Journal Article
“The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Political Symbolism of the Periphery”

Investigates the cedar tree as represented in image and text in early Mesopotamian culture – looking in particular at the Gilgamesh story. Though certainly an object of devotion, these trees, I argue, have less to do with ‘religion’ than with geopolitical imaginaries as constructed by the newly emerging urban-based powers of the region. Acquisition of these trees involved a six hundred mile military expedition from the cities in the marshes to the highlands of Lebanon. The trees, as valuable objects of conquest, thus represented not just the wealth of the periphery that was in now the hands of the city elites, but also the subjugation of the people of that periphery, the people who, in fact, once controlled the trees and lorded over their sanctity. When brought back to the cities and placed in urban temples, many built in the form of man-made, terraced cedar mountains, what we see is the translation of the story of risk and subjugation into a celebratory architectural form. The Mesopotamian cedar tree is the first example in history where the subjugation-of-the-periphery is formatted into a symbolic operation.  

 

Title
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsJarzombek M
JournalPerspecta
Volume52
Start Page136
Pagination136-145
Abstract

Investigates the cedar tree as represented in image and text in early Mesopotamian culture – looking in particular at the Gilgamesh story. Though certainly an object of devotion, these trees, I argue, have less to do with ‘religion’ than with geopolitical imaginaries as constructed by the newly emerging urban-based powers of the region. Acquisition of these trees involved a six hundred mile military expedition from the cities in the marshes to the highlands of Lebanon. The trees, as valuable objects of conquest, thus represented not just the wealth of the periphery that was in now the hands of the city elites, but also the subjugation of the people of that periphery, the people who, in fact, once controlled the trees and lorded over their sanctity. When brought back to the cities and placed in urban temples, many built in the form of man-made, terraced cedar mountains, what we see is the translation of the story of risk and subjugation into a celebratory architectural form. The Mesopotamian cedar tree is the first example in history where the subjugation-of-the-periphery is formatted into a symbolic operation.