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The Epic of Gilgamesh
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Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 728 comments This is the buddy read for Gilgamesh. Feel free to jump in with your comments and questions whenever you're ready.
(I hope I set this buddy read up correctly. If not, I hope someone will jump in and correct it.)


Katy (kathy_h) | 829 comments I've read this before, and am interested in the buddy read. But not at the top of my list -- but this is fairly short, so am feeling positive. When do you plan to start?


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 728 comments We can start whenever people are ready. I have a lot to say, but I hesitate to be the first to jump in to start the ball rolling.


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 728 comments Robyn, I clicked on the link for Gilgamesh that you provided and read the blurb. Oh, my! It sanitizes the story of Gilgamesh. I guess it has to since this is designed to be a children's picture book.


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 728 comments Ok--I'll start the ball rolling.

The Epic of Gilgamesh is also known as the Izdubar Epic. It is supposedly based on the adventures of a historical king Gilgamesh who ruled the ancient Mesopotamian city of Uruk (modern day Iraq) around 2750 BCE.

Written in cuneiform on baked clay tablets, its first fragments were discovered in the ruins of Nineveh (modern day Mosul) in 1853, but it wasn't deciphered or translated until many years later.

I should state at the outset that I simply love this poem. Although it was written over 3,500 years ago, I think it still speaks to us on so many levels. It depicts the overweening arrogance of a tyrannical ruler; it illustrates the law of unintended consequences; it speaks of the despair that follows the loss of a beloved; and it is the oldest record we have of the flood.

I guess we can discuss it in stages.

To begin with, notice the arrogance of Gilgamesh. He assumes he has the right to take the virginity of every bride on her wedding night. He is a restless tyrant. The people of Uruk ask the gods for help. In answer, the gods fashion a man made of the earth, Enkidu. Enkidu is the prototype of Adam. He is a wild man who lives among animals and is ignorant of the ways of civilization. That is, until he encounters Shamhat, the sacred prostitute. She initiates him into civilization as only a sacred prostitute can :)

I hope I have peaked your interest. And now, someone else's turn to jump in with comments, questions, or whatever else takes your fancy.


Jalilah | 4347 comments Mod
Tamara wrote: "Ok--I'll start the ball rolling.

The Epic of Gilgamesh is also known as the Izdubar Epic. It is supposedly based on the adventures of a historical king Gilgamesh who ruled the ancient Mesopotamian..."


Tamara, what an honour to have you with us! I've ordered a copy to join you all!


message 7: by Tamara (last edited Mar 15, 2018 10:24PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 728 comments Lila wrote: "Tamara wrote: "Ok--I'll start the ball rolling.

The Epic of Gilgamesh is also known as the Izdubar Epic. It is supposedly based on the adventures of a historical king Gilgamesh who ruled the ancie..."


Gosh, Lila, I appreciate the compliment, but the truth is I'm the one who feels privileged to be in this group. Everyone is so supportive of each other--unlike some of the groups I've seen on goodreads. And you have all introduced me to books I have enjoyed and would never have thought of reading had it not been for the recommendations I get by being here.

My strength is in mythology. Many of you are strong in fairy tales and the retelling of fairy tales. So we complement each other and can learn from each other.

I'm glad to be here and I look forward to the discussion.


message 8: by Asaria (last edited Mar 16, 2018 01:52AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Asaria | 603 comments Tamara wrote: "Lila wrote: "Tamara wrote: "Ok--I'll start the ball rolling.

The Epic of Gilgamesh is also known as the Izdubar Epic. It is supposedly based on the adventures of a historical king Gilgamesh who ru..."


Tamara, I'm always very grateful for your contribution and recommendations. Your knowledge is impressive.

I'm going to join too. It will be interesting to see how two translations compare to each other as there are many differences in the phrasing just on the first page of the poem! Oddly enough, both translators made the same translation decision - removing repetitions, making the text flow naturally.


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 728 comments Asaria wrote: "Tamara wrote: "Lila wrote: "Tamara wrote: "Ok--I'll start the ball rolling.

The Epic of Gilgamesh is also known as the Izdubar Epic. It is supposedly based on the adventures of a historical king G..."


Asaria, thank you for your kind words. I'm glad you are joining us in the discussion.


Jalilah | 4347 comments Mod
Wow! I just started and must say I was not expecting this poem to be such a page turner! I often find epic poems tedious, but this one is marvellous! Tamara, I understand why you love it!

Robyn, I'm curious how a sanitized children's version would be. They would certainly have to leave out a lot.

I think the Victorians must have been shocked too when they first translated it.

How vividly all these characters become alive! And how multidimensional they are!

I do wish they could have a different word than prostitue for women like Shamhat, even though the word sacred in attached to it. They really seem more like priestesses to me.
I am intrigued that by their sexual encounters Shamhat is able to somehow enlighten Enkidu.


Jalilah | 4347 comments Mod
Oh and by the way, I moved this thread from the Buddy Reads folder to the Gateway/Portals folder.


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 728 comments Lila wrote: "I do wish they could have a different word than prostitue for women like Shamhat, even though the word sacred in attached to it. They really seem more like priestesses to me.
I am intrigued that by their sexual encounters Shamhat is able to somehow enlighten Enkidu..."


Actually, in those days, the word "prostitute" was synonymous with "priestess." The sacred prostitute (hierodule) was considered to be an honored and well-respected member of the community. It is only much later that the word prostitute had the connotations we associate with it nowadays.

I don't know how far along you are in the reading, but we can see the beginnings of the transition from sacred prostitute to her demotion in Enkidu's curse of Shamhat. This was part of an agenda to diminish female goddess figures and to reduce the role of women in sacred life.

If you're interested in learning more about the sacred prostitute, see The Sacred Prostitute: Eternal Aspect of the Feminine by Nancy Qualls-Corbett.


Jalilah | 4347 comments Mod
Tamara wrote: "I don't know how far along you are in the reading, but we can see the beginnings of the transition from sacred prostitute to her demotion in Enkidu's curse of Shamhat. This was part of an agenda to diminish female goddess figures and to reduce the role of women in sacred life.

Up to now I've only read the first two books and I am not reading the introduction all at once rather, as each part relates to each book.

So Enkidu ends up cursing Shamhat?!?
This is disappointing to know!


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 728 comments Lila wrote: "So Enkidu ends up cursing Shamhat?!?
This is disappointing to know! ..."


Sorry! Didn't mean to spoil it for you. He takes his curse back.


Jalilah | 4347 comments Mod
Tamara wrote: "Lila wrote: "So Enkidu ends up cursing Shamhat?!?
This is disappointing to know! ..."

Sorry! Didn't mean to spoil it for you. He takes his curse back."


No worries! It looks to be a very fast read, so I would have found out soon enough!
I am glad to know he takes the curse back!


message 16: by Jalilah (last edited Apr 18, 2018 05:31PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jalilah | 4347 comments Mod
I really enjoyed this and have many thoughts!
I was amazed how real and alive ancient Mesopotamian civilization became to me.
What strikes me as very relevant today is the idea of people using what they consider the will of God or in this case the gods, to perpetuate violence.
So they do what they think the gods are telling them to do, but the gods are telling them to do conflicting things!
Sounds very familiar when I think of religious fundamentalism today!
Gilgamesh believes the god Shamash wants him and Enikdu to kill Humbaba, yet after they do they are punished by the gods ( by Enkidu's death) for killing Humbaba because he is the appointed guardian of the forest.
So maybe I am reading more into it, but I feel the author Sin-leqi -unninni is questioning this. Am I off base?


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 728 comments Lila wrote: "Gilgamesh believes the god Shamash wants him and and Enikdu to kill Humbaba, yet after they do they are punished by the gods ( by Enkidu's death) for killing Humbaba because he is the appointed guardian of the forest..."

The gods of ancient Mesopotamia don't necessarily agree on things. They feud quite a bit. They are like humans, the difference being they are immortal and all-powerful.

The god Enlil put Humbaba to guard the Cedar Forest. And yet the god Shamash helps Gilgamesh to subdue Humbaba although I'm not sure he actually wants Gilgamesh to kill Humbaba. He may just want him to subdue him. And when Humbaba pleads for mercy and promises to serve Gilgamesh and help him cut down the trees, Gilgamesh is tempted to show compassion but Enkidu convinces him to go for the kill.

I think Enkidu has to die because he insults the goddess Ishtar. He helps Gilgamesh kill the bull of heaven and then flings the bull's thigh at Ishtar's face and taunts her like an absolute moron:

"If only I could catch you, this is what
I would do to you. I would rip you apart
and drape the Bull's guts over your arms!"


Also, the god Enlil sends down the flood to kill all mankind. But the god Ea warns Utnapishtim and gives him instructions to build the ark. Enlil initially gets mighty upset when he discovers that some humans survived.

One of my favorite scenes is after the gods send down the floods. They become so terrified of the havoc they created, they rush off to Anu's palace in the heavens to seek shelter. (Anu is the sky god, equivalent to Zeus). He refuses to open the gates for them, so they "cowered by the palace wall, like dogs."

I think that is a hilarious!

I just love this stuff.


Jalilah | 4347 comments Mod
Tamara wrote: " I think Enkidu has to die because he insults the goddess Ishtar. He helps Gilgamesh kill the bull of heaven and then flings the bull's thigh at Ishtar's face and taunts her like an absolute moron..."

The way Enkidu throws the bull's thigh at Ishtar is disgusting, but I thought it said somewhere that he had to die for killing Humbaba. I don't remember where, I'd have to look. It would definitely make more sense if died for disrespecting Ishtar.
Going my how she treated she treated her previous lovers, she was not an angel either lol.

The flood scene, yes, funny how the gods all cowered!
But I am amazed this is all way before the bible was written.


message 19: by Tamara (last edited Mar 29, 2018 10:08AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 728 comments Lila wrote: "But I am amazed this is all way before the bible was written..."

When I taught this in Early World Literature, I would have the students compare the story of the flood in Gilgamesh with the story of Noah. They were amazed at the similarities, especially knowing Gilgamesh preceded the Bible by nearly 2,000 years.


message 20: by Asaria (last edited Mar 29, 2018 01:36PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Asaria | 603 comments Lila wrote: "Gilgamesh believes the god Shamash wants him and Enikdu to kill Humbaba, yet after they do they are punished by the gods ( by Enkidu's death) for killing Humbaba because he is the appointed guardian of the forest.
So maybe I am reading more into it, but I feel the author Sin-leqi -unninni is questioning this. Am I off base? "


I got the impression Gilgamesh only wanted the acclaim and eternal fame, nothing else. If there was someone trying to find a noble cause in that quest, then it's Ninsun, his mother. That's her who used the God's will as a justification, to not say excuse.

In the text breaking divine laws justifies the punishment, but it doesn't mean they are right, nor there are no ulterior motives behind them. Sin-leqi -unninni always shows two sides of the same coin and doesn't shy away from describing darker nature of gods (Ishtar episode). Does he question them? I don't know

Tamara wrote: "Also, the god Enlil sends down the flood to kill all mankind. But the god Ea warns Utnapishtim and gives him instructions to build the ark. Enlil initially gets mighty upset when he discovers that some humans survived. "

Wasn't Enlil more mad at gods? It was said the gods were sworn to not tell humanity about planned catastrophe. Technically Ea didn't break the promise, only bended the rules a bit.

By the way, when Gilgamesh performed burial rites, it was surprising to find Ereshkigal a sole ruler of Underworld. There is no mention of her previous husband or Nergal in connection with her.


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 728 comments Asaria wrote: "Wasn't Enlil more mad at gods? It was said the gods were sworn to not tell humanity about planned catastrophe. Technically Ea didn't break the promise, only bended the rules a bit.

Yes, Enlil was more mad at the gods. But Ea defended his decision to save Utnapishtim by saying the punishment went too far in trying to kill off all of humanity instead of just those who were guilty of making too much noise:

do not allow all men to die because of the sins of some.


Jalilah | 4347 comments Mod
I have only read this version by Stephen Mitchell and I enjoyed his introduction as well.
This review expresses what I was trying to say about the tale being relevant today:
https://www.theguardian.com/books/200...


message 23: by Asaria (last edited Mar 29, 2018 02:13PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Asaria | 603 comments Lila wrote: "I have only read this version by Stephen Mitchell and I enjoyed his introduction as well.
This review expresses what I was trying to say about the tale being relevant today:
https:/..."


All right, I get it. I interpret the epic primarily through character-driven lens and tropes :) . Never crossed my mind the idea of the clash of ideologies, values here. Though I perceived self-righteousness of the heroes.


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 728 comments Lila wrote: "I have only read this version by Stephen Mitchell and I enjoyed his introduction as well.
This review expresses what I was trying to say about the tale being relevant today:
https:/..."


I loved the review. Thank you, Lila.
I think one reason I love the poem so much is that, like you, I see it as being very relevant today: the consequences of an unprovoked attack; collateral damage; etc. etc.


Jalilah | 4347 comments Mod
Here is a video of the epic of Gilgamesh sung in ancient Sumerian
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=QUcTsFe...


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 728 comments Lila wrote: "Here is a video of the epic of Gilgamesh sung in ancient Sumerian
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=QUcTsFe..."


That is just amazing! What a lovely sound to wake up to in the morning. It's got such a haunting, beautiful quality. Thank you so much for sharing this, Lila.

And, now, for your listening pleasure, hear how it sounds when spoken.
https://www.soas.ac.uk/baplar/recordi...


Jalilah | 4347 comments Mod
Tamara wrote: "Lila wrote: "Here is a video of the epic of Gilgamesh sung in ancient Sumerian
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=QUcTsFe..."

That is just amazing! What a lovely sound to wake up to in the morning. I..."


Thanks! When I read something I that moves me, I love to have as much information as possible to experience it more!

Here are some visuals 4,000-year-old Sumerian port found in southern Iraq

https://www.dailysabah.com/history/20...

Iraq's Marshland Dreams https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=4xoAQCq...
"The marshlands of Mesopotamia represent a unique and rare piece of nature not only in Iraq but in the whole world. Biblical scholars consider this area as the site of the legendary "Garden of Eden. It is the homeland of the Sumerian civilization"


message 28: by Tamara (last edited Apr 01, 2018 03:29PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 728 comments Lila wrote: "Tamara wrote: "Lila wrote: "Here is a video of the epic of Gilgamesh sung in ancient Sumerian
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=QUcTsFe..."

That is just amazing! What a lovely sound to wake up to in..."


Loved the video on the marshlands. I knew Saddam had destroyed the marshlands, but I didn't know that most of them had been restored. That's so encouraging.
I loved the image of the reed house. I imagine Utnapishtim's reed house to look like that before the flood washed everything away.


message 29: by Jalilah (last edited Apr 03, 2018 05:13PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jalilah | 4347 comments Mod
Tamara wrote: " I loved the image of the reed house. I imagine Utnapishtim's reed house to look like that before the flood washed everything away...."


Yes, I imagined the reed house to look like that too!

Here is a Mesopotamian inspired video about Iraqi clothing.
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=jhot7uk...
It made me think about the part where the people of Uruk are described having colourful clothing and dancing in the street!


Jalilah | 4347 comments Mod
This is modern dancing and I know nobody knew what the dancing looked like back then, however when I saw this video, with the bright red colours and desert background I could not help think if the priestesses of Ishtar!
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=0HZBexK...


message 31: by Tamara (last edited Apr 05, 2018 07:09AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 728 comments Lila wrote: "This is modern dancing and I know nobody knew what the dancing looked like back then, however when I saw this video, with the bright red colours and desert background I could not help think if the ..."

Lila, I love these videos.
The costumes in the first video were beautiful, and the music and dancing in the second video were lovely. I especially liked the goats and sheep in the background.
I agree with you about the dancing. I imagine the priestesses of Ishtar dancing like that. I also imagine them dancing in the streets like that to welcome Gilgamesh and Enkidu when they returned to Uruk after killing Humbaba.


message 32: by Melanti (last edited Apr 18, 2018 01:57PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Melanti | 2125 comments Mod
Lila wrote: "Here is a video of the epic of Gilgamesh sung in ancient Sumerian
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=QUcTsFe..."


Oh, hey! That's not Gilgamesh!
That's one of the Inanna tales! The opening of The Huluppu Tree!

(Or, to be more correct, it's not the opening of the epic poem we now call The Epic of Gilgamesh... It could be that one of the original Gilgamesh stories share an opening with the Inanna story.... And The Huluppu Tree does include Gilgamesh in it, so it could even be that one is a variant of the other. )


Jalilah | 4347 comments Mod
Melanti wrote: "Lila wrote: "Here is a video of the epic of Gilgamesh sung in ancient Sumerian
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=QUcTsFe..."

Oh, hey! That's not Gilgamesh!
That's one of the Inanna tales! The openi..."


Oh my! I only found the video after I'd already read it and returned the book. I wish I still had it to compare!


Melanti | 2125 comments Mod
For comparison, here's what we generally call the Epic of Gilgamesh:
http://www.sacred-texts.com/ane/eog/e...

I did find this, though. It's a story called "Gilgamesh, Enkidu and the nether world". This seems to be what he's singing in the video clip.

It's really similar to the Inanna story. The Inanna version has a longer intro with more detail on how the world was created and it cuts off after they create items from the tree while the Gilgamesh version keeps going for quite a while - presumably talking about the underworld some more. But the actual part about the tree is obviously the same story, though the details differ.


Jalilah | 4347 comments Mod
I will check this that one out!
Lol, honestly I just listened to the music and wasn't even watching the subtitles!
I had to order Inanna as an interlibrary loan and am still waiting


Melanti | 2125 comments Mod
So I just finished this up last night. My thoughts are - oh, what a difference the translation makes!

I'd read it once before with this edition, which is a prose translation by N.K. Sandars. This time around, I figured I'd go for a poetic translation, and ended up with this edition , done by Andrew George.

I think this particular one was just far too academic for my tastes. He used brackets to set apart any bit of text that was missing from the original tablets. That's an approach I really enjoyed when it came to reading Saphho, so I thought I'd like it here too. But sadly, I felt it got in the way of the story.

All of his constant paragraphs about how the following X lines were missing from the main manuscript but he'd substitute similar lines found in an alternative version, etc. just got really annoying. I think those breaks could have/should have been handled in a less intrusive way. Font changes or foot notes?

If I were to read it a third time, I think I'd go for another poetic version - or at very least a less academic-oriented edition of George's translation.


As far as the story, I definitely enjoyed it again. Though, I'm a bit surprised at how small of a part the flood section actually is. That's the part everyone always talks about so somehow I'd remembered it as playing a much bigger role in the story.


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 728 comments Melanti wrote: "So I just finished this up last night. My thoughts are - oh, what a difference the translation makes!

I'd read it once before with this edition, which is a prose translation by N.K...."


I've read both editions you mention. But I think the best translation by far is the one by Stephen Mitchell: Gilgamesh: A New English Version.

As far as the story, I definitely enjoyed it again. Though, I'm a bit surprised at how small of a part the flood section actually is. That's the part everyone always talks about so somehow I'd remembered it as playing a much bigger role in the story

I think the reason people talk about the flood story is because it is almost identical to the flood story in Genesis even though it preceded it by over 1,000 years.


Melanti | 2125 comments Mod
Tamara wrote: "I think the reason people talk about the flood story is because it is almost identical to the flood story in Genesis even though it preceded it by over 1,000 years. ..."

Oh, of course, but I'd still forgotten that it's really only one tablet out of eleven.


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