Monday, April 20, 2009

Gilgamesh translated by Stephen Mitchell

Gilgamesh is the original epic poem, the first written piece of human literature. It is the story of Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, and his struggle with power and against death. I have never managed to read it before, and I picked up this copy, translated by Stephen Mitchell, because that is what is suggested by Yann Martel, in his letter to Stephen Harper on the subject. Yes, that's right, this book is my second read for the second quarter of the Martel-Harper Challenge. (Here is the full list and Martel's explanation.) Martel sends Harper two different copies of Gilgamesh, but I will only be discussing this translation, for now. (Here is the letter that Martel sent along with a copy of the book.)
The introduction that Mitchell provides is a lengthy description of the entire story, and it provided an excellent background for the reading. Yes, it told the entire plot, but I don't feel that Gilgamesh is something that can be spoiled by knowing the plot ahead of time. And once I got into the reading, I was swept up into the story. It really provides a fascinating look at life in ancient Sumeria. Of course, it cannot necessarily be taken as an accurate picture, because it is a story, after all, but simply the descriptions of the gods, and the temples, and the city of "great-walled Uruk" are revealing. Not having read any other translations of this work, I can't really compare it, but I really enjoyed this one, and would recommend it for anyone looking at reading this ancient tale.
This is also the third of the many, many books I plan on reading for the Really Old Classics Challenge. Soon really old classics are all I'll be reading!


Rebecca Reid said...

I think that's the thing about the intros to many of the old classics: they are full of the "spoilers" and yet reading the classics are about the experience and not necessarily the plot.

I still tend to skim the intros at the beginning and then go back and read them after I read the work. Of course, then I want to reread the work .... .lol!

Shelley said...

I just recently listened to the audio book of this version and they actually put the intro at the end, which I kind of liked. I'll hopefully be posting a review soon.