First & Last Name
4 August 2007 this essay was written when page-length requirements were shorter
Leaving a Legacy
“I maybe here for a short while, gone tomorrow into oblivion or until the days come to take me away. But, in whatever part you play, be remembered as part of a legacy...of sharing dreams and changing humanity for the better. It's that legacy that never dies.”- Anonymous
Every time I walk into a bookstore, look at a magazine rack, or turn on the radio, I am reminded of the importance of leaving a legacy for my family. A search of the keyword legacy when visiting the online bookstore www.Amazon.com results in more than 180,000 books. A Google search reveals over 2.5 million listings. There is urgency in the message, yet, as a society, we are living longer than ever. Why is our country so obsessed with leaving a legacy, and what does that mean?
Webster’s dictionary defines legacy as “money or property left to someone by a will” or “anything handed down from an ancestor” (771). In today’s culture, it is not so much money or property, but it is the lives we touch; the impact we make on society. People want to be remembered for generations to come, for their name to be recalled with respect and honor. Parents want to teach their children the life lessons they learned, so the mistakes could be avoided and the successes can be added to. We want to preserve our history for the betterment of the future. The scrapbook industry is a testament to this fact.
Why do people scrapbook? Why do they spend several dollars per album page, sometimes spending several dollars on just one embellishment? I am a scrap-booker, so I can say with confidence that the reason we do it is to preserve our lives, and the lives of our family members, for eternity so that future generations can learn the stories that we so cherish, to be immortalized and never forgotten. As I work diligently on journaling and preserving our family’s life story, I pray that my work is not in vain and that when I am dead and gone, those who are still here cherish these albums as much as I do, and I am not alone in this.
There is a web site I happened upon at www.43things.com; basically it is a community of people who list 43 things they would like to accomplish in their lifetimes, then they blog under each topic about their goals and progress. There are 121 people in this community who have made leaving a legacy part of their 43 things list; 853 people want to be remembered, 468 people want to be a good father, and 112 people want to document their lives better. A person with the screen name HowardRoberts put it this way, “I hope 70, or 100, or more years after I’m gone, there is someone who will speak my name out loud with fondness, and know that this world is a better place for my having been here.”
Leaving this type of legacy is somewhat of a trend in today’s society, but it is certainly not a new concept. In fact, it is the subject of the literary work, Gilgamesh, which can be dated as far back as the year 2000 B.C. (10). This document was written in the Sumerian language (10); “Sumerians held the belief that writing would bring renown and assure immortality, and used the same word, mu, to signify both "name" and "fame." By creating inscriptions and documenting their feats, Sumerian kings attempted to establish mu dari, or an "eternal name," for themselves” (Galvin). The author of Gilgamesh starts the piece by declaring, “I will proclaim to the world the deeds of Gilgamesh,” (12) in other words, the author is writing the legacy of King Gilgamesh. “The ancient Mesopotamian desire to leave a legacy meant that not only did rulers memorialize incidents by documenting them,” as in the Epic of Gilgamesh, “but deposits containing inscriptions were also directly incorporated into the foundations of monumental buildings. Later generations renovating those constructions would search out the foundation deposits and integrate them into their own inscriptions, thereby linking themselves with their ancestors” (Galvin).
In part 2 of Gilgamesh, Enkidu interprets a dream of King Gilgamesh by explaining to him that while the gods made him a great king, greater than any man, they did not give him everlasting life. This makes Gilgamesh think about the legacy he is making for himself, and he responds, “I have not established my name stamped on bricks as my destiny decreed; therefore I will go to the country where the cedar is felled. I will set up my name in the place where the names of famous men are written, and where no man’s name is written yet I will raise a monument to the gods” (17). His friend Enkidu reminds him that there is a ferocious giant in the land and tries to convince Gilgamesh that it is not worth dying to establish his name in a stone. Gilgamesh replies, “Then if I fall I leave behind me a name that endures; men will say of me, ‘Gilgamesh has fallen in fight with ferocious Humbaba.’ Long after the child has been born in my house, they will say it, and remember” (17-18). He is not as concerned with how he gets remembered, just that he does something which makes him worthy of being immortalized in the memories of future peoples. It takes some convincing, but Enkidu finally agrees to accompany his friend and “in search of fame, they undertake an expedition to the Cedar Forest where they defeat and kill Humbaba.” As a result, “Enkidu is sentenced to death by the gods as a punishment for that killing. Gilgamesh is devastated by [the loss of his friend] and flees the city for the wild” (Abusch). It is at this point in the story that Gilgamesh switches from having his name be immortalized to the desire for physical eternal life. However, “in the course of his wanderings, he finally encounters Siduri, a divine tavern-keeper at the edge of the world. She tells him that he cannot attain immortality and advises him to resume normal life” (Abusch).
As was custom, the story of Gilgamesh is assumed to have started as an oral tradition, and some written forms are read as they would have been told, however, the version found in the text implies that Gilgamesh, in realizing that he himself cannot remain forever, takes to the task of writing down his legacy and in doing so, Gilgamesh preserves his story for future civilizations. It is important to the meaning and purpose of the tale, for “the oral epic focuses on family and the present, the written epic on community and the future. The former speaks to one's contemporaries and immediate descendants; the latter to the community in both its present and future existence. The past and future of community are longer and have greater depth than those of family. Its memory and ability to remember the past is proportionally longer, especially when the past is preserved in writing, for writing lasts for many generations, whereas memorialization through one's child(ren) lasts no more than several generations” (Abusch).
So, the question remains, was Gilgamesh successful in passing on his legacy? Paul Kane puts it best in his article “Gilgamesh and the limits of mortality”:
On display in a corner of the Near Eastern section of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a clay tablet no more than three inches by two inches, ochre-colored, and shaped like the state of Idaho. This inconspicuous fragment dates from the Neo-Babylonian period of Mesopotamia –somewhere between the seventh and sixth centuries BCE--and is covered with tiny cuneiform script. Standing there, peering through the glass case at this little object, you realize in how fragmentary a state the past actually exists. The Roman Forum, with the exception of a few arches, is a pile of stone; almost every Greek temple requires an act of the imagination to complete; the great cities of the ancient world are heaps of excavation sites. For most of us, the past lives primarily in books. What is so stirring about the piece of clay in the Metropolitan is not its age (after all, the rocks around my house are millions of years older), but the fact that the curious script on it tells a story, a story we recognize as part of our own complex heritage. We have come to know much about Mesopotamian literature from translations made in this century, following the heroic age of excavation in the nineteenth century, but without doubt the greatest discovery unearthed and presented to us was that crowning achievement of Mesopotamian literature, the epic of Gilgamesh.
So then, the answer to our question is a resounding, “Yes”, Gilgamesh, fictional or non-fictional, left behind quite a legacy, one that 4,000 years later has been read by countless numbers of people, and will, forever be preserved. It seems as if King Gilgamesh had found eternal life after all.
Works Cited MLA requirements have changed since this essay was written
Abusch, Tzvi. "The Development and Meaning of the Epic of Gilgamsh." Journal of the
American Oriental Society 121 (2001). Academic Search Complete. EBSCOhost. Collin
County Community College.
Anonymous. ThinkExist.Com. 4 Aug. 2007 http://thinkexist.com/quotes/with/keyword/legacy/ .
"Legacy." Webster's New World College Dictionary. 3rd ed. 1996.
Galvin, Rachel. "The Imprint of IMMORTALITY." Humanities Sept.-Oct. 2002: 18-23.
Academic Search Complete. EBSCOhost. Collin County Community College. 4 Aug.
Gilgamesh. The Norton Anthology of World Literature. New York: WW Norton &
Company, 2002. 10-41.
Kane, Paul. "Gilgamesh and the Limits of Mortality." Raritan 13 (1993): 126-139. Academic
Search Complete. EBSCOhost. Collin County Community College. 5 Aug. 2007.