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Gilgamesh: A New English Version [Paperback]

Stephen Mitchell
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 1 2006
Gilgamesh is considered one of the masterpieces of world literature, but until now there has not been a version that is a superlative literary text in its own right. Acclaimed by critics and scholars, Stephen Mitchell's version allows us to enter an ancient masterpiece as if for the first time, to see how startlingly beautiful, intelligent, and alive it is.

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Gilgamesh: A New English Version + Tao Te Ching: A New English Version
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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

The acclaimed translator of the Tao Te Ching and the Bhagavad Gita now takes on the oldest book in the world. Inscribed on stone tablets a thousand years before the Iliad and the Bible and found in fragments, Gilgamesh describes the journey of the king of the city of Uruk in what is now Iraq.At the start, Gilgamesh is a young giant with gigantic wealth, power and beauty—and a boundless arrogance that leads him to oppress his people. As an answer to their pleas, the gods create Enkidu to be a double for Gilgamesh, a second self. Learning of this huge, wild man who runs with the animals, Gilgamesh dispatches a priestess to find him and tame him by seducing him. Making love with the priestess awakens Enkidu's consciousness of his true identity as a human being rather than as an animal. Enkidu is taken to the city and to Gilgamesh, who falls in love with him as a soul mate. Soon, however, Gilgamesh takes his beloved friend with him to the Cedar Forest to kill the guardian, the monster Humbaba, in defiance of the gods. Enkidu dies as a result. The overwhelming grief and fear of death that Gilgamesh suffers propels him on a quest for immortality that is as fast-paced and thrilling as a contemporary action film. In the end, Gilgamesh returns to his city. He does not become immortal in the way he thinks he wants to be, but he is able to embrace what is.Relying on existing translations (and in places where there are gaps, on his own imagination), Mitchell seeks language that is as swift and strong as the story itself. He conveys the evenhanded generosity of the original poet, who is as sympathetic toward women and monsters—and the whole range of human emotions and desires—as he is toward his heroes. This wonderful new version of the story of Gilgamesh shows how the story came to achieve literary immortality—not because it is a rare ancient artifact, but because reading it can make people in the here and now feel more completely alive.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Mitchell's version of Gilgamesh should be the standard for general and classroom readers for the foreseeable future. It includes everything in the Akkadian texts, though shorn of some fragmentary passages and emended by Mitchell for clarity (extensive endnotes flag every change Mitchell makes and provide literal translations wherever Mitchell feels such would further illuminate meaning and spirit). The prologue and the closing page, both of which advert to Gilgamesh's great city of Uruk, are cast in five-beat lines, with the story per se in 11 books of four-beat lines. Mitchell manages both meters masterfully, writing verse that is musical and propulsive for all its "free" characteristics. The 66-page introduction interprets the entire poem as a philosophical fable as well as an engaging, episodic story, and not without describing some of the prosodic devices of the ancient Babylonian poem. Mitchell understands the poem to be overarchingly concerned with self-discovery and acceptance, with appreciating that humans are mortal, hence less than the gods, but also capable of love, and thus greater than mere gods. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 5 stars Jan. 2 2010
Format:Paperback
The best retelling of the Gilgamesh epic I've come across; my son was assigned this story for a Grade 10 English project so we checked out a number of print and internet versions. Mitchell's was immediately a hit.

Excellent and very detailed Introduction and Notes, and the epic itself flows along "like poetry", to quote my son. Well done, Stephen Mitchell! A pleasure to read.

Note to parents - this is not the "cleaned up" version you've come across in kids' history books (the brief retelling in Bauer's Story of the World comes to mind), but the full frontal version chock full of sex and violence. Tastefully done, but it's all in there. May want to preview if buying this for a younger teen, just so you're ready for discussion time, LOL.
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Format:Hardcover
I have not yet read this translation of the most ancient world epic but I have read the introduction and "dipped in" here and there. And I have read most every other translation available in English. Maybe I should wait to write this review but I feel a bit of urgency, especially if writing this review will encourage some of my fellow "Westerners" ,(and perhaps also some "Near-Easterner" readers), to buy this translation, or any other translation of Gilgamesh for that matter.
I would like to comment for a moment on Stephen Mitchell's introduction which begins: "In Iraq when the dust blows, stopping men and tanks, it brings with it memories of an ancient world, much older than Islam or Christianity. Western civilization originated from that place between the Tigris and the Euphrates, where Hammurabi created his legal code and where Gilgamesh was written -- the oldest story in th world..." Herein,(I am presuming, perhaps pretentiously),is a part of the "point" of why S.Mitchell translated this text now and in this particular political climate. What we are doing when we attack and destroy the "cradle of civilization", (as Mitchell's careful mention of tanks in the opening sentence alludes to), which is modern-day Iraq, is really destroying the very birth place of humanity, which is what Gilgamesh is archetypally a tale of -- becoming more human through intelligence, compassion and love, a basic human vision that transecends geography, history, culutre and religion. The Gilgamesh epic is a testament to the basic, beautiful commanilities of all humanity. Read it for this reason alone. Mitchell's elegant, yet simple and eminently readable style is only, (but not merely), the proverbial "icing on the cake".
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars People Haven't Changed April 27 2005
Format:Hardcover
4.5 stars of 5
People haven't changed. A thoughtful reader will be struck by that as they read Mitchell's fine translation of this ~4,000 year old tale. Ok, sure, we're not off in the forest slaying monsters, or directly interacting with the Gods, but we're driven by all the same frailties and motives, and you can see that in every page of the Epic of Gilgamesh.
A very fine forward helps set the stage for what is essentially a short tale, providing context and interesting elements to look for as you proceed. While I often find it hard to get through an extensive forward, this one was written with a sense of wonder and joy that betrayed a deep affection for the story itself.
Also to be applauded is the use of end notes rather than footnotes. It would be far too difficult and distracting to have the significant number of notes within the text, they are a wonderful addition when read after absorbing the wonder and beauty of the story itself - many will find the tale of the flood particularly interesting, especially given the timeline established for the writing of the tale.
All in all, a wonderful interpretation of an age old tale, bookended by an excellent forward and strong supporting notes. Well worth the read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant reconstruction March 15 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Mitchell has reconstructed the ancient fragments of a wonderful myth, and has done so in modern, highly readable language. It is both poetry and compelling narrative. Helpful endnotes explain how the author made sense of the several scholarly attempts to revive an ancient tale from Babylonian and Sumerian clay tablets. Magnificent.
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