by Isaac Marion
Analysis: What's Up With the Epigraph?
Epigraphs are like little appetizers to the great main dish of a story. They illuminate important aspects of the story, and they get us headed in the right direction.
You have known, O Gilgamesh,
What interests me,
To drink from the Well of Immortality.
Which means to make the dead
Rise from their graves
And the prisoners from their cells
The sinners from their sins.
I think love's kiss kills our heart of flesh.
It is the only way to eternal life,
Which should be unbearable if lived
Among the dying flowers
And the shrieking farewells
Of the overstretched arms of our spoiled hopes.
—Herbert Mason, Gilgamesh: A Verse Narrative
—The Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet II,
lines 147, 153, 154, 278, 279
So, that epigraph. You've pretty much read the entire Epic of Gilgamesh after reading it. The too-long-didn't-read version is, "Is eternal life worth it?"
As a zombie, R pretty much has eternal life (as long as he doesn't lose his head). But it's all gray and total dullsville. As the epigraph says "eternal life, which should be unbearable if lived." You'd think R would give up eternal life in exchange for a brief, colorful, human existence. But he doesn't. No, he's still determined to have eternal life. He just wants it to not be so boring. Because of love or something.
The second epigraph is much, much shorter. We're not sure if this ellipsis is a reference to visible silence or just part of the tablet that has been lost over the millennia. If you ask us, we'll just shrug. The ellipsis is pretty punctuation shrugging is shoulders at you.
The shrug is R's favorite gesture, though, so it's fitting: "[the shrug] while easy to abuse, does have its place. It may even be vital vocabulary in a world as unspeakable as ours" (2.2.67). Sometimes there are things beyond our comprehension, or beyond our ability to voice. Instead of overthinking them, it might be best to just shrug them off.