There’s something else that arguably combats the noise in a story’s oral transmission through time: those topoi long handed down and which we often call “traditional”—precisely because they appear across so much lengthy oral poetry of yore. They’re there no matter whether we are in Gilgamesh’s Mesopotamia, or Sita’s ancient India, or Achilles’ ancient Greece. (Nathaniel Hawthorne commented that traditions were impossible for any one individual to invent, as ultimately it took a century to make them.) These traditional themes—such as the search for wisdom—are also often associated with a given motif, such as a hero’s descent into the underworld. To be sure, their durability resides in part in their attunement to existential questions that obsess us today no less than they did the ancients: Why are we here? Why must we die? Where do we go after? What makes a good ruler? How do we explain the bad things that happen to us—our struggles with the land, with starvation, with war, with all manner of external aggressors?