Further Thoughts on the City

Just a brief thought, following up on Alice’s comment the other day about the antiquity and prevalence of images of the city: I wonder if it has to do with the fact that writing developed along with the first cities?  It’s there in the oldest literature we have, The Epic of Gilgamesh.  Having unsuccessfully sought immortality, Gilgamesh returns home to his city of Uruk-the-Sheepfold, and says to Urshanabi, ferryman to Utnapishtim (a Noah figure, with his wife the only man to achieve immortality):

               O Ur-shanabi, climb Uruk’s wall and walk back and forth!
                     Survey its foundations, examine the brickwork!
               Were its bricks not fired in an oven?
                      Did the Seven Sages not lay its foundations?
               A square mile is city, a square mile date-grove, a square mile is
                      clay-pit, half a square mile the temple of Ishtar:
              three square miles and a half is Uruk’s expanse.

These are the concluding lines of the poem, after Gilgamesh has lost the plant that gives renewed youth to the snake, and has utterly failed to meet even the precondition for asking for immortality, staying awake for seven nights.  This is the only immortality he has, in his city; except for that which he gained through the poem.  Elsewhere in the poem, Uruk is described as having walls of burnt clay, which, of course, so too are the tablets on which the poem is written.  Both city and writing are witnesses to a past that otherwise is just rumour.


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