Thursday, February 11, 1999

The Epic Of Gilgamesh

by anonymous
translated and edited by N.K. Sandars

The hero, Gilgamesh, befriends Enkidu, a man brought up by animals, and they seek immortality through great deeds.  After Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh tries to acquire true immortality, but realizes the quest is futile.  It’s a rather pessimistic tale, emphasizing the inevitability of death and the unpredictability of this world.  The edition I read is not a translation, apparently, but a rendering from other translations.  The intro, giving the literary and historical background, is longer than the epic itself, which is a mere 60 well-spaced pages.  Since the intro was written in 1960, it may be out of date by now, and mentions some literary discoveries which were even then under way.  In any case, I found the epic less than thrilling, more interesting as historical document than literary work.  This is due to the fact that we don’t understand some of the symbolism the Mesopotamians used, and to the fragmentary or contradictory aspects of the epic, though Sandars does her best to present it as an unbroken narrative.

three stars

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