The Epic of Gilgamesh Paperback – Aug 1 1989
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This translation is a verse rendering of The Epic of Gilgamesh, the cycle of Babylonian poems preserved on clay tablets surviving from ancient Mesopotamia of the third millennium B.C. One of the best and most important piece 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. Kovacs's edition is satisfying both for its engaging verse translation of the poem itself, as well as for the introduction and appendix that provide historical context, and not least for photographs of Mesopotamian art and of one the actual clay tablets. The tablet was broken into several pieces and incompletely reconstructed, demonstrating the difficulty of the translator's task.
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Translation by Maureen Gallery Kovacs
I first learned about The Epic of Gilgamesh in my 9th Grade Ancient History class. At the time, I was intrigued by the reported similarities between Utanapishtim and Noah. I finally decided to give it a read. On the surface, The Epic of Gilgamesh is a simple myth which exhibits similarities to other classic myths and stories. However, despite the many missing lines and lost passages, the story retains a power and universiality which speaks to us even today.
Gilgamesh is a god-like king, but he oppresses his people. To bring him into line, a rival is created in the woods -- a natural man named Enkidu whose path takes him to the city of Uruk to confront the tyrant. Instead of conflict, a friendship blooms between the two men. They adventure together, but anger the gods, who take their revenge on Enkidu. Gilgamesh is left alive and alone to face his own mortality. His fear and grief lead him across the world to seek the only man who has ever been granted immortality, Utanapishtim, survivor of the Great Flood.
Kovacs has done a good job with her translation, which is accessable even though it is fragmentary. One has to be prepared to work with this poem, because so much has been lost since it was written down in 800 BC. But if you are willing to put some effort into reading the (or one of the) oldest surviving work(s) of literature, it is well worth your time.
I recommend this work.
Enkidu's condition worsens. He prophesies that Gilgamesh's life and world is changed forever, and dies. Gilgamesh mourns and travels to seek Utnapishtim, the survivor of the universal flood, in the hopes that he will be able to bring Enkidu back to life. Gilgamesh is able to get past the Scorpion people at the gate of Mashu, he treads the dark Road of the Sun, and enters a valley. He lives for a while with a barmaid named Siduri on the coast, and she tries to persuade him to stay. He leaves her, however, and in a rage destroys the stone images that might have led him across the sea to Utnapishtim. Ultimately Urshanabi the boatman permits him to cross. Gilgamesh finds Utnapishtim and they become friends. Utnapishtim does not like immortality, and tells Gilgamesh about the flood. He later becomes annoyed at Gilgamesh's insistence on finding immortality for Enkidu, and sends him back without his friend.Read more ›
One important moral value that one learns from this epic is the impact of suffering a deep lost. Gilgamesh suffered from the terrible death of his best friend Enkidu. After killing the bull of heaven, sent down by the goddess of love, Ishtar, the gods decided that Enkidu should be chosen to die because he wasn't two-third god and one third man like Gilgamesh. In the aftermath of Enkidu's death, Gilgamesh deeply suffered from his lack of presence. It has occured to many of us to lose a very special and dear person to us. To endure life without the presence of that special person is hard, sometime almost impossible to bare. Thus, Gilgamesh who refused to live this sadness undertakes a long journey, commonly referred to as a quest, in search of eternal life in order to revive his greatest pal. Unfortunately, he fails his quest. Conclusively, we learn from this part that it is very tough to lose a person who means so much to us. Especially when we know that we will never see them again.
The search for eternal life teaches a very meaningful message. In order to revive his dead friend, Gilgamesh was strongly determined to face the dangers and perils on his journey in order to find the source of eternal life. Despite his strenght of mind, Gilgamesh fails his search. By this failure, we come to know that eternal life is out of man's reach as long as he lives on earth.
One learns multiple lessons from the story of The Gilgamesh.Read more ›
In the introduction, on page xxxiv or xxiv, if I recall, Kovacs has a very nice chart showing the chronological history of all the versions we know of for this epic, which is a couple of dozen, ranging from the first known versions around 2700 BC in Uruk down to the Syriac versions more than two millenia later. Although he discusses the various versions in his book in his introduction, George doesn't include this nice timeline and chronology.
The Epic of Gilgamesh is notable for the fact that it's considered the oldest text understandable by a modern reader without special knowledge, and it's also the most ancient text for which we have an author attribution. Around 1200-1300 BC, a Mesopotamian by the name of Sun-Liq-Unnini compiled the well-known "Standard Version" of the epic. He wasn't actually the "author" of the text, but it seems likely he was steeped in the historical tradition and the different versions of the text which had come down over the years in both the Sumerian and Akkadian traditions, and he seems to have gone to some trouble to gather and compile the best versions of the various stories and legends about Gilgamesh in his "edition," which became the most widespread and popular version.
We also know that he was employed as an exorcist, an important job in Mesopotamian society, since they were called on for everything from driving out evil spirits in the ill and sick, to making sure dwellings and new buildings were free of evil spirits, to blessing farmland that was about to be planted for the new season.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Whatever else this may be it is not boring. Unfortunately, there are holes in the text that one could throw a truck through. Read morePublished on Aug. 29 2003 by James H. McDuffie
i don't know...i met a friend once who lectured me for about an hour on gilgamesh...i went straight to my computer and bought the damned book.
could not finish it... Read more
I read this with almost no familiarization with things Mesopotamian. The story itself is cryptic and many parts are still missing, but Kovacs organized the book so that there is a... Read morePublished on Oct. 30 2000 by Robert Anderson
I have read the Gilgamesh Epic in several literary books and none of them come close to the way that this book translates the story. Read morePublished on Aug. 2 2000 by Roy L. Daman
What's great about this translation is its lack of pretentiousness. It's not bogged down by trying to be overly poetic, or cheapened by trying to be to modern. Read morePublished on March 22 2000
I think it's safe to say that I've read them all, or at least, all versions of the Epic of Gilgamesh available in English. This is the best. Read morePublished on March 6 2000 by David Elliott
Just discovered Gilgamesh and it blew my mind. I've been reading every book I am able to get on this subject. Read morePublished on Jan. 2 2000
The book did not seem to catch my interest. words and phrases kept being repeated which started to get anoying at times. Read morePublished on Oct. 17 1999
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