After reading the lengthy introduction of Gilgamesh, I was more informed and cultivated more insight into this ancient epic poem. The intro really helps the reader gain a better cultural and historical perspective into the ancient ways of the Sumerians. The new English version by Stephen Mitchell breathes life and vitality into this potentially obscure piece of literature. I completed the reading and afterwards reflected on its relevancy to today; the struggle and challenge to control one's ego, the need to respect the beauty, awe and power of wildlife and nature, and the power of friendship and trust which perhaps is sorely lacking in today's world.
The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the oldest stories known to humanity, being almost 5000 years old. Gilgamesh was a historical Sumerian king, and his story became their national epic, as well as the other Mesopotamian cultures of the Babylonians and Assyrians.
In the story Gilgamesh is a god-man, strong, fearless and ruthless. He has become a tyrant king in his city of Uruk, one of the earliest cities. One day he hears about a wild man living in the wilderness, and he becomes intrigued by the stories he hears. He decides to send a woman to seduce him and bring him back to the city. The wild man Enkidu has been created by the gods to put an end to Gilgamesh’s oppression of his people. Enkidu is “tamed” by the woman and follows her back to the city.
When the two heroes meet, they immediately become engaged in a brawl and find that they are each other’s equal, becoming fast friends. They decide to go off on a heroic adventure together to conquer Humbaba, the monstrous guardian of the Cedar Forest. In a fearsome battle they vanquish Humbaba, which draws the attention and concern of the gods.
The love goddess Ishtar attempts to seduce Gilgamesh and when he resists her advances she sends the Bull of Heaven to punish him. Enkidu kills the bull and is fated to die because of this. When Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh is inconsolable and sets of on a journey to bring back his friend and discover the secret of eternal life.
On the perilous journey he encounters a beautiful woman, a tavern keeper who tempts him to give up his search and accept the pleasures of the world, but he persists and risks his life, going through the tunnel of the sun to reach the only man who may have the answer of life. He journeys over the Waters of Death to find Utnapishtim, who tells him the story of the flood, sent by the gods to punish humans, and how the god Ea warned him to build a ship to save a sample of every living thing from destruction. He was the only one to survive, and the gods gave him eternal life in their regret for what they had done, and their gratefulness to him.
Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh there is a magical plant at the bottom of a lake that restores youth, and Gilgamesh finds it on his way back home, but a snake steals it and by shedding its skin becomes eternally young. Gilgamesh is bereft, but returns home and decides to rebuild his city walls and temples to glorify humans and the gods and become a model king. His immortality comes from his city and the tale of his heroic journey.
This is a fascinating tale of life, death, loss, friendship, love, adventure, and ultimately how civilization came to be. There is so much humanity, pathos, joy, and genuine emotion in this oldest of human stories that it is incredible that it is almost 5000 years old. It makes you think that people haven’t really changed that much. The need for love and friendship, the grief that comes from losing that, and the search for eternal life are themes of literature and humanity from the earliest times that are still fresh.
The parallels with the Bible are unavoidable and provide a compelling insight into early Middle-Eastern cultural and religious stories and beliefs that we all know today. There are many translations of this story, but Stephen Mitchell’s is perhaps the most accessible modern version. He also provides a fascinating account of how the original tablets were rediscovered in 1853. I felt a great connection with these characters and a telescoping of time so that the people who first wrote and heard this story seem very familiar and close to our world now.
Available in print and audio. (DS)
For those who think that humans were different in the past or that we've really changed a whole lot, they should read this tale.
The basic human preoccupation with sex hasn't changed, we still tell the same type of stories and myths and we're still scared of death.
Pretty much the entire charm of this book is that it’s based on words written over 4000 years ago about a king that lived even longer ago. Pretty fascinating stuff I think.
The introduction says basically everything that happens, and the notes are very thorough. The version itself is heightened by the page layout maybe 25 lines, all of them short, which encourages a slower reading, which in turn makes it a better reading experience.
This English version is very readable and enjoyable. This is not a translation by Stephen Mitchell, it is an amalgamation of other translations from different versions of the original story with the authors' input. I have no idea if this is faithful to the original but it is certainly an easy read. Worthwhile if you are interested.
If you want to read the classic tale of Gilgamesh, look elsewhere. "Stephen Mitchell in 2004 supplied a controversial translation that takes many liberties with the text and includes modernized allusions and commentary relating to the Iraq war of 2003." (Wikipedia)
Stephen Mitchell's version is compelling, insightful and very comprehensive. Prior to reading this book, I had read the graphic novel so I gained enough insight into the Gilgamesh story to feel comfortable with what Stephen was explaining in his introduction; and how eloquent it is! I recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn more about this ancient story, especially people learning history.
Stephen Mitchell analyzes and prepares Gilgamesh for the modern era, ensuring that what Gilgamesh is was what he was, an epic tale from a formerly extraordinary civilization.
Sublime...this translation's poetry was so satisfying. It is raw and human and pretty macho, even compared to other ancient mythology. After finishing it I sent it to a good friend...
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