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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

3.58  ·  Rating Details ·  316 Ratings  ·  78 Reviews
Etched in the wedge-shaped letters known as cuneiform on clay tablets, the Epic of Gilgamesh stands as the earliest classic of world literature. Its earliest surviving fragments date back to the eighteenth century BC, more than 3,700 years ago. In The Buried Book, David Damrosch tells the story of George Smith, a self-taught linguist, who one momentous afternoon in 1872 wa ...more
Audio CD, 6 pages
Published December 1st 2007 by Blackstone Audiobooks (first published March 6th 2007)
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(showing 1-30)
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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 11, 2011 Mike rated it really liked it  ·  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
Qalandar
Aug 08, 2008 Qalandar rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Melissa
Jun 16, 2009 Melissa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Baklavahalva
Jul 28, 2010 Baklavahalva rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jim Fonseca
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
Andrea
I didn’t know much about Gilgamesh when I started this book so it proved very educational. The structure was interesting in that the narrative moved from the events and peoples who discovered the cuneiform tablets and translated them to the life and times of the ancient rulers who created the libraries of tablets and finally to the themes and plotline of the epic itself. This was a fascinating read and did a great job of making the life and times of the involved parties seem real. If nothing els ...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
Aug 01, 2009 Andrea rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
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
secondwomn
Nov 29, 2007 secondwomn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
mostly about archaeology and the personalities involved in unearthing GILGAMESH. of interest if you're really into both of those things. well written and paced.
Suz Thackston
Dec 31, 2016 Suz Thackston rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was just astonishing. I'm a fiction gal and generally read non-fiction out of duty, or for research, rather than love. But this was galloping good read, and even the slow-ish bits (I read this for Gilgamesh and the discoveries, less about the back-story of the guys who unearthed the tablets) ended up being well worth it.
I'm also kind of thrilled to have my old aversion to Budge validated. What an asshole.
This gets an enthusiastic 5 stars from me.
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
Rachel
This is an interesting study of the discovery of the tablets that comprise the most complete sections of the Epic of Gilgamesh. It starts with a discussion about the archaeologists involved in discovering the tablets - what trials they underwent while digging, politics behind their dig, and even quarrels between archaeologists. (Sounds like Wallis E Budge was a jerk despite his fame.) The most interesting story was that of George Smith. He came from a working class background, but he had a brill ...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
James F
This book is organized going backwards in time. It begins in the first two chapters with a biography of George Smith, who discovered the Gilgamesh material among the tablets in the British Museum and translated them, and then goes on int the next three to a biography of Hormuzd Rassam, the Iraqi archaeologist who discovered Ashurbanipal's library and sent the tablets to the Museum through his later life as a diplomat and his quarrel with E.A. Wallis Budge. None of these chapters is really focuse ...more
Ben
Damrosch succeeds in writing a very readable introduction to the Epic of Gilgamesh, along with a brief history of the setting of its composition and the setting of its rediscovery, with a focus on the major historical players in each time period. The book is occasionally plagued by historical inaccuracy: for example, Damrosch continues to propagate the mistaken belief that Mary Magdalene was a promiscuous figure in the NT gospels (91) and at one point the author claims that the Aramaic alphabet ...more
Marian Willeke
Jul 29, 2012 Marian Willeke rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
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
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
Susan
May 09, 2012 Susan rated it really liked it
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
Todd Stockslager
Good subject, bad idea. Damrosch makes a decision to work in reverse chronological order that flaws his account of the discovery and deciphering of the tablets of the Epic of Gilgamesh, then doesn't follow through because he needs to build on chronological knowledge to bring the Epic to the general readers his book is intended for.

So he starts with synopsis of the discovery of some of the tablets, then goes through the deciphering of the tablets, before going back to the discovery in more detail
...more
Susan
Dec 16, 2013 Susan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jenny
Jul 09, 2007 Jenny rated it really liked it  ·  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
Craig
Jan 01, 2016 Craig rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Engagingly written account of the rediscovery of the Epic of Gilgamesh in the 19th Century. British archaeologists (okay, glorified tomb raiders) discovered an ancient royal library at the ruins of Nineveh near Mosul, Iraq. Lots of detail on the event and personalities of the Brits. could have used a little more analysis on the impact of the find on our knowledge of ancient history.

The world was shocked to discover a flood myth that pre-dated the Old Testament by well over 1500 years. Angry Gods
...more
Tracy
Jun 10, 2008 Tracy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: theory
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
Jlawrence
Jul 17, 2008 Jlawrence rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 10, 2008 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Nov 05, 2008 Mitzi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
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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
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