Iris's Reviews > Gilgamesh: A New Rendering in English Verse

Gilgamesh by Anonymous
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Oct 04, 09

bookshelves: school-reading, mythology
Read in September, 2009

** spoiler alert ** This version of Gilgamesh is a very readable retelling of the ancient Sumerian and Babylonian tale of Gilgamesh, the hero-king of Uruk. It is a tale for adults. If this were a movie, I would rate it R for sex.

Gilgamesh is immoral. He is powerful and no woman is safe from him. To counter him, the gods send another powerful man, Enkidu. Enkidu helps direct Gilgamesh's power to more warrior-like conquests. However, their actions are still self-centered and bring troubles to the general populace. Eventually the gods decide either Enkidu or Gilgamesh must die. Enkidu is selected by chance. Enkidu faces an underworld of darkness and dirt.

After Enkidu's death, Gilgamesh seeks to avoid the same fate himself. He has heard that Utnapishtim has survived a great flood and received eternal life. He seeks him out for the secret of eternal life. Utnapishtim requires Gilgamesh to stay awake for six nights and seven days to prove himself worthy. Gilgamesh is unable to do it, and returns to Uruk. Gilgamesh seems to finally find some satisfaction in the greatness of the city he built.

This story is like many modern novels that reject a purposeful, loving, personal God and end with hopelessness. There are gods in Gilgamesh but they are selfish, humanized gods. Strength seems to be the trait the Sumerians and Babylonians most admired, but it was insufficient to earn Gilgamesh eternal life. The friendship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu is probably the best aspect of the book. "Two people, companions, they can prevail together." There is strength in friendship, but as Gilgamesh and Enkidu learned, that strength does not extend past death.
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by Megan (new) - added it

Megan Larson Hi Iris--thank you for your review! I had no idea that you were interested in ancient literature (I am rather intimidated by it myself)...what made you decide to read this? I have it on my book list for my classical reeducation, but it will be a few years before I get back to the ancients again.


Iris I have been using the classical approach in our homeschooling. We have been cycling through literature in four year groupings. My oldest and I are starting our third time through. That has made some of this literature more approachable. Four years ago we read a children's version of Gilgamesh. I also use some guides. Veritas Press has a series of Omnibus books that provide a Christian viewpoint for much of the literature we read.

I have been impressed with the Medieval literature you have been reading and the thought you put into it. That is the time period I least care for.


message 3: by Megan (new) - added it

Megan Larson Well, isn't that something? I had no idea you were a homeschooling mom, using the classical method no less! :) My elder daughter is three, so we're just starting preschool, but I'm trying to prepare myself to give my children a classial Christian education at home. Our homeschool is called Gloria Deo Classical School. I'm going to make a sign. :)


Charlotte Sofia You think that Gilgamesh ends with hopelessness? Hm, interesting take. I think the most common interpretation (or at least the only one I've come across) is that it's essentially a "happy" ending in that Gilgamesh accepts his mortality, takes the advice of Uta-napishti and returns back to admire his mortal take on immortality: a monument for his city. However, I'll definitely consider the thought of hopelessness and read the ending again.


message 5: by Spacedboy (new)

Spacedboy Hmmmm. "...they are selfish humanized gods." As compared to what? The god in the bible? Yahweh comes across as pretty childish himself. Killing and pillaging his way through the old testament in the name of his own jealousy, having a brief moment of compassion through the gospels,and right back to killing his way through the book of Revelation.


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