Tuesday, June 7, 2016

[AVW009] Doing Better - Anat and Paghat

Previous: [AVW008] Doing a Better Job - Inanna in the Underworld

"And [Aghat] the hero replied:
'Lie not to me O virgin!
For to a hero thy lies are loathsome
How can a mortal acquire a latter estate?
How can a mortal acquire permanence?'

-H. L. Ginsberg, The North-Canaanite Myth of Anath and Aqhat, II

Just as classic Anima stories revolve around conflict between two men over a woman, many of the best Animus stories revolve around two women conflicting over a man. But Anat and Paghat do not squabble over who's the prettiest; they go to motherfucking war.

The Story in a Nutshell

It's hard to put the story of Anat and Paghat into a nutshell. It's bursting with conflicts between gods, humans, and everything in between. Even so, the key conflict of the story is universally relatable: revenge.

In the land of Cannan, there was a judge named Danel whose wife gave birth to a son. The god of craftsmen gave him a wondrous bow and arrows as a gift for the newborn Aghat. No doubt this was a great honor, but the god of craftsmen had promised the bow and arrows to another – Anat, a goddess of war.

Aghat grew to maturity and the goddess Anat came to visit him. She offered to buy the bow and arrows back from him, offering even immortality in exchange. But Aghat, perhaps from love of the bow and perhaps from distrust of the goddess, refused. He said that old age and death come to all men (calling her a liar), and besides - "what would a woman do with a bow?"

Anat, in a rage, demanded that Enki let her take revenge on Aghat (going so far as to threaten Enki with death). Enki allows her to take revenge, but with the warning that Aghat must not be killed. She sent her servant Yatpan to beat the boy and rob him of the bow. But of course, the unlucky boy died of his wounds. Looks like Aghat was right about death!

Furious at her servant, Anat chased him and Yatpan fled to the sea. While he was flying over the ocean, he dropped the wondrous bow and arrows, and they sank beneath the waves. Anat mourned, for the bow was lost and Aghat had been unjustly killed. A curse would surely come upon the land (which it did, in the form of a drought).

The best thing about this story is that all of this is an elaborate set-up for the introduction of the real heroine: Paghat, the younger, wiser sister of Aghat. Paghat's quest is to avenge her brother's unjust death and break the curse on the land.

Then, we lost the story.

Ancient texts often come to us in fragmentary form. All we know of the rest of the story is that Aghat hires a mercenary to help her, who is dramatically revealed to be Yatpan (her brother's murderer) in disguise.

We do have some tantalizing leads from other sources. In earlier years, Anat also went on quest of revenge against Mot, the god of death who murdered Anat's brother, Baal. Paghat's story is the continuation of an ancient drama of revenge and counter-revenge.

Did Paghat avenge her brother's death? Was the curse on the land broken? Did Yatpan and Anat find redemption? And why did the god of craftsmen give the bow to Aghat instead of the goddess? We may never know – but we can speculate and craft tales of our own.

The Archetypes

The loss of the original text is perhaps the biggest opportunity for this story. All of the conflicts are set up for us, but the resolution is open to interpretation. All of the ingredients for an epic story are here – we just need to choose the ending.

There's an excellent chance here to play with the old "die a heroine or live to become a villaness" theme. Anat also went on quest to avenge her brother (the Animus), but turned into something of a monster in the process:

"Anat appears as a fierce, wild and furious warrior in a battle, wading knee-deep in blood, striking off heads, cutting off hands, binding the heads to her torso and the hands in her sash, driving out the old men and townsfolk with her arrows, her heart filled with joy."
Anat provides the perfect Shadow Self for our protagonist. Will Paghat succumb to the same evil as Anat, or will she find a balance between saving the world and seeking revenge? And what of the wondrous bow sunk beneath the waves (in the depths of the unconscious)?

There's a great deal of grey vs. grey morality that could be very compelling if handled properly. Yatpan knows he has fucked up and tries to help Paghat set the world straight. Can she forgive him for his role in her brother's death, or will she reject his help? Anat also knows that her actions have brought a curse on the world, but can her sin only be atoned for by death? Or is there another way?

And at the heart of it all is the quest for the Animus that takes the form of a conflict between two powerful women. "What would a woman do with a bow?" Get some motherfucking revenge, that's what.

It's not the usual Mary Sue bullshit about women who are pure and clean and always justified in their actions, but a dirty, apocalyptic battle between two violent and morally compromised women with the fate of the world at stake.

As a cherry on top, Aghat is kind of a prick. He's a misogynist, and yet his sister is still driven to defend her family honor and the world is still cursed by his unjust death. I can't think of a more complicated ethical theme for our female-driven narrative than a quest to avenge a misogynist asshole.

In terms of game mechanics, we probably don't need to reinvent the wheel. It's going to be a brutal hack-and-slash affair, although solid archery mechanics would be a must. We're here for brutal violence and morally complex women in conflict.

This may be a matter of personal taste, but if this story were to be adapted into a game, I think it should keep as much of the ancient Near East flavor as possible. Inanna's story is universal enough to be applied to any setting, but there's something about this epic clash of goddesses and women that demands a mythic context.

Next time, we'll be looking at a very different sort of female protagonist and a very different type of story.

[AVW010] Doing Better – Psyche Loves Cupid


  1. This is fantastic. Thank you for sharing.

  2. There are so many inconsistency sin how I see this text described. Your reference to Enki (a Sumerian deity who would not be known by that name in Ugarit) is usually given as El, the father of Anath, who's Sumerian equivalent is Anu the father of Enki.

    I have been contemplating devising a theory where the Amazons descend from Paghat somehow. And that their Goddess who the Greek though was Artemis was really Anath.

    1. I'm not examining these characters as real people, but as characters.

      This may differ from your own interests.