divides the word intosubject and object. Though I am glossing what is a very complex process, if we look tothe evidence of the changes in the Gilgamesh narrative, script, while offering the oralutterance as an object, seems to have the concomitant effect of encouraging a sense of25the oral signified as an object. In oral myth narrative, there can in effect be no issue of"signifier and signified" (subject and object).2 With writing we have an object, thescripted word, that cannot help but promote itself as standing for something. As theancestor culture hero, human in form but neither exactly mortal nor exactly god,Gilgamesh is a complex metaphor both for human and social presence in the world, andthe socializing process of maturation into adulthood (separation, initiation, return [seeVecsey 1991:140-141]). But as a scripted word, the hero very slowly transforms toacquire an "additional" meaning, whereby "Gilgamesh" and associated "he's" and"his", have the capacity to "stand for" a man. Over a period of many centuries, theinteraction between narrative composition and script has the effect of mortalizing theculture hero.The price for the "unmooring of myth" - placing it in letters - both occasionsand preoccupies the very significant changes in the concerns of the narrative. As I havesaid, what comes to be the propelling issue in the narrative is the hero's search forimmortality. The essential transformation here is that, rather than being itself a copingmechanism for the issue of human finitude, the once-myth-now-epic comes to concern,within its narrative structure, the search for means that will cope with human finitude.That is, the experience of the social actor/agent presented to us in Gilgamesh is a newsense of insecurity over lived, or living, presence in the world that must be assuaged bythe performance of heroic deeds.3 With the advent of literacy,4 the social actor/agentno longer experiences the fulfillment of the need to feel secure about presence in theworld through participation with myth. Thinking again of Hill, describing access to themythic power of liminal beings as the source of empowerment for the mythicconsciousness, then we can perhaps characterize interaction with mythological narrativeas two things: First, it is like movement back and forth along a passageway that unitesmundane life with a larger source of meaning. Second, recalling Frye, the relationshipbetween the social actor/agent and mythological narrative is itself like the structure of26metaphor - life is the story told, and the story told is life.With the changes effected by literacy, interaction with the narrative ofascending importance, epic, has to be characterized as being like interaction with amirror. Narrative changed by literacy begins to represent the social actor/agent tohim/herself in a very new way. As a mirror, it cuts off access to the mythic power ofliminal beings, and traps the social actor/agent in a gaze with his/her own image.5 Therelationship of "metaphor" that exists between the social actor/agent and narrative isrent apart, and what remains is subject and object.If we think now of the Homeric epics, there is evidence to support this notion oftextually altered narrative acting as a reflecting "surface." The narratives of the ancientNear East interacted for many centuries with those of Greece - the result of migrationsand trade from as early as 1800 B.C., but quite firm by 1300 B.C. (McEvedy 1988;Goody 1991:43). As noted earlier there are many striking similarities between theGilgamesh epic and Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, only a few of which were mentioned,that point to an important kinship likely extending beyond the historical record.Homeric scholarship, following seminal work done by Milman Parry (1971) and AlbertLord (1960), confidently assumes that the epic tradition of the Ancient Near East by thetime of Sin-leqi-unninni was an important influence on the epic tradition in Greece,and, in turn, on Homer's great works. We should recall that Homer's epics were nottranscribed for a minimum of another four hundred years, in roughly the ninth century,after the transcription of Sin-leqi-unninni's Gilgamesh, in roughly the thirteenthcentury. After some one thousand years of interaction with script, Sin-leqi-unninni'sGilgamesh more or less represents the standardized version of the epic. But the Greekepic tradition, in commerce with a tradition deeply transformed by interaction withscript, did not experience standardization for another four hundred years.What, then, is the effect of a further four hundred years of "Protean liberty" onthe transformation and development of epic narrative tradition in Greece? The Greek27epic heroes are themselves fully human, while also undertaking their actions in a farmore geographically located space, and temporally drawn out period. The reflecting"surface" of narrative becomes increasingly solidified with successive tellings andreceivings. Narrative, that is, becomes increasingly mimetic of mortal life, and inreturn offers an image (as from a mirror) of the ideal man engaged in actions that willwarrant heroic status. Homer's epics indicate that, over many centuries, what hasengaged and preoccupied the social actor/agent is the image of himself.6 The firmerthis image becomes, the weaker becomes access to the metaphoric and mythicdimensions of the narrative.7The suggestion, at this point, is not that this image then directs social action -that men, in return for the image, are directed to act like the heroes in a preciselyimitative way. What it does do is provide a dramatically new way of framingexperience and action, in the non-metaphoric simile. Life lived out as, for instance, atrader who voyages, an infantryman, or a leader of infantrymen, has a new way ofidentifying itself and framing its experience: "I am like Odysseus, and this Other I haveencountered is like the Cylcops, the Lotus Eaters etc." The simile does not have toemerge from "a journey into oneself" to be used. It is very distanced from the nature ofsimile-as-metaphor spoken of earlier, in the context of mythological narratives. It cannow be used as, in fact it is the only narrative source that can act as, a device for thedescription of surface events and encounters.It is in van der Post that we have seen the use of this simile - Van der Post thehero, whose journey through historicized time and space draws on a stock of literarytropes for its dramatic placement. But in van der Post we see a further development inthe use of the simile. Recall the example given earlier, the distillation of the narrativeon the book's cover: "Adventure, discovery, and tragedy teem in this famous accountof a journey to the sinister, primeval heights of Mt Mlanje and the cloudwalled uplandsof Nyika." Mt Mlange and the uplands of Nyika are not simply like, for instance, the28terrifying "unknown waters," or the frightening land of the Cyclops, they now aresinister and primeval - topographical nightmares in the atlas for anyone to see. It is thiskind of narrative that emanates from the experience of a man on a journey. Broadlyapplied, we can look to the work of Said, Berkhofer, White, and others, who documentthe role such narrative techniques have played in the service of Western socio-politicalhegemony.We are left with the final part of the discussion concerning where and in whatway myth survives in the historical tradition. There are of course several ways in whichthis question could be answered. "History" itself, for instance, can be understood as amythology (see, for example, Carr 1982; Turner 1988; Frye 1990a), as can somethinglike the scientific paradigm (see, for example Landau 1984). Through each, wecompose stories that we tell ourselves to make sense of the world and provide a certainsense of security. However I am not looking here for a pantheon of gods, or a Bible. Iam looking rather for the dimension of myth that secures the feeling, or experience ofpresence in the world. I am also speaking from the limited context of the five questingnarratives presented earlier. The suggestion that arises from these works is that myth,first, in its role as a source of empowerment, and second, as that which secures anexperience of presence in the world, survives in the historical tradition as action.Of course action among any people anywhere is inseparably related to myth,and plays a part in securing an experience of presence in the world. Myth narrativecannot exist outside the context of a peoples' participation in day to day life, and theevents that branch out of this. That is to say, participation with the empowerment ofmyth cannot be achieved without participation with cultural life. But the nature ofaction is altered when it is severed from "access to the mythic power of liminal,neither-here-nor-there beings" (gods, culture heroes, ancestors). It is altered so thataction on its own becomes the source of empowerment, and narrative serves to describethis action. When action is its own source of empowerment - when action, in fact, is29unmoored from myth narrative - it can migrate far beyond the boundaries of a localworld, while not threatening identity. If we can relate "identity" and "presence in theworld", then action is identity. It only gradually acquires an ever increasingly richsource of narratives (epic, history, geography, travel tale, explorer's journal etc.) fromwhich to extract its frame, or assure its continuity with a tradition.In this regard it is interesting to end with a brief look at Kerouac. As theepitomization of the Beats, Kerouac's work is said to be deliberately anti-literary, arejection of social values, and an ode to rootlessness. But of course On the Road is inthe best tradition of the heroic journey. Kerouac and his companions are compelled tomove no matter what the cost, and Kerouac survives as the great hero who has left abook for posterity. Within the book the travellers come to feel their presence in theworld through action pared down to its rawest terms: simply to move between points ingeographic space. Through the act of writing the book, Kerouac both empowershimself with the identity of hero, and increases the stock images upon which the life ofaction can draw.To attempt to conceive of action as myth may simply be to obfuscate a usefuldistinction. I have made use of this distinction in the earlier discussion of Hill's work.8But I suggest the point here in order to indicate that there is a particularly potent forcebehind the use of tropes as discussed by Said. Tropes arise out of mythologicalnarratives. They arise out of the dramatically altered relationship between the socialactor/agent and narratives which is either effected by, or completed with, the advent ofliteracy. With written scripts, the social actor/agent becomes mesmerized by the imageof man - narrative acts like a mirror, displaying man as an object to himself. Trappedin this gaze, the image of man arising out of the experience of life lived, is that ofalienation (insecurity about presence in the world) from "home" - a complex metaphorthat applies equally to man from himself, man from community, and community fromnatural world, or cosmos. It is his own image that alienates man. What remains to30pacify this alienation (to feel presence in the world) is action - to write, to paint, tobuild, to explore, to conquer, etc. These action are, as Hill has said, the source ofempowerment for the historical consciousness.It is perhaps uncontroversial to call many of these actions - to make, to explore,to conquer - cultural universals. What is not universal is to undertake such action in thecontext of "alienation from home." As narrative altered by literacy makes man anobject to himself, it makes the source of his identity the simile. "I am like Achilles,Odysseus, Agamemnon, etc." This is an eminently transportable source of identity. Itdoes not, that is, need to be attached to either a familiar geography or a stable materialculture to recreate itself. Its only requirement is that there continue to be action towhich it can be attached. My suggestion is, then, that the particular power behindSaid's tropes is the power of a peoples' need to maintain identity, and a sense ofpurpose and presence in the world.What I have tried to argue in this paper is as follows: The advent of literacyeither effects, or at least fully enhances, a dramatic change in the relationship betweenthe social actor/agent and narrative. Narrative altered by literacy traps, or "seduces,"the social actor/agent into a gaze with his/her own image. This relationship effectsfundamental changes in language use. One small, though important, example of thishas been presented. Cut off from myth as a source of empowerment, the socialactor/agent is left with action as the means toward feeling lived, or living presence inthe world. I have suggested that action in this sense could be considered myth, or theway in which myth survives in the historical tradition. Where action contains propertiesof myth, we can perhaps better understand the potent force behind the use of literarytropes as discussed by Said. Finally, then, I have alluded to a further power of thisaltered relationship between the social actor/agent and narrative. Though the socialactor/agent is alienated - or insecure about living presence in the world - as a result of31the very development of litcracy and exemplified in the narrative of the quest, there isnowhere that he/she cannot maintain identity.FOOTNOTES1^For a thorough discussion on the issue of the association between travel, power andknowledge, see Helms 1988.2^This statement does not mark a return to a Frazarian understanding of the oral world asanimistic, with all things abuzz with spirits, and no linguistic category for inanimate objects. Thestatement is made in specific relationship to mythological narratives as they are in a contextuntouched by literacy.3^Here we may seem to be being lead into an old discussion of the notion that fear of deathexplains the existence of "complex" societies. But "fear of death" is a misleading way of phrasingthe issue. The phrase implies a fear arising from knowledge of the eventuality of death, aknowledge that all people share. "Fear of death" is a relevant phrase only in so far as it can meanthe need to experience living presence in the world, where the phrase then means fear of being"the living dead." I would also point out that this paper does not hope to address such a wideproblem.4^I have chosen in some cases to use the term "literacy" as opposed to "text" or "script," asit can imply both the ability to conceive of language as a coded system, as well as the scripts andtexts that result from this ability.5^It is of interest to note that the mirror, as a non-incidental cultural artifact used for otherthan ritual purposes, is found exclusively in association with cultures that experienced literacy -from the Old World to the ancient Far East, and also including the Incan and Mayan civilizations(Goldberg 1985). This association itself merits further inquiry.6^"Herself' is another issue that, as I have indicated, would require its own treatment. Thegender specific language of this paper is intentional.7^The epic tradition remained ascendant in ancient Greece for between one and three ormore centuries, allowing for doubts as to Homer's dates. It is the sixth century that marks thepoint of departure for what could be called an explosion of narrative innovations. I would like tomention this diversity and complexity in order to acknowledge that the discussion could, at itspresent point, be taken in many different directions. First, then, there is the tragedy of Aeschylus,followed by those of Sophocles and Euripides. The tragedies portray human characters drawn intoa diversity of complex moral and paradoxical dilemmas. The work of Aristophanes, the comicpoet, is concerned with the irony of social life. These works were written to be performed asplays. Roughly coeval with the latter two tragedians and Aristophanes is Herodotus, our first33known historical, and some say anthropological record. And very shortly following these are thephilosophical dialogues of Plato. The interaction between the social actor/agent and narrative isdramatically altered in a very complex variety of ways, and each innovation sets up a new kind ofmirror in which mortal life is reflected back to the social actor/agent. The present discussionwould be enriched by closer analysis of any one of these innovations. But the limit here is to lookat the five narratives of quest, and from these alone attempt to draw some conclusions of interestto anthropology concerning the relationship between the social actor/agent and narrative.8^I have chosen to use the word "action" by way of implying the most basic characteristic ofthe term "agency," the latter being preferred by Hill.34BIBLIOGRAPHYBerkhofer, Robert F. 1978. The White Man's Indian: Images of the American Indian fromColumbus to the Present. New York: Vintage Books.Bourdieu, Pierre. 1977. Outline of a Theory of Practice. New York: CambridgeUniversity Press.Bullock, Alan, Oliver Stalybrass and Stephen Trombley. 1990[1977]. The FontanaDictionary of Modern Thought. London: Fontana Press.Carr, E.H. 1982[1961]. What is History. Ontario: Penguin Books.Chatwin, Bruce. 1987. The Songlines. London: Johnathan Cape.Chernela, Janet M. 1988. "Righting History in the Northwest Amazon: Myth, Structure,and History in Arapaco Narrative" in Johnathan Hill (ed.), Rethinking History andMyth. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, pp.35-49.Crawford, Harriet. 1991. Sumer and the Sumerians. New York: Cambridge UniversityPress.Frye, Northrop. 1990a [1981]. The Great Code: The Bible and Literature. Ontario:Penguin Books.^ . 1990b [1957]. Anatomy of Crticism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.^ . 1990c. Myth and Metaphor: Selected Essays, 1974-1988. Charlottesville:University Press of Virginia.Gardner, John, and John Maier. 1985[1984]. Gilgamesh: Translated from theSin-leqi-unninni Version. New York: Vintage Books.Giddens, Anthony. 1979. Central Problems in Social Theory: Action, Structure andContradiction in Social Analysis. London: Macmillan.Goldberg, Benjamin. 1985. The Mirror and Man. Virginia: University of Virginia Press.Goody, Jack. 1991 [1987]. The Interface Between the Written and the Oral. New York:Cambridge University Press.Havelock, E.A. 1963. Preface To Plato. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Heidel, Alexander. 1963[1946]. The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels.Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Helms, Mary W. 1988. Ulysses' Sail: An Ethnographic Odyssey of Power, Knowledge,and Geographic Distance. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Hill, Johnathan. 1988. Rethinking History and Myth: Indigenous South AmericanPerspectives on the Past. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.35Kerouac, Jack. 1983[1955]. On the Road. Markham: Penguin Books.Landau, Misia. 1984. "Human Evolution as Narrative," American Scientist 72:262-68.Leed, Eric. 1991. The Mind of the Traveller: From Gilgamesh to Global Tourism. BasicBooks.Lord, Albert B. 1960. The Singer of Tales. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.McEvedy, Colin. 1988[1967]. The Penguine Atlas of Ancient History. Markham, Ontario:Penguin Books.O'Loughlin, Michael J.K. 1977. "The Odyssey," in Seidel and Mendelson, eds. Homer toBrecht: The European Epic and Dramatic Tradition. New Haven: Yale UniveristyPress, pp.30-52.Ong, Walter. 1967. The Presence of the Word. New Haven: Yale University Press.^ . 1977. Interfaces of the Word: Studies of the Evolution of Consciousness andCulture. New York: Cambridge University Press.^ . 1990 [1982]. Orali0) and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. NewYork: Routledge.Parry, Milman. 1971. The Making of Homeric Verse. A. Parry, ed. Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press.Pritchard, James B. (ed.).1974[1950]. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the OldTestament. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Rieu, E.V. 1965[1946]. The Odyssey. Baltimore: Penguin Books.^ . 1979[1950]. The Iliad. Markham, Ontario: Penguin Books.Said, Edward. 1978. Orientalisrn. New York: Vintage Books.Sandars, N.K. 1972[1960]. The Epic of Gilgamesh: An English Version with anIntroduction. Markham, Ontario: Penguin Books.Stout, Janice. 1983. The Journey Narrative in American Literature: Patterns andDepartures. Connecticut: Greenwood Press.Tigay, Jeffrey H. 1982. The Evolution of the Gilgamesh Epic. Philadelphia: University ofPennsylvania Press.Turner, Terrence. 1988. "Ethno-Ethnohistory: Myth and History in Native SouthAmerican Representations of Contact with Western Society," in Hill ed.,Rethinking History and Myth. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, pp.195-213.van der Post, Laurens. 1971[1952]. Venture to the Interior. Middlesex: Penguin Books.Vecsey, Christopher. 1991. Imagine Ourselves Richly: Mythic Narratives of NorthAmerican Indians. New York: HarperSanFransico.36White, Hayden. 1973. "The Forms of Wildness: Archaeology of an Idea," in Dudley andNovak eds., The Wild Man Within: An Image of Western Thought from theRenaissance to Romanticism. Pittsburg: University of Pittsburg Press, pp.3-38.37


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