Gilgamesh, Humbaba and Enkidu might sound like gibberish to most, but to Mark Hansen ’14, those words are automatic. Hansen’s eyes light up when he talk about the “Epic of Gilgamesh,” a poem about Mesopotamian mythology. Hansen, an Earth and Oceanographic Science (EOS) major, is currently working on a visual arts independent study with the classics department in which he will recreate the epic through a series of annotated illustrations. 

Hansen is a storyteller at heart. He learned about the poem in a classics mythology course with Classics Lecturer Michael Nerdahl, his current advisor on the project. After his class, he was hooked on the story and wanted to explore it further as well as examine it through a visual arts lens. Hansen said his passion for the project “came from a scholarly interest and a love for myth.” 

Hansen has always been interested in writing and illustrating. He has taken numerous art classes both on and off campus, and interned this past summer at the art museum in his hometown of Anchorage, Alaska where he learned more about the curatorial side of art. He hopes to someday write and illustrate his own books.

In describing his creative process, Hansen said, “I’ll do rough drafts and go to Professor Nerhdal and Dr. Higgenbotham and say, ‘Here are my characters, this is what I’m interested in showing.’” Hansen says that he brings his ideas to the professors and they help point him to new leads.

“On the surface, it is history and art history, but I’ve always thought that visual arts contributed to it,” Hansen says in reference to the way classics are portrayed.

“People aren’t very familiar with the epic of Gilgamesh…[but] it’s a really important poem. It really sets the stage for the hero cycle and you see elements of it appear in biblical stories in a lot of Greek poems.” 

Hansen understands this knowledge gap and wants to use his work to share the epic poem with a wider audience.  

The “Epic of Gilgamesh” tells the story of the partially divine King Gilgamesh, his counter-part Enkidu and the monster Humbaba. Hansen finds immense intricacies in all of these characters. He has been doing research to shed light on the complexities of these characters, and how they can be depicted in a way that holds true to ancient artistic works. 

Through his project, Hansen wants to “research themes that would have appeared in Syrian and Babylonian art,” although he does not feel tied down by physical descriptions of the characters. He wants to incorporate ideas he learns about in his readings, but ultimately the final product will be new and his own.

Taking one look at Hansen’s rough sketches of Humbaba and Gilgamesh reveals the incredible eye for detail that he has. Hansen’s work is a slow and laborious process of gathering knowledge, speaking to professors, drafting sketches and then researching more. 

This is not Hansen’s first series. He has worked in the past on an illustrated alphabet, and he believes that series are, “more powerful than stand-alone works. Not only because you can see the investment the author put into it…but you get a better sense of a story.”

This love of illustrating and writing has influenced Hansen in other ways as well. He sees opportunities for applying his interest in his field of EOS, and is interested in the public relations side of the environmental sciences, which he thinks is sometimes inaccessible to the public. He is also currently hosting a radio drama on WBOR with a few friends. 

Hansen regrets not having displayed enough of his work and is looking forward to making the most of his last year. Hansen says, “I have one year left and I’m trying to do what I can.”