Mike's Reviews > Gilgamesh: A New English Version

Gilgamesh by Anonymous
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May 09, 07

Read in January, 2007

The main value of Gilgamesh is the experience of the oldest surviving example of epic fiction, the literary analogue of visiting Stonehenge. Sure, Gilgamesh's journey offers us an adventure yarn in a mythological setting, as well as a (diffuse) parable about growth and maturity. But the real reason to read the story is to be awash in a sense of wonderment and awe at the prospect of touching minds with a storytelling culture across the span of 3700 years.

It's sad then that this edition has been sullied by a translator who apparently viewed this work as his pulpit for expressing opinion about current events. There is something incredibly petty about insinuating political commentary into a context where it doesn't belong, and the offense in this case is magnified by the historical pedigree of the forum. One one think that the author could find a better place for complaining about the Iraqi war than a historical document clocking in a thousand years before the Iliad was written.

All that said, it makes for an interesting read. The story reads like, well, mythology. It's episodic and somewhat disjoint, written from a bird's eye-perspective where supernatural events are described briefly and as a manner of course. You won't get into the heads of the characters, as you would in a contemporary novel. But it's fascinating to put yourself in the mindset of the storyteller, and to get a climpse of ancient Mesapotamia, indirectly through a product of its culture.

If you're stuck with this translation, skip the author's 66 (!) page introduction and jump into the story, perhaps getting a bit of context from Wikipedia or the reference source of your choice. Otherwise, I'd recommend keeping an eye out for another interpretation of this work.
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Bert Mike,

Couldn't agree more with your second paragraph particularly. The editor's blatant political agenda is detrimental to any kind of objective reading of the text as he presents it.

The Gilgamesh epic is not complete in any of it's versions, so editors and translators make what they can of it. I would recommend that anyone who reads this one goes back to John Gardner's version. Much more scholarly, much more intellectually honest.


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