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Mortality is at the center of the great epics. In the Sumerian Gilgamesh epic, the hero (like Achilles and Cúchulainn) first experiences the death of his dearest friend. This brings him closer to an understanding of his own approaching death, even if he still strives against the inevitable. In an epic, the hero’s lasting fame in song is the consolation for death, and the only true form of immortality.

Cylinder seal impression: Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu slay the Bull of Heaven. Photo: Tom Jensen, the Schoyen Collection.

50. A Mortal Hero

Tabitha’s next appointment with Dr. Liffey was the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. She described her encounter with Rúairí. “He’s the most beautiful man I’ve ever been with,” she said. “He’s kind. Intelligent. And he says he loves me.”

“How do you feel about him?” asked Anna.

“I want things to work between us. But I feel overwhelmed. I’m afraid. And… I think I’m mixing him up a little bit with the man in my dream.” She didn’t mention that she had called out Sétanta’s name during sex.

“What’s happening now in your dreams?”

“Cúchulainn fought the warriors that Medb sent to the ford. Then Medb sent his best friend against him. It was terrible. In a way, it was worse than when he killed Connla.” Images of Sétanta’s dire wounds rose in her mind, and the memory of Emer’s sick fear for her beloved caused Tabitha’s pulse to speed up. She gripped the arms of her chair.

“I can see that this subject upsets you. What do you feel for this man in the dreams? I’m not asking what Emer feels, or Medb, but you.”

She considered this, trying to separate her own emotions from those she experienced in the dream state, when she had no consciousness of being Tabitha Hill. “Sometimes I want to protect him. He’s so vulnerable. He knows he’s going to die young, and it scares him, though he can’t admit that. And he’s suffered so much mental and physical agony.” She looked up at Anna. “And other times, I’m angry at him. I can’t understand this warrior culture, where a man’s job is to kill, and honor is more important than love. I’ve seen what he did, to Connla, and to Ferdiad. It was nightmarish and disgusting. I’m scared of him.”

“And are you sexually attracted to him?”

She averted her face, unable to meet Anna’s eyes. “Well, yes. Rúairí knows about him. I think he’s jealous.”

Anna sat silent for a moment, and then she said, “You’re doing very well, Tabitha. You’re coming to a crucial point in your journey with these dreams. In order for you to have a successful relationship with Rúairí, Sétanta has to stop being the center of your dreams. He has to be laid to rest.” When Tabitha looked up in alarm, she added, “The mythic pattern of the hero always includes his death, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, I suppose so.” Tabitha answered, frowning. “That’s true for the saints, too.”

“When he dies, it will be difficult for you. But you’ll be freed to continue with your life, and it will be a richer life because of him.”

“I’m not sure he’s really going to die,” said Tabitha stubbornly. “He’s already lived a lot longer than Emer expected. He’s probably thirty now, and Rúairí told me that in the Irish saga he’s always a beardless teenager.”

“That may well be,” answered Anna. “But your hero is sticking around because you have unfinished business. I think we should meet again later this week, if you agree.”

Copyright 2017 by Linnet Moss

Notes: A short chapter this week, but an important one. When writing this story, I always wanted a certain ambiguity about whether Tabitha’s dreams represent some paranormal connection to a historical past, or whether they are the fantastic creation of her own rich subconscious, which was somehow exposed to the Cúchulainn myth in a way she doesn’t remember. Which interpretation we choose doesn’t matter, because the important thing, as Dr. Liffey sees, is that Cúchulainn has come into her life for a purpose. And in order for that purpose to be fulfilled, his story has to end.

But not just yet!

An Assyrian statue in the Louvre, of a hero overcoming a lion, is thought to represent either Gilgamesh or Enkidu. Gilgamesh, by the way, is believed to have been a historical king of Sumer.