more about the Stone Ones

So after my last post, I’ve been thinking more about the Stone Ones from Gilgamesh. They have only a very brief appearance, but an important one, being part of Gilgamesh’s journey across the Waters of Death to meet Uta-Napishtim, the immortal survivor of the Great Flood.

Perhaps this comes from all of the other appearance of stony creatures that have appeared since. There is the Golem; there are the stone skinned beings from Game of Thrones; Frankenstein’s Adam isn’t a creature of stone but it is a creature nonetheless, even if one perhaps more intelligent than its creator.

There has been some speculation on who, or what, the Stone Ones were in actuality. Anne Kilmer in Crossing the Waters of Death: the Stone Things in the Gilgamesh Epic, speculates that the stone things are part of a method for moving boats in shallow water, by throwing a (stone) anchor and then pulling the boat along.

But for me, and this might just be me, misses a basic point. I’m not sure of the actual Sumerian (or Akkadian) word, and so I don’t know whether the correct translation is Stone Ones or Stone Things. But Gilgamesh falling upon them and smashing them seems to me to indicate something more than Gilgamesh smashing stone anchors, that could be replaced before he and Ur-Shanabi started on their journey.

So I want to believe there is something more interesting here. When I first read Gilgamesh, and when I just reread it, I had the image of moveable stone statues on Ur-Shanabi’s boat, helping Ur-Shanabi propel the boat to the opposite shore of the Waters of Death.

But this makes no sense. Animate stone statues are not the sort of thing that make any sense on a boat. And this just adds to the whole air of something unusual.

So what might the Stone Ones be? I love the image of the animate stone statues, themselves immortal and immune to the effect of the Waters of Death, But if such existed, then surely there would have been mention of them either somewhere else in Gilgamesh or in some other Sumerian epic. My reading of all of Sumer is its early stages, but I’ve not seen any mention of them in my other reading.

I am operating with very incomplete information at this point, but I am struck by their one brief mention in Gilgamesh. One of the speculations that I have carried with me for a long time is the belief that we might carry echoes of stories from deep human time in our stories, and I’m wondering whether this is the case here.

What references from Gilgamesh, perhaps the Stone Ones, perhaps Enkidu, are echoes of much older stories? What strikes me about the Stone Ones in particular is their singularity, and I remember something that I read somewhere, that it is the unusual and the singular in our old stories that we need to pay attention to.

It is the unusual and the singular that we remember as the important elements in our old stories, as they might be the elements that we have some reason to remember, even if we have forgotten why we need to remember and even if we’ve forgotten what they actually mean.

~ by Jim Anderson on 8 February 2020.

4 Responses to “more about the Stone Ones”

  1. Um. There are some very, very old Stone Warriors around the Mediterranean. Gobeckli Tepe (spelling?) in Turkey and Filitosa in Corsica spring to mind, but there is also the pan-European tradition that menhirs, stone circles etc. are petrified people… And there are Tolkien’s pukel-men.

    • And herein lies the birth of another project: can we compile a record of all the stone ones and stone warriors, et cetera, who have appeared over time, including into the present, and can we from the record try to sense a thread running through them all. And perhaps this attempt in itself might make an interesting story?

  2. I would tend to think the stone ones or the stone men, are a reference to the ancient people that worked in stone, who we call stone age people. Siduri, after saying it is impossible to cross the sea says, “no one has crossed the sea in a very long time.”. A quick and easy to miss way of saying, people once crossed, perhaps in the stone age? I feel like the epic is the first written form of far more ancient oral tradition.

    • Many thanks for the comment, and I agree that Gilgamesh is but a snapshot of a far more ancient tradition, and one that we only imperfectly understand. One question I would have though is how the author would know that we refer to the very old times as the stone age. And this question is then the entrance to yet another extensive rabbit warren of questions of how we interpret the words we find in these old stories.

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