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The Epic of Gilgamesh by Anonymous

The Epic of Gilgamesh

by Anonymous, Sîn-lēqi-unninni (Editor)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 81 (next | show all)
I was intrigued to read a "closer to the source" edition of Gilgamesh after my recent discovery of Stephen Mitchell's "Gilgamesh: A New English Version" which is considered controversial as Mitchell was not translating it but simply adapting it based on the translations of others and fills in any missing sections with his own poetic extrapolations on the text. Mitchell does use this present 1999/2003 edition by A.R. George as his primary source.

Andrew George has done a spectacular job assembling here as complete an edition with all variant sources as existed 20 years ago. It is evident from the missing sections and the continued discoveries that even further reconstruction is possible in the future. The notes and the pictures (some photos, some drawings) are a bonus enhancement of the experience.

It is fascinating to know how this has all been assembled from thousands of clay tablet fragments found throughout mostly present-day Iraq. The work and its variants was so popular that it was a standard text used in scribe schools for reproduction, thus increasing the likelihood of 4,000+ year old fragments being discovered in recent centuries. ( )
  alanteder | Jul 25, 2018 |
It's extraordinary that the core of a story over four thousand years old, large parts of which have miraculously survived in the form of sunbaked tablets, can be deciphered and read by scholars and translated into modern languages for the edification and enlightenment of all.

The fact that it tells the kind of story we're familiar with from our own fairytales, novels and film is both surprising and yet reassuring, surprising given its age and reassuring because human frailties and virtues clearly haven't changed much over three or four millennia.

The narrative features Gilgamesh, a legendary king of Uruk in southern Mesopotamia who is part divine, part human, and which describes his life in a series of key episodes. The opening is not auspicious: we see him exercising his regal droit du Seigneur, leaving a lot of unhappy women and families in his wake. But then he encounters a new best friend called Enkidu, a tamed wild man who is almost his equal in strength and who incidentally puts a stop to the King's unreasonable behaviour.

Their companionship requires cementing and involves confronting and overcoming the demon Huwawa or Humbaba in the distant cedar forest. Unfortunately the goddess Ishtar then takes obsessive interest in Gilgamesh; when she's rejected the goddess rouses the gods against the king, the outcome being that Enkidu has to die.

Grieving and railing against the inevitability of death Gilgamesh resolves to search for immortality at the far end of the known world. Along the way he meets Utnapishtim who, after surviving the Flood, has attained long life. Unfortunately Gilgamesh fails crucial tests, including safeguarding the plant that gives eternal life, and as a result returns empty-handed to Uruk which is where death eventually catches up with him.

However he does achieve an immortality of sorts: his name is engraved on the stones of the walls of the city and his story inscribed on tablets that scholars can now read. The message expressed is the same as the lyrics to the song from the film Fame: "I'm gonna make it to heaven | Light up the sky like a flame | I'm gonna live forever | Baby, remember my name..."

Biblical scholars get very excited with parallels -- or rather predecessors -- to Old Testament tales, most obviously Noah and the Flood. Gilgamesh and Enkidu foreshadow Jacob and Esau, Shamhat the temple prostitute who tames Enkidu is a forerunner of Eve, the snake that eats the flower of immortality and condemns Gilgamesh to banishment from paradise is like the serpent in the Garden of Eden. But I'm also impressed by other similarities to themes in other cultures. For example, Gilgamesh and Enkidu's killing of the Bull of Heaven sent by Ishtar reminds me of Mithras' slaying of the bull, suggesting some survival of a traditional tale in the lands adjoining Mesopotamia. Urshanabi, who ferries Gilgamesh across the waters of death is of course the equivalent of the ferryman Charon in Greek mythology, while the boat itself is reminiscent of the barge that carries Arthur to Avalon.

This version of the epic was cobbled together by the distinguished archaeologist Nancy Sandars, who lived to the ripe old age of 101, dying as recently as 2015. However, she freely acknowledged she was no expert in cuneiform and the languages they represented, and that she relied on previous scholarship to assemble and collate texts from various sources stretching over a thousand years. In 2000 her version was superseded in Penguin Classics by Andrew George's scholarly translation, but that doesn't stop her version being not only a readable prose narrative but also revealing the original's psychological insights. She retains some aspects -- such as the repetition of phrases and sometimes passages -- which distinguish oral traditions in poetry, but otherwise there is little to suggest the ordering of end-stopped couplets and stanzas of many of the originals.

Her introduction is necessarily not entirely consistent with up to date studies but there is much of value. She notes that the knowledge of the story of Gilgamesh wasn't entirely lost after the libraries of the region were buried under the sands of time -- Aelian at the start of the third century of our era mentions a Gilgamos, king of Babylon, for instance -- but she has little truck with "will-o'-the-wisps of criticism" comparing the hero with Odysseus (I'm guessing the blinding of the cyclops Polyphemus may equate with the defeat of the demon Humbaba) or with Hercules (the Greek hero slays a lion and wears the pelt, as does Gilgamesh).

I've hung on to my copy of this version for nigh on fifty years, but it's now time to pass it on and pick up Andrew George's version, or even Stephanie Dalley's translation in Myths from Mesopotamia (Oxford World's Classics), to see what a half-century of further work on the epic can reveal. It can only reinforce the impression that Gilgamesh, for all his part divine lineage, is as human as the rest of us, as prone to pride, arrogance, fear, friendship, despair, grief and desire for some sort of immortality as any modern individual. ( )
  ed.pendragon | Jul 18, 2018 |
An excellent read! Thorough and yet still digestible enough for those interested in reading and comprehending the first story ever put down in words.

I read this for fun this in college amidst a sea of other assigned readings. Despite its academic structure and detailed nature, this did not feel like homework. And yet I still walked away smarter. ( )
  HavenAnn | Jul 16, 2018 |
This was my first stop in a course on the history of world literature. It’s a lot more entertaining than my second stop, which is the Bible.

So far all of the ancient world epics I’ve read have been concerned with the relationship between humanity and the gods, so it’s really interesting to me that perhaps the oldest surviving piece of great literature we have is so humanist. The gods are there, but it’s not about them. It’s concerned with what must be humanity’s oldest fear, the fear of death, the thing that separates us from the animals which have no conception of their own mortality. And it presents the answer to that fear not as bowing before any gods or begging them for a good afterlife, but as living your mortal life to the full, enjoying all the experiences for which humanity was intended, and creating a legacy to leave behind.

The titular hero, who is only a hero in the original larger-than-life sense and not in the later what-a-good-person sense, is pretty thoroughly unsympathetic until the loss of his boon companion cements that fear. That’s the common thread of humanity that then links him to us in our air conditioned towers, across an almost inconceivable stretch of human development.

Poetry always loses a little more in translation than prose, but even in translation you can feel the structure and get lost in the rhythm of ancient epics like The Iliad and Beowulf, at least if it’s a good translation. Unfortunately, that’s something that’s kind of been lost with The Epic of Gilgamesh due to its fragmentary nature, independent of any merits of the translator. The battle against Humbaba is almost entirely lost, and such a vast lacuna no doubt contributes to the lacklustre feel of the first half of the epic compared to the more humanistic and powerful second half. Getting the most out of this poem is going to require patience for being repeatedly thrown out of the narrative by gaps, some of them partially filled by alternative versions of the text recovered from different places, some not.

I read this in the Penguin edition translated by Andrew George, which is very comprehensive, enough so that I might recommend a little skim-reading to those less completist than I. While the Sumerian poems in the fifth chapter are a really interesting and informative addition to the standard text, the few chapters worth of Babylonian fragments that don’t really add very much that wasn’t already incorporated into the gaps in the main text as part of this translation make for a tedious read.

The fact that the Bible borrows substantially from many cultures that predated those of its chroniclers was not news to me, but I was fascinated by just how precise the borrowing of Noah’s story from Ut-napishti’s is. It’s not just the flood and the circumstances that motivate the gods to bring it about, but the ark constructed to divine specifications, the animals aboard to reseed the earth with their species after the flood waters recede, the birds released to find land when the flood waters begin to recede… There’s an ancient scribe with an excellent case for a plagiarism suit here, when Disney inevitably expand our copyright laws to 4,000 years plus life of author.

Review from Bookette.net ( )
1 vote Snumpus | Jul 4, 2018 |
This review is for the translation by John Gardner and John Maier.

So Akkadian cuneiform is, apparently, very difficult to translate (who would have guessed?). It's intriguing to think that there are 90,000 tablets safely tucked away in storage at museums that modern translators have never worked on. It almost makes me want to become a linguist specializing in it so that I could, maybe, discover the next big epic from ancient times that people don't even know exists anymore. Anyway, the point I'm attempting to make is that this translation is, above all else, a work of scholarship. The reader should know that beforehand. It's still entertaining, but there's more to the process of reading it than plot and characters. Footnotes and explanations abound. It's better than reading a textbook, and more like reading a biography of the clay tablets that "Gilgamesh" was written on.

I'm walking away from this with two major impressions. First, that ancient Mesopotamia is utterly fascinating. It was a bilingual society, speaking Akkadian and Sumerian. I'd like to check out several other titles on the subject now.

The second impression is that the previous "Gilgamesh" translation I read, the one by N. K. Sandars, is flawed. John Maier doesn't call that translator out by name, but based on publication dates, the limited number of English translations available, and the matching description that Maier provides, I'm certain that it's the Sandars he's referring to when he mentions another translator swapping out the authentic Akkadian twelfth clay tablet for a Sumerian story (p. 6). Imagine if, three millennia from now, a translation of T. H. White's The Once and Future King were ended with a chapter from The Mists of Avalon because the translator thought it would be more satisfying. Essentially, that's what I now know N. K. Sandars did with his translation, because the conclusion to that work is entirely different from the conclusion of the Akkadian tablets that these authors have so meticulously worked with.

5 stars. Nice work, Professor Gardner. RIP. Even though you died so many years ago, it's still a sad story that we readers lost you in that accident. ( )
  Sylvester_Olson | Jul 1, 2018 |
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» Add other authors (87 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Anonymousprimary authorall editionscalculated
Sîn-lēqi-unninniEditormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Burckhardt, GeorgTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ferry, DavidTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Feyter, Theo deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gardner, JohnTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
George, AndrewTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Guidall, GeorgeNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hämeen-Anttila, JaakkoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Henshaw, Richard A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jastrow, MorrisEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kantola, TainaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kapheim, ThomIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kovacs, Maureen GalleryTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Maier, JohnTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marks, John H.Afterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mason, HerbertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Maul, Stefan M.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mitchell, StephenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Muss-Arnolt, WilliamTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pasco, RichardNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Salonen, ArmasTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sandars, N. K.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sandars, N.K.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schott, AlbertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thompson, R.CampbellTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thompson, Reginald CampbellTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vanstiphout, HermanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Warring, LennartTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Westerman, FrankAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wyatt, Thomassecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Für Lilian.
First words
I will proclaim to the world the deeds of Gilgamesh. ...

trans. N.K. Sandars (1960)
It is an old story
But one that can still be told
About a man who loved
And lost a friend to death
And learned he lacked the power
To bring him back to life.

trans. Mason (1972)
The Story
of him who knew the most of all men know;
who made the journey; heartbroken; reconciled;

who knew the way things were before the Flood,
the secret things, the mystery; who went

to the end of the earth, and over; who returned,
and wrote the story on a tablet of stone.

trans. Ferry (1992)
He who saw the Deep, the country's foundation,
    (who) knew . . . , was wise in all matters!
(Gilgamesh, who) saw the Deep, the country's foundation
   (who) knew . . . , was wise in all matters!

(He) . . . everywhere . . .
   and (learnt) of everything the sum of wisdom. 
He saw what was secret, discovered what was hidden. 
   he brought back a tale of before the Deluge.

trans. George (1999) 
He had seen everything, had experienced all emotions,
from exaltation to despair, had been granted a vision
into the great mystery, the secret places,
the primeval days before the Flood. ...

trans. Mitchell (2004)
Last words
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Disambiguation notice
This work is any complete, unabridged translation of the Standard Version of The Epic of Gilgamesh. To quote the FAQ on combining - "A work brings together all different copies of a book, regardless of edition, title variation, or language." Translations of the Old Babylonian Versions should remain separate, as should translations of the early Sumerian Gilgamesh stories and poems from which the epic came to be.
Based on currently accepted LibraryThing convention, the Norton Critical Edition is treated as a separate work, ostensibly due to the extensive additional, original material included.
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N. K. Sandars's landmark translation of one of the first and greatest works of Western literature

Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, and his companion Enkidu are the only heroes to have survived from the ancient literature of Babylon, immortalized in this epic poem that dates back to the third millennium BC. Together they journey to the Spring of Youth, defeat the Bull of Heaven and slay the monster Humbaba. When Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh’s grief and fear of death are such that they lead him to undertake a quest for eternal life. A timeless tale of morality, tragedy and pure adventure, The Epic of Gilgamesh is a landmark literary exploration of man’s search for immortality.
N. K. Sandars’s lucid, accessible translation is prefaced by a detailed introduction that examines the narrative and historical context of the work. In addition, there is a glossary of names and a map of the Ancient Orient.

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 014044100X, Paperback)

This edition provides a prose rendering of The Epic of Gilgamesh, the cycle of poems preserved on clay tablets surviving from ancient Mesopotamia of the third mi llennium B.C. One of the best and most important pieces of epic poetry from human history, predating even Homer's Iliad by roughly 1,500 years, the Gilgamesh epic tells of the various adventures of that hero-king, including his quest for immortality, and an account of a great flood similar in many details to the Old Testament's story of Noah. The translator also provides an interesting and useful introduction explaining much about the historical context of the poem and the archeological discovery of th e tablets.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:36 -0400)

(see all 10 descriptions)

A retelling, based on seventh-century B.C. Assyrian clay tablets, of the wanderings and adventures of the god king, Gilgamesh, who ruled in ancient Mesopotamia (now Iraq) in about 2700 B.C., and of his faithful companion, Enkidu.

» see all 6 descriptions

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2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 014044100X, 0140449191

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