We were going over the Epic of Gilgamesh in one class today, and all the the arguments were about grades and work habits, and who had done what homework and who had gotten what grades, and we only have two weeks left including exam week, why are we doing this again?? It was almost impossible to get anything done, and I was practically shouting (not following Lemov’s advice at all) in order to be heard talking about the Deepwater Horizon accident and how it related to an ancient epic poem written about five thousand years ago.
In the other class, we were going over the Epic of Gilgamesh again, and they were being goofballs and angry about having to work. And then I started talking about the Deepwater Horizon accident.
And the room became utterly silent. I found myself talking clearly, calmly, outlining what I knew about the accident, how it happened, how things should have worked, and how they didn’t work in this case, and what the results of the accident were. How the long-term effects might change the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic. The kids in the second class asked two questions. Three questions. Four, tops.
Then I asked my big question: “How is the Deepwater Horizon oil spill like the story of Gilamesh and Enkidu going to kill Humbaba and taking his cedar forest from him?”
There was silence a moment.
I would have bet you all the plastic stuff made in China that the kid who answered wouldn’t have even tried, much less given the answer he did. But I was so proud.
“Every civilization needs resources to survive, and they’ve gone into nature to get them. And mostly we’re successful at getting them. But when fail, the consequences are huge.”
Another student added,
“Enkidu and Gilgamesh show that humans in partnership can kill almost anything, win through almost any difficulty. But they know there’s a risk of destruction, of death, from not taking all the precautions they can.”
And another student completed the thought:
“The Deepwater Horizon accident is the same story as hunting Humbaba in the cedar forest. It’s going after resources, and encountering terrible monsters.”
This is the “dumb” class. But as I keep telling them… they’re not dumb at all. And they’re not. They’re capable of seeing things that their ‘smarter’ colleagues don’t, because they’re committed to trying their hardest to do something hard here. And as near as I can tell, they’ve got it. This is the point… Humbaba, with all seven of his glories on, is functionally equivalent to an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico:
How shall the likes of us go [there], my friend?
In order to safeguard the forest of cedars (or the Gulf of Mexico)
Enlil has appointed him to terrify the people,
Enlil has destined him seven fearsome glories.
That journey is not to be undertaken,
That creature is not to be looked upon.
Humbaba’s cry is the roar of a deluge,
His maw is fire, his breath is death.
He can hear rustling in the forest for sixty double-leagues.
(or, he spreads across the Gulf for sixty double-leagues, and rides the Loop Current).
Who, even among the gods, could stand against him?
Besides, whosoever enters his forest (or his waters) is struck down by disease.
The kids are starting to get this. I’m so excited, and I’m really excited that the so-called, allegedly-dumb kids got there first. They made the connection between ancient history, and present news. It’s my hope that, since it was so hard-won, that they will never give it up again.