The First City and the Epic of Gilgamesh

After some time in the FL community, I noticed a couple of surprisingly common things:

  1. The Manager is directly referred to as Gilgamesh (and the King with a Hundred Hearts as Enkidu, though less often);
  2. The First City is referred to as Uruk.

And I just don’t understand why it is so widely considered to be 100% canon.

First: literary references don’t mean that different characters from different stories are one and the same.
The Honey-Addled Detective resembles Sherlock in many ways, but nobody calls him Mr. Holmes.
The Calendar Council is obviously inspired by the organisation from &quotThe man who was Thursday&quot, but I never see Sunday mentioned instead of December.

It is possible to refer to Dr. Schlomo as Dr. Freud, because he is based on a historical figure from the same world that the Fallen London is based on. But although there are records of a real Sumerian king by the name of Gilgamesh, the Epic isn’t really about him: it’s a poem about a mythical hero in a mythical world, and it also obeys the laws of fiction (such as that two different universes with their own rules, gods, timelines and so on are usually incompatible without the aid of additional convincing plot devices).

Second: the above examples are the cases when references are evident. The alleged references to the Epic of Gilgamesh are, however, very vague.

Enkidu is made by the gods from clay. The King with a Hundred Hearts gives &quotbirth&quot to Clay Men. I can see the connection that is used as an argument, but the KwaHH is a human merchant from the East (presumably Ancient China) and definitely not someone who has just recently been created with a single purpose to punch the local ruler. And it’s hard to compare primal animal-like Enkidu who is covered with nothing but hair to &quotan impossibly beautiful man&quot (Season of Ruins) in rich silks.

Now, immortality. Gilgamesh seeks it for himself and his own glory, not for Enkidu (who has already died). The Priest-King of the First City, on the contrary, seeks it primarily for his dying lover, and chooses to share it to stay with him forever.

I’ve also seen something about cedars as an argument, but, well… cedars are for Mesopotamia and Middle East what maples are for Canada or birchtrees for Russia. One does not simply walk into Mordor and one does not simply write about a particular land without mentioning its cultural and natural symbols. Especially when they are both at once.

Besides, the First City is located right among them (it’s even in the name, the Crossroads Shaded by Cedars), while in the Epic heroes have to go on a journey to reach the cedar forest.

By the way, as for the City itself, there’s no proof that it’s unambigously Uruk at all. The only clue we have is the Temple of Eyes, but in terms of parallels with real Mesopotamian settlements it may refer to Tell Brak/Nagar instead. Which is sometimes literally called the first city. Not much, but it’s already 2:0 against Uruk.

…So is the story of the First City inspired by the Epic? Probably yes, in some way.

But is it possible to call the Manager and his lover Gilgamesh and Enkidu? Totally OK for a headcanon, but as an outright statement – no, I don’t think so. They’re absolutely different characters (in terms of plot, origin, motivations and virtually everything except an extremely common mythological trope and two of them being Mesopotamian kings). Failbetter made them and their story truly unique and distinct, and I really wish this effort wasn’t disregarded like that.

For example, I may decide to call Mr. Eaten &quotDagon&quot because his story involves cultists, nightmares, depths of the sea, ghastly ancient mysteries, madness, etc. Crossover-y fanworks/theories would be great, no doubt. But intentional misnaming would be almost equal to saying &quotdear authors, you just copy Lovecraft and can’t create something original&quot, which is not true at all.

edited by JaneAnkhVeos on 2/18/2021

I guess this is mostly the lore wiki’s fault. For some reason it used to present it not as theories but as facts.

My opinion stays the same as I’ve said on Reddit: using other characters’ names is indeed weird. I love references, but when the Manager quotes Macbeth a couple of times, I don’t say I play the Marvellous against Macbeth.

It appears so. At least I’ve managed to insert a line about the KwaHH’s canonical past as a Chinese traveller (his page described Enkidu’s past instead, particularly about being created by Aruru who doesn’t even appear or get mentioned in Fallen London at all), and I hope it won’t be deleted.

Also I’ve noticed that heroes of the Epic get confused with historical figures (like Ankhesenamun or Queen Victoria, who fall under the case that I’ve illustrated with Dr. Schlomo). So perhaps people just don’t see it as a sudden plot-breaking OOC crossover when they use the First City’s survivors’ &quotreal&quot names.