Storytelling, 6th September 2008


There was a fascinating mix of people at this workshop. They included post-graduate students interested in storytelling as a psychotherapeutic tool, a science journalist writing for a Gulf newspaper, and Hungarians intrigued by similarities between their language and Sumerian.

New ZIPANG storytellers Laura Collins and Emily Elizabeth told the Etana story using storyboard images they prepared earlier and brought to the workshop. The Sumerian king list records that Etana was the first king of the city of Kish and the second king was Balih, probably his son. In the story, Etana is a good king but has no son to inherit his kingdom.

In answer to Etana’s prayers, the sun-god Shamash sends him into the mountains to rescue an eagle who is dying at the bottom of a very deep pit. The eagle has been punished for breaking his oath of friendship with a snake by eating the snake’s children.

This is the eagle’s chance to redeem himself by helping Etana find the herb of birth kept by the goddess Inana. Etana flies on the eagle’s back up towards heaven. Each time he looks down the world he knows is further away and smaller.

Close to the gates of heaven, Etana panics and asks the eagle to take him back to the city of Kish. The eagle twists his body, Etana falls off and tumbles down toward the ground only to be rescued when the eagle swoops and catches him on the tip of his wing. This happens three times.

Back in the city of Kish, Etana dreams he flies to heaven and sees the goddess Inana. A lion beneath her throne growls at him. When Etana approaches, the lion roars and leaps out at him. He wakes up. The workshop felt the excitement as they followed his adventures and learnt with Gilgamesh the lesson of the Flood Story.

Etana tells his dream to the eagle. The eagle again takes Etana up to heaven on his back. They reach the gates of heaven This is where the text of the clay tablets breaks off. No fragment has been found that tells what happened at the end of the story. But we know from the Sumerian king lists that Etana probably had a son named Balih, so we can guess the story had a happy ending.

Fran Hazelton took people through the events in the Babylon creation myth, using storyboard images prepared earlier. The myth follows the progress of the god Marduk from favoured son of the gods to their champion, then their king and finally the first ever Supreme Being.

Badia Obaid told an episode of The Epic of Gilgamesh in Arabic. Badia is working on two storytelling versions of The Epic of Gilgamesh. One is in literary Arabic for adults and one is in everyday Arabic for children. The children’s version has plenty of physical activity and interaction with the audience.

June Peters told an episode of The Epic of Gilgamesh in English. June will be missed at the ZIPANG workshops on 4 October and 1 November. She will be on tour in Mexico, South America, as an English-speaking storyteller telling traditional tales to pupils and students in English-language schools and colleges.

Tara Jaff soothed and delighted the workshop participants with improvised music on her harp. She also sang a Kurdish song about Kafiltchi, the man who was a guide for caravans travelling along ancient trade routes.

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