the varieties of Gilgamesh

Gilgamesh the KingStephen Mitchell’s translation of Gilgamesh is mesmerizing and moving. As far as I can determine by looking at other translations, it is true to the tablets. But somehow it manages to be hypnotic and beautiful, while the other translations read like homework assignments.

There is a really great audio version of Mitchell’s translation, also.

The Gilgamesh Trilogy by Ludmila Zeman, which I’ve blogged about, is a stunningly illustrated children’s version, but it takes huge liberties with the text. It doesn’t just obscure the naughty bits or soften the violence; it changes the story — changes the point of the story.

Gilgamesh the King by Geraldine McCaughrean is a beautifully written version that will appeal to children and adults, but its illustrations are few and, with a couple of significant exceptions, pretty boring.

I’d love to have McCaughrean’s book illustrated by Zeman.

The Buried BookFinally, there’s The Buried Book by David Damrosch, which is not so much about Gilgamesh or Enkidu, but rather about (as the subtitle puts it) “The Loss and Rediscovery of the Great Epic of Gilgamesh.”

The Buried Book ranges from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to 19th-century archeology (which is a whole lot more exciting than it might sound) to the 7th-century BC Assyrian King Ashurbanipal (who might have been the first literate king in history) and on back to 4,000 years ago, back to the “original” poem.

The Audible version is also excellent.


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