Sunday, April 1, 2012

2001 analysis - part 38: A common source for The Odyssey and Jonah's story


The Deluge tablet of the Gilgamesh epic in Akkadian. [Image from the Wikipedia 'Epic of Gilgamesh' page, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.]

Earlier in the analysis, it was described how 2001 is an allegory for the biblical story of Jonah and the whale. Joseph Campbell attempted to draw parallels between the story of Jonah and the Epic of Gilgamesh, in which Gilgamesh obtains a plant from the bottom of the sea. In the book of Jonah a worm (in Hebrew tola'ath, "maggot") bites the shade-giving plant's root causing it to wither, while in the epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh plucks his plant from the floor of the sea which he reached by tying stones to his feet. Once he makes it back to the shore, the rejuvenating plant is eaten by a serpent.[a]

The idea that A Space Odyssey is, in part, an allegory for Homer's epic poem The Odyssey, is suggested by the film's title. David Bowman corresponds to The Odyssey's hero, Odysseus; he defeats one-eyed HAL, who corresponds to The Odyssey's Cyclops.

HAL (above left) is 'killed' when Bowman deactivates his logic/memory components (above right).

Scholars have seen strong influences from Near Eastern mythology and literature in The Odyssey. Martin West has noted substantial parallels between the Epic of Gilgamesh and The Odyssey. Both Odysseus and Gilgamesh are known for traveling to the ends of the Earth, and on their journeys go to the land of the dead. On his voyage to the underworld, Odysseus follows instructions given to him by Circe, a goddess who is the daughter of the sun-god Helios. Her island, Aeaea, is located at the edges of the world, and seems to have close associations with the sun. Like Odysseus, Gilgamesh gets directions on how to reach the land of the dead from a divine helper: in this case, the goddess Siduri, who, like Circe, dwells by the sea at the ends of the Earth. Her home is also associated with the sun: Gilgamesh reaches Siduri's house by passing through a tunnel underneath Mt. Mashu, the high mountain from which the sun comes into the sky. West argues that the similarity of Odysseus' and Gilgamesh's journeys to the edges of the Earth are the result of the influence of the Gilgamesh epic upon The Odyssey.[b]

By designing 2001: A Space Odyssey as an allegory for both Jonah and the whale and The Odyssey, Kubrick was trying to draw attention to the fact that there was a common underlying source for these two tales: the Epic of Gilgamesh.

a. Wikipedia, 'Jonah.' Web, n.d. URL =
b. Wikipedia, 'Odyssey'. Web, n.d. URL =


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