Mythotextuality and the evolution of ideologies the reuse of the Epic of Gilgamesh in North American texts
When the scribes of ancient Mesopotamia rewrote the Epic of Gilgamesh over a period of over two thousand years, the modifications made reflected the social transformations occurring during the same era. The dethroning of the goddess Inanna-Ishtar and the devaluation of other female characters in the evolving Epic of Gilgamesh coincided with the declining status of women in society. Since the 1960s, translations into modern languages have been readily available. The Mesopotamian myth has been reused in a wide variety of mythic and mythological texts by Quebecois, Canadian and American authors. Our analysis of the first group of mythic texts, written in the 1960s and 1970s, shows a reversal of the tendency of the Mesopotamian texts. Written at a time when the feminist movement was transforming North American society, these retellings feature a goddess with her high status restored and her ancient attributes re-established. Another group of writers, publishing in the 1980s and 1990s, makes a radical shift away from these feminist tendencies while still basically rewriting the Epic. In this group of mythic texts, the goddess and other female characters find their roles reduced while the male gods and characters have expanded and glorified roles. The third group of texts analysed does not rewrite the Epic. The Epic is reused here intertextually to give depth to mythological works set in the twentieth century or later. The dialogue created between the contemporary text and the Epic emphasises the role that the individual has in society. A large-scale comparative mythotextual study of texts that share a common hypotext can, especially when socio-historical factors are considered, provide a window onto the relationship between text and society. A comparative study of how the Epic of Gilgamesh is rewritten and referred to intertextually through time can help us relativize the understanding of our own time and culture.