The Epic of Gilgamesh : An English Verison with an Introduction (Penguin Classics)

by Anonymous

Paperback, 1960



Call number




Penguin Classics (1960), Edition: Rev Rep, Paperback


The story of Gilgamesh, an ancient epic poem written on clay tablets in a cuneiform alphabet, is as fascinating and moving as it is crucial to our ability to fathom the time and the place in which it was written. Gardner's version restores the poetry of the text and the lyricism that is lost in the earlier, almost scientific renderings. The principal theme of the poem is a familiar one: man's persistent and hopeless quest for immortality. It tells of the heroic exploits of an ancient ruler of the walled city of Uruk named Gilgamesh. Included in its story is an account of the Flood that predates the Biblical version by centuries. Gilgamesh and his companion, a wild man of the woods named Enkidu, fight monsters and demonic powers in search of honor and lasting fame. When Enkidu is put to death by the vengeful goddess Ishtar, Gilgamesh travels to the underworld to find an answer to his grief and confront the question of mortality.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member beelzebubba
If you can read it in just a few hours, does it qualify as epic? If the introduction is longer than the actual text, is it still epic? With regards to The Epic of Gilgamesh, yes it is. Size doesn't matter here. One of the oldest stories extant concerns Gilgamesh, king of Uruk. His people finally
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get tired of him bedding all the young women and beating the crap out of all the men (apparently he was a cross between the Incredible Hulk and Bill Clinton). They beseech the gods to come up with a companion who can equal him in strength, so they can have a bit of a break. Enter Enkidu, and a beautiful friendship is born. They have a blast beating the hell out of each other, and have some great adventures. I think something else was going on too, since it kept mentioning Gilgamesh loving him like a woman. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

But what really impressed me about him was that even though he was the biggest, baddest mo-fo on the planet, that didn't preclude him from realizing, “hey, I'm not going to be here forever. One of these days, I'm gonna die. That scares me.” That brought him down to earth, and made him someone I could relate to. And for me, that's what really made it epic.
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LibraryThing member setnahkt
Probably the most scholarly translation of The Epic of Gilgamesh I’ve read so far. Among other things, this includes the “standard” version (He Who Saw The Deep, with authorship (well, more likely editorship) attributed to Sinliqeunninni); the Old Babylonian version (Surpassing All Other
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Kings); miscellaneous bits and pieces in Hittitte, Hurrian, and Ugaritic; and all five Sumerian poems mentioning Gilgamesh (AFAIK this is the only book that includes all five poems in English). The nice part about this is other translations generally start with the Sinliqeunninni “standard” version, and then make up missing parts from the others, or simply treat the Sinliqeunninni as “the” epic (such as the John Gardner version reviewed earlier). There’s something to be said for this as a literary method, but the more or less literal translation of the texts given here has considerable value for elucidating just how much is known and not know about ancient Mesopotamian culture.

As an example, the following line appears in the Sumerian poem “The Death of Gilgamesh” (The god Enlil is answering Gilgamesh’s request for eternal life):

“The bane of mankind is thus come, I have told you,
What was fixed when your navel-cord was cut, I have told you.”

A poetic translation might be “You fate was determined when you were born”, but the more literal translation raises a whole bunch of questions: Did the Sumerians attach a special significance to cutting the umbilical cord? Were you perhaps not considered “born” until the cord was cut? Was there a certain fashion or time to cut the cord that could alter Fate? Or is it just what it appears to be – a poetic way of saying “When you were born”?

The supplemental material is very beneficial; for example, for all these years I’ve been pronouncing Gilgamesh and Enkidu wrong (GILgahmesh, ENkeydew), but it turns out the accent is on the second syllable and internal syllables have long vowels (gilGAYmesh, enKIdew).

However, there are a few things I’m a little curious about. For example, most other authors say the temple courtesan that seduces Enkidu is never named; “Shamat” is a title; Here “Shamat” is her name (which turns out to mean “well-endowed”). Also, this work doesn’t bother to explain exactly what Shamat was, simply referring to her as a “prostitute”, while her actual status is a priestess of Ishtar who has sex as one of her religious duties. In the Sumerian poem, titled In those days but usually referred to as “Gilgamesh and the Netherworld”, Andrew George describes the objects that have fallen into the Netherworld as a “ball and mallet” while other authors call them a “drum and drumstick” or simply admit they have no clue what they are and refer to them by the original Sumerian names. (“Ball and mallet” is based on other evidence that Gilgamesh enjoyed a Sumerian game which seems to have been a sort of full-body-contact croquet. In fact, some authors have suggested that the start of the epic, where the young men and women of Uruk complain to the gods that Gilgamesh is wearing them out with sexual demands, actually refers (at least as far as the young men are concerned) to Gilgamesh forcing them to play Sumerian croquet until they drop from exhaustion).

A plus is an appendix with a description of what’s involved in translation. In the original Akkadian:

in-di it-ta-di a-na ti-ik-ki den-ki-dù
NIN.DINGIR.RAmeš il-qa-a li-qu-tu
ù DUMU.MUNUS.DINGIRmeš ú-rab-ba-a tar-bu-ta
a-na-ku den-ki-dù a-na ah-hu-ti dgiš-gím-maš li-dam-me-eq-šu

The way this works is the stuff in capitals is Sumerian ideograms; something like modern Japanese occasionally uses Chinese characters, Akkadian uses Sumerian for some words. The superscripts (don’t know if this UBB code works here) are determinatives that are not actually pronounced.

What’s done next is the Sumerian is translated into Akkadian and Akkadian syllables are combined into words:

Indī ittadi ana tikki Enkīdu
ugbakkāti ilqâ liqûtu
u mārāt-ilī urabbâ tarbûta
anāku Enkīdu sha arammu elqâ ana mārutū
Enkīdu ana ahhūti Gilgāmesh lidammeqshu

(You know, reading that sounds a little like the Black Speech of Mordor.)

And finally Akkadian to English:

She placed the symbols on Enkidu’s neck.

The priestesses took in the foundling,

And the Divine Daughters brought up the foster-child

Enkidu, whom I love, I take for my son,

Enkidu in brotherhood, Gilgamesh shall favor him!

Fortunately, we don’t get the entire text this way.

Recommended for anyone interested; I would certainly read another, more “poetic” version if possible but if you can only read one this is the choice.
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LibraryThing member AnnieMod
In December 1872, George Smith attended a meeting of the newly created Society of Biblical Archeology. For the previous few decades archeologists had been finding more and more of the tablets which had cuneiform writing on them and the specialists were starting to decipher them - finding both the
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expected household records but also the lines of poetry and myths and all kinds of other things noone expected. And George Smith was about to change the state of the known world overnight - because what he announced at this meeting was nothing less than a record of the Flood, with a man being told how to build a boat and how to save his family and everything else living. That record was at least a few centuries older than even the oldest known records that made up the Bible. And that already very old and unexpected copy was itself a copy of a much older record.

Thus began the uncovering of a literary mystery which proved that the Greeks did not invent literature (as everyone believed at that point). Because that story of the Flood was part of the Akkadian version of Gilgamesh - which was itself based on a series of Sumerian poems about Bilgames (the Akkadian name remained the one in use even when the older sources were found). That initial story was incomplete so everyone kept looking for more parts of the story (just to get the scale, on a single dig, they would often find 40K or more tablets) and pieces started showing up. But not all of them matched - there were the best copies from the buried library of Ashurbanipal (everyone had heard about the Alexandria library and the tragedy of its destruction in 48 BC; the same happened at the end of the Assyrian rule in 612 BC in Nineveh - except that the fires that destroyed Alexandria acrtually helped preserve the tablets here) but there were also versions of a different sequence which somewhat matched but were obviously different. And then there were versions showing up in tablets in all known languages in the area - mainly Sumerian, Akkadian (mainly Babylonian versions) and Hittite but a few of the smaller languages also helped preserve versions. The poem was popular - its 12 tablets were copied and recopied, sometimes parts of the story were moved around (as most of these were essentially passages on the same tablet, one may wonder if this was not a 'printing' error - someone started copying the wrong part first and decided to leave it like that).

Soon the scholars started to see the patterns and realize that they are dealing with two really different versions - so they started to group these different versions producing the what is now known as the Standard version (the best preserved copy is the Ashurbanipal's one (specifically assembled for his library with new translations where needed) but with a lot of additions from elsewhere) and the old Babylonian version. Add to this the set of Sumerian early poems which gave the start of the whole thing and a few tablets in various languages which seem like retellings and you get mist of what we have. Even with all the fitting and all the pieces and jigsaw puzzles being solved, we have only ~2/3rd of the full poem (and for awhile the work was especially tedious because the fragments are all over the world, in different museums and universities and it could take years before someone in Berlin realized that they have a piece which adds 40 lines to an existing known US fragment for example.

But even the best preserved tablets (incidentally the Flood one) are fragmentary - there are missing parts and not all of them can be filled by other tablets. So parts of the story are still somewhat of a puzzle. And then there is the problem of the 12th tablet which simply does not fit - it is a direct translation of one of the existing Sumerian poems and one wonders briefly if maybe there were more of these translated or if they grabbed the wrong tablet to translate (as there is a better fitting poem which does not make it into the Akkadian versions - the one with the death of Gilgamesh). Of course the scholars will probably explain why this is unlikely but as I am not one, I just wonder.

So when you look to read the poem in the 21st century and you read a language with more than one translation, you need to decide which one to read. They seem to be in three broad categories:
- The scholarly ones - where the text is as it was found, translated directly from the languages they existed in, with the normal Akkadian way of expression and with the lacunae unfilled and marked.
- The middle ground ones - where the poem is smoothed over so that it reads better but it is still a fresh translation (sometimes with a bit of help from older ones)
- The pure literary ones - most of these done based on older translations and not based on the actual stories; some of them so far removed from the material that the are more interpretations than they are translations in any meaningful way (but then the modern idea of a translation being exact reproduction into another language is really a modern one).

I fully expected to fall into a translation of one of the first two types but the scholar ones are entertaining if you know the story and the second type seem to be the rarest ones (and for the most part the older ones). And age is somewhat important here because the older the translation, the less of the missing parts that had been found later it contains. So how do you decide what to read? You get a few copies and see which one you like the best of course. So here I was sitting one weekend with 7 different versions of the poem and deciding which one to start with - as it seems like reading all of them will be fun (then I realized I have a few more versions in various anthologies). And the one I decided was the best to start with was the least likely of them all - the prose compilation of N. K. Sandars (also known as the shorter or the older Penguin Classics edition - it got superseded but the scholarly edition by Andrew George in 1999) - not only it is from the third type but it is also in prose. But it is a perfect way to read the story.

So what is the story about? Meet Gilgamesh - a king of Uruk (who as it turned out existed and at least some of this epic appears to be true). Unlike the usual later heroes, he ends up on a journey after his people call to the Gods to stop his oppression - so the Gods create him a companion, Enkidu, and the two friends go have some adventures - walk a lot, kill something's guardian, annoy a God or three, you know - the usual heroic stuff. The poem is all about searching for immortality - first of one's name, later, after Enkidu dies, of one's actual body. Along the way Gilgamesh meets the man who survived the Flood, manages to get close to immortality (some of the funnier parts of the poem are about how he is close but every time he manages not to get it) and to find peace at the end. And this is where the 11th tablet ends. Sandars choses to ignore the 12th and instead to add the old Sumerian poem about the death of Gilgamesh as the end of her story (and this is my minor issue with this version: the religions of the area were not like later religion which insist that it is their ways or the highway (or hell) - instead when two different groups of people with different gods met, they just merged the pantheons. When there were repetitions, they just merged two different gods; when there were none, they just renamed them to match their languages (that's how Sumerian Inanna became Ishtar in the Akkadian/Babylonian pantheon for example). As a result, the stories of most gods and heroes got a bit confused in the retellings and mergings but as a whole, the pantheon held as a unity - and sometimes the clues of where the story originated was in which gods were around. Take for example Marduk. The versions we have from the poem are mostly Babylonian but Marduk is nowhere to be seen. Instead it is the Akkadian gods and heroes which are in play here - thus the dating to earlier days (later confirmed archeologically and so on). But back to the problem with that last chapter - it is a translation from Sumerian. Everything else is from Akkadian. So a few Sumerian versions of people we had heard of show up - the glossary at the end connects them but as this is supposed to be a unified text, it is a bit weird (the one that got me was Tammuz/Dumuzi - I may not even had realized that these are names we had seen before if I did not know about this particular name). But that is a minor gripe).

Early on, the belief was that the Bible stories were copied in some ways from these. But the current scholarship holds that they were all based on even older stories, coming from the pre-literate days of the Mesopotamian civilization - and all later stories in the area drew from them and made them their own (and that's why they are slightly different).

The introduction in this edition is very useful but as usual, if you had not read the story/poem before, it will spoil all the surprises. I actually read the story twice - with the introduction read in the middle - I missed things in the first reading but then I probably missed things in the second one as well. And I still plan to read other versions of this poem.
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LibraryThing member Malarchy
The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the earliest recorded stories, arising out of the ancient civilization of Sumeria. The Penguin Epics version is a narrative translation of the original tablets and is a reproduction of a 1972 version by NK Sanders. The Epic is a must-read for those who have an
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interest in the ancient though it is perhaps more satisfying to have read it than it is during the reading. It is fascinating to pick out elements that feature in later works elsewhere in the world not least the description of the great flood that features in the Old Testament of the Bible. What the Epic of Gilgamesh is not is a gripping tale or insightful moral fable.

Gilgamesh himself is a great king who is so powerful he can test the gods. Gilgamesh dominates his society to such an extent that he claims first right to every new bride in his city. Partly as punishment, the gods create a rival from the wilds to challenge him. The rival, Enkidu, is designed to be as strong as Gilgamesh but Gilgamesh defeats him.

Reading the tale as it unfolds with a modern eye would identify two main themes - the intense bond between two powerful men and the futility of the eternal search to conquery mortality. The former of these two themes may or may not have been intended by the original crafters of the legend but there is no doubt that Gilgamesh's love for Enkidu is a powerful motivation for his later actions. Gilgamesh is not a round or deep character and he displays few graduations of action but his love for Enkidu and his own fear of death are his most notable features.

As with many ancient epics, it is between the lines where most fascination lies. The allusions to events and legends that stretch back thousands of years is what excites about the Epic of Gilgamesh. The references to older narratives that would have been familiar to listeners at the time but now are harder to understand are tantalising glimpses into a world order long gone. The tale of the flood which is an historical event that also features in the Old Testament is a powerful reminder that these stories are rarely just the imaginings of talented bards but are often the closest to a record of the times they and their predecessors knew.

However, it must be said that the Epic of Gilgamesh is not much of a story. Apparently the versions with greater depth of explanation of character and place as side notes by modern authors are more interesting but the core narrative as described in the Penguin Epics version is not particularly interesting. Gilgamesh engages in a couple of adventures, mostly with his sidekick Enkidu, and defeats legendary opponents mostly through sheer strength. The role of women in Sumerian society is fascinating, the insight into what comprised a hero in those times, and the tales that are alluded to are nice snippets of history but the Epic of Gilgamesh should not be mistaken for a magnificent tale.
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LibraryThing member Iacobus
The Epic of Gilghamesh is one of history’s first best-sellers: found on various clay tablets produced over of period of over 1000 years in modern-day Iraq, it tells of the legendary king, Gilgamesh, his exploits with the original wild man, Enkidu, and his quest for immortality after Enkidu’s
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untimely death. Is Gilgamesh the original Existential Man shouting his protest in the face of the Final Absurdity? Perhaps not, but in a contemporary Western society that tries every trick the evade the fact of our mortality, the plight of Gilgamesh has struck a powerful cord.

The epic itself was a cycle of tales told about a semi-legendary king of Uruk, in the south of ancient Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), who possibly lived in the third milenium BC. They were originally composed in the ancient Sumerian language, and were most famously compiled in the library of the Assyrian kings, which burned to the ground in 612 BC. They have survived because they were not written on paper, but on clay tablets. There they remained until the mid-nineteenth century, when they were first excavated and deciphered. Gilgamesh first gained fame because his story contained an account of a great flood which has parallels with the one in Genesis.

The previous reviewer has expressed some confusion about the latest edition of Gilgamesh, published in 1999 in the Penguin Classics series. This edition attempts to be a scholarly edition of all the extant texts by a Gilgamesh scholar (Prof. Andrew George of the University of London), while also aiming for a general readership. It seems a little unreasonable to persist to the end of this edition and then complain about the incompleteness of it all, as it should be clear from the Contents page what is going on.

On the other hand it is certainly not an edition I would recommend to a novice. Far more serviceable as a readable edition is the previous Penguin Classics edition by N.K. Sandars, first published in 1960. That has a very long introduction, followed by a prose synthesis of the epic as it then stood (new tablets come to light all the time). It has none of the textual apparatus of George’s 1999 edition. While enthusiasts will want the latest Penguin edition, other may want to pursue a second hand copy of Sandars.
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LibraryThing member atimco
This was my first experience of Gilgamesh, the ancient Sumerian epic that predates Homer's Odyssey by about 1500 years. What a brilliant, simple story; no wonder it has survived. I found Herbert Mason's verse narrative brief and easy to read, but deeply impactful.

Gilgamesh is a king of Uruk
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(historically, fifth in line after the Great Flood, which the poem mentions). He lives a self-absorbed life, driving his people harshly or neglecting them, using the women, building the walls, but mostly just being idle. He awakens from this life when he meets Enkidu, a man from the wild who has been tamed by a prostitute. Enkidu and Gilgamesh become friends in the most inseparable sense, equals in all.

When Gilgamash is possessed by a desire to destroy the brutish god Humbaba, Enkidu is seized with fear. He knows from his time in the forest of Humbaba's dark power, and pleads with his friend not to go. But Gilgamesh is resolved, and Enkidu accompanies him. Enkidu is killed, and Gilgamesh finally discovers what human sorrow is. Spent with grief, he embarks on a winding quest to bring his friend back to life. What will be the end?

I love the prayer of Ninsun, Gilgamesh's mother who was a minor goddess. She says to the god Shamash,

...Why did you give my son
A restless heart, and now you touch him
With this passion to destroy Humbaba,
And you send him on a journey to a battle
He may never understand, to a door
He cannot open. You inspire him to end
The evil of the world which you abhor
And yet he is a man for all his power
And cannot do your work. You must protect
My son from danger.

It captures the futility of humanity in our quest for transcendence, our spiritual discontent which we cannot remedy. All our good deeds come to nothing, and the last appeal is always to the deity. Striking also to me was the monotheism of Utnapishtim, the wise man Gilgamesh seeks out to save his friend. Mason hints in the afterword that this expression of monotheism may cause some controversy among scholars... interesting.

Casual readers like me always wonder, when we pick up a work like this of which there are so many versions and translations, if we have chosen The Right One. If we have maximized our reading experience, if we have latched on to something of which those who know would approve. I have to let worries like this go and simply enjoy the book, whichever version it is, that has fallen to me. I don't know what other translations are like, but I found this one intensely human and accessible.

Strangely powerful, from across thousands of years Gilgamesh draws us into its story and remains with us. It is, of course, the universality of loss, the desperation of sorrow, and the long road home of acceptance that make Gilgamesh's journey ours. Recommended.
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LibraryThing member Cecrow
I read this only for the sake of saying I did, but it's on par with Greek mythology for entertainment and has actual plot twists that surprise. Not bad for a story that went missing for more than two millenia until it was rediscovered in the 19th century. Gilgamesh has the strength of a god but the
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mortality of a man. This anguish leads him to unjustly lord it over his people until a friend almost equal to him in strength is sent to correct his ways. Adventures ensue, and Gilgamesh learns more bitter lessons about loss and death. There's some intriguing parallels to stories from the Bible and echoes of Homer. I took the epic as a whole to be the story of human grappling with mortality: we feel like gods in our youth, strive to make names for ourselves, then endure the humbling of our pride and the hollows of tragedy that weather us, leading to maturity and eventually an acceptance of death.
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LibraryThing member Meredy
Six-word review: Ancient epic hero futilely seeks immortality.

Extended review:

I read this work immediately following The Buried Book: The Loss and Rediscovery of the Great Epic of Gilgamesh, by David Damrosch, which not only narrates the discovery and first efforts at translation of this epic poem
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of ancient Mesopotamia but sets a historical context for the story itself. The background reading enlarged and enriched my appreciation of the epic, as well as being an absorbing history in its own right.

The verse occupies only about one-third of the pages of this book. The rest consists of detailed scholarly explication and notes on the translation, including extensive reference to other sources and painstaking elaboration on the language and the process of decoding the cuneiform script. If I were not so fascinated by language as both an art and a medium, I might have found many parts of this book borderline unreadable, but as it was they held my attention fast.

The story itself concerns the adventures of King Gilgamesh of Uruk (in what is now Iraq), who sets out first to make a name for himself as a hero and then to learn the secret of immortality. The gods have fashioned as his counterpart a primal man called Enkidu. While Gilgamesh has enjoyed--and at times abused--all the power and privileges of the ruler of a great city, Enkidu has grown up in the wilderness among the animals and never known civilization or the touch of a woman. Enkidu is a kind of Doppelgänger who comes to be the bosom companion of Gilgamesh. Together they take on the conquering of a monster named Humbaba and then slay a divinely created beast called the Bull of Heaven.

The death of Enkidu causes Gilgamesh great mourning and also dread of his own future death. He goes in search of Utnapishtim, the only man to survive the Great Flood, to learn how he too can defeat mortality. From this Noah-figure, he learns secrets, but not the one he wants to hear.

The themes pertaining to the interactions of gods and humans and the motifs related to love, heroism, loss, submission to the gods and defiance of them, life, death, and much more recall similar strains in the Homeric tales and the Hebrew Bible. I read portions of Genesis alongside the Flood story in Gilgamesh just for the sake of comparison. An interesting note is that the Flood of Gilgamesh's story is not conceived as punishment for anything but is simply the will of a god who acts without consulting his fellow members of the pantheon; they later reprimand him for his misuse of power.

To me a great part of the wonder of it is how the words of a poet of some three or four thousand years ago, retelling legends that were already ancient in his own time, still have the power to hold, to move, and to enlighten the reader of today. It's hard to think of history of any kind--the history of so-called fact or the history of myth and lore--in the same way after dwelling for a time within the edifice of its own words.
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LibraryThing member saturnloft
This book reignited my nostalgia for ziggurats and reminded me of how much I actually enjoy the deities of Mesopotamia. They really don't make gods like they used to.

I found it amazingly readable, for a 4,000 year old item. The first portion, with it's fun and hi-jinks, slaying of the ogre Humbaba
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and all that, had me giggling merrily away in Starbucks. Then something terrible happened, but by then I was invested. Funfact not included in this book: According to my mythological dictionary, Humbaba had a beard made of entrails.
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LibraryThing member otterlake
Amazingly modern. Or perhaps, amazing that the same things are still to the fore.
LibraryThing member stravinsky
My favorite part is when they held hands.
LibraryThing member regularguy5mb
When I was a student teacher, I actually taught my students the Gilgamesh Epic. I used it to then go into the various creation and flood stories of various world religions. In fact, when I was in high school, my tenth grade English teacher also taught Gilgamesh, which is probably why I decided to
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follow his lead. Of course, every version I've ever seen is a simple breakdown of each section of the story, not the actual translation of the poem that this is (or, at least, the translation of what has been found of it so far). So, this particular version was a first time read for me.

The Epic of Gilgamesh presents one of the earliest recorded tales. It includes the first known example of a written creation story, a flood story, and even a version of the temptation of man by woman and a betrayal by a serpent. The Biblical parallels are so many that it can't be mere coincidence, especially when you learn that the early Semites (who would become the Jewish people) were at one time indoctrinated by Babylonian religion, which copied many of their stories from the Sumerian, including Gilgamesh, already an historical figure turned mythic hero by the time Babylon became a power.

To me though, the most important element of the Gilgamesh epic, is that it's not only the first "on the road" story, but also the first buddy story. Gilgamesh literally has a best friend made for him by the gods, and the two go on amazing adventures together. As a fan of the road movie and the buddy picture, this is something that always stayed with me about Gilgamesh and Enkidu. This brand of buddy adventure has always been around and has always been popular, since the literal beginnings of civilization.
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LibraryThing member BenjaminHahn
I am taking on the subject of Babylonian Civilization this summer. To get started, I'm rereading the oldest story ever written by humans. How old? Try 4000 years old. Not only is it the oldest, but it is written in a dead language and it was buried for a couple thousand years before some British
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archaeologists dug it up in the Iraqi desert in the mid 1800's. It took another 50 years before it was translated into English.

I've read an adaptation of Gilgamesh before but never a scholarly translation that was directly translated from the cuneiform tablets. Andrew George's translation is considered one of the standards and I found it very readable even though there are gaps here and there to represent where the tablets are broken. In a sense, this made the work of translation more apparent and interesting. In fact, there is a whole system in place that emphasizes when and where certainty and speculation are used in the story. Italics and brackets are all over the place, but once you figure out the code, it adds a lot to the reading experience.

In addition to the standard Gilgamesh tablets, there are older Sumerian tablets that are translated and included in this Penguin edition. The Sumerian tablets are older but translated from Sumerian and not Akkadian. They tend to be less standardized, with characters switching names or roles here and there. The notes help sort all this out. The introduction is also very interesting and helps lay some crucial groundwork for placing this story in context to the history of the Babylonian Empire.

If you are like me and love Homer and all the other early epics you will want to familiarize yourself with this most excellent story. Just as interesting is the story of its discovery. Check out The Buried Book by David Damrosch to learn more about that. If you want to learn more about the ancient history of the area in audio format, check out Dan Carlin's podcast "Hardcore History -King of Kings" series.
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LibraryThing member Dabble58
It's the ultimate story, filled with everything: battles, friendship, hubris, shame, loss, joy, gods, human-gods, creation, sacrifice, love, hate, quests, sex.
It's mostly about men, of course.
Cos we women basically ran about and tempted men to ruin them. Poor Enkidu, once mighty until he slept with
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a woman.
Regular theme, methinks.
However, it's the first story in the Western tradition, and worth exploring as a view of the world in which we once lived.
I urge you to read the story before the introduction - I didn't and nearly gave up on the book before I got to the actual story. This would have been a mistake. It was worth the reading.
I can't help but think of Tom Harpur's The Pagan Christ when I read it. There are such similarities in creation stories that sometimes I wonder if our brains have a specific synapse devoted to them.
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LibraryThing member karstelincoln
Has the traditional heroic epic feel-- like the hand of an old friend! I love the cadence, the simplicity, the repetition. Hard to follow in places due to obscure/ unfamiliar references and lots of sections missing. There is a new translation and I wonder if it has more pieces filled in (due to
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finding new tablets and new scholarly findings...)
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LibraryThing member setnahkt
This is an interesting take on Gilgamesh. Texts relating to Gilgamesh are known from Sumerian, Akkadian (with Assyrian, neo-Assyrian, Old Babylonian, Ugaritic and Neobabylonian variants), and Hittite; date over a time span of about 2000 years; and come from places as far apart as Bogazkhoy,
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Meggido, and Susa. There is no complete version in any language; what scholars traditionally do is take the bits and pieces, regardless of language and date, and string them together into a continuous narrative.

What novelist John Gardner and archaeologist John Maier have done instead is take a single version (albeit the most complete one) and translated it as a single text, without reference to other versions (except in footnotes). This is the Sîn-leqi-unninnĩ version, after the Assyrian priest who transcribed it for the library of Asshurbanipal. The main value here is you can see exactly how much is interpolated in other translations; of secondary interest is Gardner’s literary interpretation. Other translations bowdlerize the encounters between Enkidu and the temple courtesan and between Gilgamesh, Enkidu, Ishtar and the Bull of Heaven; Gardner and Maier go for an “Akkadian You Never Learned in School” tactic and are rather more graphic. Since I don’t know a word of Akkadian (well, not quite – “gypsum” is Akkadian) I have no idea whether the text actually justifies this, but I assume Maier wouldn’t allow Gardner to get too fanciful. There’s a long appendix which details translation problems and the approach the authors used.

I wouldn’t get this for your first version of Gilgamesh because the gaps in the text diminish readability but it’s definitely valuable if you’ve already read a more traditional version.
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LibraryThing member Zommbie1
I liked the story. I liked what it had to say about the human condition. I would like to in the future read another translation to see what is different. I liked that the language was accessible, I felt like I could fly through it.

However, I am not sure about this translation. Since I have not read
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The Epic of Gilgamesh before I have no idea if this is how the translations are often done but I found the fact that the volume contained the translations of several tablets annoying. I just wanted to read the story. I didn’t really care to compare the Yale tablet with the Pennsylvania tablet. I did appreciate that in the first part they told you when they, due to missing parts switched tablets but I didn’t really need the tablet translations again in the following parts.

What I also didn’t like was the fact that at the start of each tablet they told you what happened. The language in the translations was so accessible that I had no problems following it. I didn’t need the short synopsis at the start of each tablet. It really just ruined the story for me. I feel that this edition is paradoxically an edition for high school students to lazy to read the whole thing and an edition for the scholar who wants an introduction to the different tablets. Personally, as someone who just wanted to read the story, I was not well served by this edition.

So in conclusion: good story, bad book.
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LibraryThing member nosajeel
Gilgamesh is a real illustration of progress. It's the world's oldest story--about a thousand years before The Iliad and even longer before the Bible. Which makes it a fascinating historical document. But, to me, much of it read like immature nonsense. Sure there were neat parts, battles, floods,
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etc. And sure it was interesting that the mind thousands of years ago went through many of the same emotions and issues that we go through today. And sure it is an interesting historical document. But much of it is also a slog. It's possible the experience would have been different if, like Greek Mythology or the Bible, one had a grounding and came into it knowing who Gilgamesh, Utnapishtim and Enkidu. But I didn't.
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LibraryThing member keylawk
The last work which Garner completed before his untimely death in a motorcycle accident. Ironically, this translation work develops the coiled truth: that death is inevitable, but works may gain a kind of immortality.
Henshaw and Meier had worked on the project for 10 years, lifting the story from
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the Akkadian cuneiform and comparing other translations of the fragmented Ashurbanipal Library materials.
Gilgamesh is a man searching for meaning, against constant remonstrations that the search is futile. After losing his close friend, Enkidu, to an arbitrary death, he compares and interviews men with alternative possibilities -- a Heraklion "heroic" figure, a Noah-like flood-spared "pious" figure, and an Odesseian "cunning" character. By the end of the quest, Gilgamesh is confronted by the fact that Enkidu will not return, and death cannot be escaped. Even though mankind is saved from extermination in the Flood, he must live in a hostile place-- facing immediate threat from wolf and lion, famine, and plague. Gilgamesh, does, however, cast off his primitive skins and returns to civilization to don the raimants of King. He gives obeisance to his goddess Ishtar.
The Gilgamesh Epic dates back to 2600 B.C. Writing had not developed until 3000 B.C. This is the rich poetry of the first Epic, with subtleties, lullabies, riddles, and a strong story. The religion is dominated by the Queen of Heaven, a consort of Yahweh [23; compare Jeremiah 44:16-19, Revelation 17:3-6]. Gilgamesh is The One Who Saw the Abyss.
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LibraryThing member keylawk
Literal translation, and keeps the lively story line. Enkidu and Gilgamesh, hunting in the Cedar Forest. In one version, Gilgamesh has no wife or children and is not looking. But he is worried about death.
LibraryThing member Tahlil77
The Epic Of Gilgamesh - this is the second time I've read this, but since the first time was 12 years ago as a doe-eyed freshman in college, it was like a new read. The Penguin Classics version by N.K. Sanders comes with a map of ancient Mesopotamia and begins with a history of the epic and various
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background info such as: discovery of the Sumerian tablets, literary background, principle gods, survival and diction of the epic (among many others). The story itself is compiled from Sumerian, Akkadian, Hurrian, Hittite, Assyrian and Babylonian tablets to fill in the holes from all of the definciences of each others versions. A good, quick and informative read...and much better the second time around when reading for pleasure with the mind of a grown man.
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LibraryThing member John
I find the epic of Gilgamesh intriguing for two reasons: because the themes it deals with are universal and timeless, and because it foreshadows important aspects of the Christian story which many want to believe is unique; it's not. There are direct translations of the epic from the cuneiform, and
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then there are renditions in poetic form that draw upon these translations. This book by David Ferry is one of the latter, as is the other version I own, and the first I read, by David Mitchell. I also have a translation by Andrew George and am going to seek out others.

I see two principal themes in the epic: first, dealing with the fact of mortality and what, if anything, will live on after our lives; secondly, the power and necessity of friendship. However, there is a very large number of themes or ideas either developed, or adumbrated, through out the story any one of which could be traced through the thousands of years to come in literature and other arts, such as: the effect of tyranny on a people (Gilgamesh in his early days); a fall from grace that was a state of nature (Enkidu); the mysterious and sometimes threatening power of sex that women hold (Enkidu's fall from nature by being seduced by the temple harlot for seven days of sex); defending the oppressed (Enkidu fighting Gilgamesh over his right to sleep with a bride on her first night); the humanity of even the great ones who also experience fear (Gilgamesh and Enkidu in the cedar forest to take on the monster Huwawa ; Gilgamesh in the mountain tunnel of darkness), doubt (Gilgamesh wants to go back at one point in the forest, but Enkidu strengthens his resolve), grief (Gilgamesh for Enkidu); the fleeting nature of fame ("The life of man is short/What he accomplishes is but the wind"); punishment or retribution for unjustified actions or reaching too far (Gilgamesh was right in hesitating to kill Huwawa who had done them no harm, but was urged on by Enkidu); the power of divine intervention (they would not have subdued Huwawa without the help of a god); sexual temptation (the goddess Ishtar trying to seduce Gilgamesh ); the power of a woman scorned (Ishtar's fury at being spurned with harsh terms); hubris and the downfall of tempting fate (Enkidu's death); life as fate preordained by the gods; fear of death (Enkidu on his death bed); the ultimate futility of trying to escape the fate of mortality (the loss of the fountain-of-youth plant that Gilgamesh had retrieved); the futility of railing against one's past because what's done is done (Enkidu on his death bed).

The supporting power of friendship is a strong theme. Enkidu's first reaction after his "fall" now that his "heart was beginning to know itself", was his longing "for a companion", hence his cry to the harlot to take him to Uruk, the city of Gilgamesh. The two fight, but then become fast, inseparable friends. They support and encourage each other; when one has doubts, the other is strong. Together they enter the terrifying cedar forest and take on Huwawa; together they kill the Bull of Heaven sent by Ishtar to kill Gilgamesh after he spurned her, as they cried together: "Two people, companions, they can prevail together". (So, Gilgamesh is the original buddy-story, a theme still much alive today!)

There is an early echo of Odysseus and Hercules's labours in Gilgamesh's voyage in search for Utnapishtim, the one mortal who has achieved immortality, having been blessed by the gods.

The pre-Christian echoes: a fall from grace and state of bliss in nature because of knowledge gained that precludes one from going back (Enkidu cannot return to the animals, they run away from him, after he has gained knowledge of human life through sex); a flood that wipes out all living things on earth except for Utnapishtim and his wife and a sample of every living creature that he was instructed, by a god, to bring on board the boat he was told to build, complete with measurements; the release of birds when the boat finally settles on a mountain as the waters recede; Gilgamesh himself is the child of a mortal coming together with a god; and a nice final touch: it is a snake that steals the fountain-of-youth plant that Gilgamesh is trying to take back to Uruk as kind of a consolation prize for not having obtained the immortality enjoyed by Utnapishtim.

The epic is very much something to enjoyed and pondered.
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LibraryThing member Stbalbach
This is a review of The Epic of Gilgamesh (Penguin Epics) published 2006, a prose translation by N.K. Sandars, first published in Penguin's 1960 edition, re-printed here under the "Penguin Epics" series, without the book-length editors introduction and notes. Just the meat, no potatoes or desert.
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It took me about 2 hours to read as an average reader, was clear and easy to understand. The book is physically tiny, 4x8 inches and a quarter-inch thick, it would disappear on a book shelf.

I purchased this at the same time as The Buried Book: The Loss and Rediscovery of the Great Epic of Gilgamesh, however I wished I had waited, as 'Buried Book' has a good overview of more recent translations available. However I am not disappointed as Sandar's translation is good and easy and understandable - it may not be scholarly level, but perfectly acceptable for most readers who just want to read the epic and enjoy it in prose format.
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LibraryThing member endersreads
This makes for a quick and illuminating read. Gilgamesh (the city boy and King of Uruk)and Enkidu (the child of the wilderness who becomes domesticated by the introduction of the Harlot who is most likely a Priestess of the Temple of Ishtar) kill the Guardian of the Cedar Forest, Humbaba, kill the
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Heavenly Bull (most certainly marking the end of the age of Taurus), and become legendary in turn. Enkidu dies leaving Gilgamesh to ponder over his own mortality. This is where it gets interesting. In the last tablet, tablet 11, we are witness to Utanapishtim's story of the Flood and we hear of the Anunnaki, which those of you who have delved into the world of Zacharia Sitchin will recognize. There are many Sumerian Gods that you will learn about in these texts. Their incompleteness is a bit annoying, but today we have a much more completed version than in the past. Indeed Gilgamesh, even in the ancient world, was a widely recieved work. Perhaps soon we will have a completed text.
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LibraryThing member hannahj26
Though this is not as sophisticated as many other books out there the historical value is huge. Older than the bible it tells the story of Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Many can find parallels with the Old Testament and other religious works, such as the great flood. A short book and definitely worth
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reading, I beleive it's only totals at about 60 pages.
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Original publication date

ca. 2100 BC (five Sumerian poems about 'Bilgamesh')
circa 2100 BC
ca. 1700 BC ('Old Babylonian' version)
ca. 1300 - 1000 BC ('Standard' version)
1872 (English: George Smith)
1960 (English: N.K. Sandars)
1971 (English: Herbert Mason)
1992 (English: David Ferry)
1999 (English: Andrew R. George)
2004 (English: Stephen Mitchell)

Physical description

128 p.; 6.8 inches


014044100X / 9780140441000
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