The Buried Book: The Loss and Rediscovery of the Great Epic of Gilgamesh
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The Buried Book: The Loss and Rediscovery of the Great Epic of Gilgamesh

3.62 of 5 stars 3.62  ·  rating details  ·  200 ratings  ·  61 reviews
In The Buried Book, David Damrosch, a Columbia professor of comparative literature, organizes his text as an archaeological dig, opening with a prefatory account of Austen Henry Layard's discovery and excavation of the ruins of Nineveh in the 1840s, then
Audio CD, 6 pages
Published December 1st 2007 by Blackstone Audiobooks (first published March 6th 2007)
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Jim Coughenour
See the tablet-box of cedar,
release its clasp of bronze!
Lift the lid of its secret,
pick up the tablet of lapis lazuli and read out
the travails of Gilgamesh, all that he went through.
*

So begins the epic that Steven Moore "would love to claim as the world's first novel" – the cornerstone of world literature that no one knew anything about until November 1872 when George Smith, a working-class scholar, an engraver who had taught himself to read Akkadian cuneiform, discovered an ancient version of t...more
Mike
Jun 19, 2011 Mike rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
The Buried Book

I picked up this book two reasons: first because it is about the re-discovery of the ancient tale of Gilgamesh and second because the author was the main contributor and presenter on the hit PBS series “Invitation to World Literature”. Despite my very high expectations, except in small ways, I was not disappointed. This book is better than a “4.0”, but I reserve fives for those that truly stand out in my mind. Call it a “4.5” is good reads had such a rating.

You don’t have to be an...more
Philip
Story of the discovery of the "Epic of Gilgamesh" and the various cultural and personality oddities involved. The book is organized something like an archaeological tell - most recent layer first, "digging down" into the earlier layers into the murky origins of the tale. I recommend the book to people with an interest in Mesopotamian culture or as a fascinating example of the ways in which the (British) imperialist, colonialist, and archaeological projects coincided.

To me the most engaging parts...more
Qalandar
One might be forgiven for thinking that a book that is half-devoted to the archaeological expeditions and discoveries in Mesopotamia in the nineteenth century, and the subsequent attempts of linguists to crack the linguistic "code" that ultimately led to the recovery of the Epic of Gilgamesh, would be dry. One would be wrong: Damrosch writes with velocity and poise, yet does not sacrifice scholarly heft, weaving in issues of pertaining to colonialism, culture, race, and the arbitrariness of hist...more
Margaret Sankey
Follows the Epic of Gilgamesh in its three distinctive contexts: the 19th century discovery and translation by Imperial British scholars and all their cultural baggage, its writing for inclusion in the royal library of the Assyrian kings and Nineveh and its original composition in the sity-states of Mesopotamia. Most striking is a reminder of how tied Gilgamesh is as an ancestor of both the Old Testament (Noah, the antediluvian world of 800 year lifespans) and Homer (Achilles and Patrocolus, pro...more
Andrea
Interesting topic and reasonably well written. Damrosch tells the story backwards starting with the man who first deciphered the lost epic of Gilgamesh, linking him to the men who discovered the cuniform tablets, then to the ruler who collected the tablets in his library. It was a different approach to tell the tale in reverse, but to make sense of it, Damrosch had to fill in a few gaps, so in a few places he had to jump out of sequence and anticipate his next subject. It was a worthwhile effort...more
Baklavahalva
Damrosch writes insightfully, movingly, and beautifully, no matter whom he's writing about, Hormuzd Rassam, Ashurbanipal, or Gilgamesh himself. It's nice that he has a sense of humor, too. I'm finally able to distinguish between Sumerian, Akkadian, and Aramaic; Babylon and Nineve; Ur and Uruk; some aspects of Sumerian, Old Babylonian, and Middle Babylonian (i.e., Sin-leqe-unninni's) versions of the Gilgamesh narrative. One star less for his last chapter in which Damrosch crammed (quite possibly...more
Susan
David Damrosch has laid this book out in a very accessible manner, starting with the early archaeology days and Smith translating parts of the epic poem, to Hormuzd Rassam who discovered the ancient city of Nineveh, to the Victorian England sensationalism over the Gilgamesh flood story. I loved how the tale of unearthing this ancient story rolled it’s way backwards to Ashurbanipal, wh0 was an ancient Mesopotamian king who could and did read. He created one of the largest libraries of ancient Mes...more
Marian Willeke
This was a truly multi-dimensional analysis of Gilgamesh with the review of the time period in which it was written, the time period of the great library at Nineveh where it was found, and then the beginnings of the Assyrian studies at the British Museum, the source of much discovery from the Near Middle East. The beauty of this book was that the cultural implications were so excellently examined, placing context all three time periods, and better understanding of the subsequent results from tho...more
Jim
This book is a collection of stories, essays and mini-biographies. The mini-biographies focus on two Nineteenth Century archaeologists, George Smith and Hormuzd Rassam, both employees of the British Museum working to uncover relics of ancient Babylon in what is now Iraq. Their work leads to the collection and translation of thousands of clay tablets in cuneiform script, some of which contained a more complete version of the epic of Gilgamesh than previously available. The translation of the more...more
Jennifer
This book explores the loss and discovery of The Epic of Gilgamesh, an ancient tale, not unlike The Illiad, of greatness lost and life lessons. In order to provide the context for the rediscovery of this tale, the author takes us inside the British Museum and to historical digs in Iraq. We follow the lives of adventurers and those committed to finding and preserving the ancient works and then travel back in time to the original creation and burial of the work.

In theory, this sounds quite interes...more
Matthew H.
The work by David Damrosch is well-written, but what one would think it is about based upon the cover jacket is not how the actual book is laid out. Mr. Damrosch starts out by going into a very lengthy historical review of the archeologist who brought to the modern world, the Great Epic of Gilgamesh. Since I personally enjoy such tangents, I did not mind the information and can not say it was lackluster in the least. Maybe not quite Indiana Jones, but these men did have some adventures in trying...more
Grady McCallie
This book is an interesting mess. It's really four different segments of varying lengths that all have something to do with the Gilgamesh epic:
* how the epic was rediscovered in the 1800s by British archeologists in the Middle East;
* the plot of the final version of the epic (from around the 7th century BC), its parallels with Biblical and classical Greek mythology, and its relationship to earlier Sumerian versions of the epic;
* what the earliest versions of the epic suggest about the historic...more
Susan
What a wonderful tale, reminiscent of the "Riddle of the Labyrinth" and Linear B. David Damrosch writes about the circuitous search within the ruins of Ninevah. His writing unearths those times, peopled anew with epic characters:. once "The Epic of Gilgamesh" in remnants of tablets is unearthed, the protagonists of the tale seem to rise from the ruins in the personalities of the explorers. George Smith, once a near-illiterate, was the self-taught genius who was able to translate the great tale's...more
Charlotte Osborn-bensaada
This was one of those random books that I stumbled on at the library. It grabbed my attention because my daughter's 7th grade class was reading it. What I really liked was how the author connected the world of Gilgamesh with modern times. One appreciates the how much the bureaucratic impetus frames the human condition with the sampling of cuneiform tablet memos complaining about the distribution of purple robes and broken wheels. One rarely appreciates how interelated biblical stories and Homer...more
Jenny
Jul 18, 2007 Jenny rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History buffs or people who have read Gilgamesh
This will sound weird, but the first few chapters about the archaeological digs and translation of Gilgamesh from Sumerian cuneiform to English were really exciting. Aside from the wow factor--can you imagine the sort of attention to detail and intuitive leaps that went into the translation?--the personal politics between individuals as they vied for archaeological honor was fascinating and at times disheartening. The native Iraqi who played a huge role in the discovery of the texts and the libr...more
Jlawrence
A few portions are less interesting than others, but overall an engaging history of one of the oldest known works of literature, the archaeologists who re-discovered and decoded it, the Assyrian king whose buried library it was preserved in, and the shadowy historical figure of Gilgamesh himself. Some of the details on the eccentric Victorian archaeologists (primarily the British George Smith and the Iraqi Hormuzd Rassam) are very colorful, even if Damrosch gets side-tracked in relating them. An...more
David
Great history ot the 19th century discovery of Mesopotamia's ancient civilizations. Gives flesh to the faceless names of many archaeologists like George Smith, Rawlinson, and Budge. But especially details the life of Rassam, a native of Iraq. In other words, not European, and therefore he never got the credit he deserved for his work in bringing the world of Gilgamesh to light.

The second half of the book describes ancient Assyria during the time of Ashurbanipal. The cuniform tablets bearing the...more
Tracy
Wow!

I received this book as a gift from the publisher, and I have never felt more grateful for such a gift.

I love this book!

It tells the story of how we found Gilgamesh's story, how we came to translate it, and it also tells as much as possible about what we know about the society that produced Gilgamesh in the first place.

One story that was fun was that the fellow who started translating the tablets that the epic was on noticed they mentioned a flood. This was important because, at that time,...more
Joe
Jan 04, 2009 Joe is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Joe by: Unabridged Bookstore review
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mitzi
Sometimes I make myself read things I think I should...This sounded remotely interesting--the history and impact of The Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the first known pieces of literature. I read part of the Epic in World Lit in college so I thought I'd expand my mind a bit (reluctantly). Actually, I really liked it--the stories of the people who discovered and translated Gilgamesh are amazing (talk about real life Indiana Jones!) and though I think the author reaches a bit in the final chapter on th...more
David
Interesting, but less about The Epic itself, and more of a general history of the pioneering fellows who first deciphered Cuneiform.
Craig Garen
What a great little find, I had beeen looking to reread the Epic of Gilgamesh and stumbled across this one relating its rediscovery in the late 1800's. Truly a fascinating history of the characters going backwards in time from its discoverer and translator through history associated with the book and finally back to the present day and, somewhat bizarrely, Saddam Hussein. Regardless this is a great read for those who like history and the classics and it provides a nice background on Near Eastern...more
Nathan
Beyond the perfunctory introduction in highschool and college, I had no real acquaintance with the Gilgamesh Epic, so I was really looking forward to this book. It didn't disappoint, and it didn't enthrall. It's accessible and simple, when it avoids blurring the characters together. The story is told backwards, and I found the archaeological backstory of the first part more interesting than the narrative analysis of the second. That section and the concluding bit on Saddam Hussein seem like a bi...more
Diane
i love history of foreign countries. it always fascinates me how other cultures lived way back in the day. this book is about the first fiction story ever found. it is called the epic of Gilgamesh. it was scribed in clay tablets and buried for 2500 years before it was discovered in Iraq in the mid 1800's. i love that people care enough about these things to write textbooks on them and study how even today we are touched by Gilgamesh. even Saddam Hussein compared himself to Gilgamesh and wrote ve...more
Katharine
A great book for those who love adventure, libraries, and ancient history. What a wonderful story! My favorite bit was the part taken from Assyrian letters (written in cuneiform on clay tablets) which clearly outlined the depression of Ashurbanipal's father- some things never change. Every part of this book was fascinating- and there were so many different parts! People working at the British Library, exploring in Iraq, Ashurbanipal and his world, the epic itself, the historical background in Su...more
victoria.p
I enjoyed this, though skip the epilogue about Saddam Hussein's novel (wtf?!). Also, I found the font difficult to read.

At its best when discussing the adventures of the 19th c. archeologists who discovered the tablets on which Gilgamesh was written. Especially Hormusd Rassam. That guy needs to have a movie made about him, stat.

The stuff about Earshaddon's palace life was interesting, but went on a little long and meandered in ways that I felt were...not necessarily off the point but maybe yamm...more
Jan
Jun 27, 2007 Jan rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those interested in ancient civilizations and literature
The story of the discovery of the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh, which offers an earlier version of the Biblical account of the Great Flood. Fascinating stuff. The author could have spent less time on the life stories of the Victorian explorers/archeologists who made an industry out of uncovering Assyrian artifacts and more time on the actual archeological expeditions and discoveries, but that's a minor quibble. Now onwards to actually reading Gilgamesh, which I am ashamed to admit was not on my...more
Matthew Colvin
Fun background on the discovery, decipherment, and translation of the epic of Gilgamesh. Especially interesting to learn about Hormuzd Rassam.

The most valuable part of the book for me was the informal commentary on certain aspects of the epic itself: for instance, the helpful information that the words for "axe" and "meteor" are puns on words that designate a male prostitute.

Damrosch writes well, and this was an enjoyable read.
Derek
I enjoyed the history of discovery and the mention of locations in modern-day Iraq. I enjoyed the interconnectedness that this account shared with the book on the White Nile that I listened to earlier this year. All this exploration and archaeology was taking place simultaneously. I would have enjoyed learning more about the actual epic and the connections to the Great Flood. Still, it was time well spent.
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A past president of the American Comparative Literature Association, David Damrosch has written widely on comparative and world literature from antiquity to the present. His books include The Narrative Covenant: Transformations of Genre in the Growth of Biblical Literature (1987), We Scholars: Changing the Culture of the University (1995), What Is World Literature? (2003), The Buried Book: The Los...more
More about David Damrosch...
The Longman Anthology of British Literature, Volume 2A: The Romantics and Their Contemporaries What Is World Literature? Longman Anthology of British Literature, Volume 2c: The Twentieth Century Longman Anthology of British Literature: The Restoration and the 18th Century The Longman Anthology of British Literature, Volume 1B: The Early Modern Period

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