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The Epic of Gilgamesh (Norton Critical Editions) Paperback – April 23, 2001

ISBN-13: 978-0393975161 ISBN-10: 0393975169 Edition: 0th

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Product Details

  • Series: Norton Critical Editions
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (April 23, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393975169
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393975161
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.1 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #58,396 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Benjamin R. Foster is Professor of Assyriology at Yale University, where he has taught since 1975. His books include Before the Muses: An Anthology of Akkadian Literature, From Distant Days: Myths, Tales, and Poetry of Ancient Mesopotamia, Sargonic Tablets from Telloh in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum, and Administration and Use of Institutional Land in Sargonic Sumer, and Umma in the Sargonic Period.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Scott Richardson VINE VOICE on January 16, 2003
Format: Paperback
Norton Critical Editions are known for providing authoritative texts or notable translations of important texts, and their edition of The Epic of Gilgamesh is no exception. The translation is easy to read without being simplistic, and is heavily (and helpfully) notated.
Where this edition really shines, though, is in providing a context for the work, not only in providing a variety of other Gilgamesh poems and critical interpretations, but in the excellent introduction on how to read the work. The introduction answers questions readers may have about the historical basis for the character of Gilgamesh, the history of the text itself, and provides general information on its style (such as why it continually repeats itself).
This version also includes a number of additional Gilgamesh stories from several different cultures, many of which are close parallels to the epic itself. Perhaps the most interesting (and certainly the weirdest) of these is Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Netherworld, in which Gilgamesh loses his prized ball-and-stick game and Enkidu goes down to the Netherworld to get it.
If you're looking to get the most out of your Gilgamesh experience and understand the epic in a larger context, this edition is definitely for you.
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40 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Dave_42 on July 20, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Norton Critical Edition of "The Epic of Gilgamesh" is a fairly recent translation of what is currently the oldest known epic. The epic was translated by Benjamin R. Foster. The book also includes "The Sumerian Gilgamesh Poems", translated by Douglas Frayne, and "The Hittite Gilgamesh", translated by Gary Beckman. In addition, there is "The Gilgamesh Letter", several essays discussing the epic, and an Introduction section which helps those who are new to the Epic with their first reading. The translation uses the "standard version" associated with Sin-leqe-unninni as its base, and supplements it with parts from other versions where there are gaps. There are also comments in the text to help the reader follow the passages easier.

An area of weakness of this book was in the area of editorial comments. For example, Mr. Foster states in the introduction:

"There is no evidence that The Epic of Gilgamesh began as an oral narrative performed by bards or reciters and coalesced into a written text only later. In fact, the poem as we now have it shows many signs of having been a formal, written, literary work composed and perhaps performed for well-educated people, especially scholars and members of a royal court."

This is in sharp contrast with other opinions which I have read regarding the origins of the Epic. While it may be that there is no conclusive proof one way or another, there clearly is some evidence to support the theory that it did begin as an oral narrative, just as there is evidence that it may not have. If Mr. Foster completely disregards the evidence on the other side of the argument, then one is left to wonder if there are other "facts" provided by the editor that are equally suspect.
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47 of 53 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 1, 2002
Format: Paperback
This edition is perfect for teachers, serious students, and advanced courses. It is fantastic and for the person who wants the best scholarship, this is the place to go. But it is not for the person who simply wants to enjoy the tale or for introductory courses. I would suggest using this book as a resource along with one of the more readable prose versions.
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58 of 69 people found the following review helpful By The Pete VINE VOICE on October 16, 2004
Format: Paperback
I have the Penguin translation of the Epic, and I enjoy it very much. I picked up this book to get a more recent translation. I can't question the accuracy of the translation, since I'm not an expert but, from a literary standpoint, I found this translation lacking.

First, the tone shifts for no apparent reason. In some sections the characters speak like they're orating and then, all of a sudden, the language is peppered with slang.

Second, I find it inappropriate for translators to insert Christian mythological terms in ancient texts. For instance, this book calls the underworld "hell." While the Mesopotamian afterlife was hardly a keg party, to equate it with the Christian hell is simply inaccurate.

Finally, and most important, the translation fails to capture any sense of the power of the original. The language is dry. The structure of the sentences is stiff and the pacing is dull. Perhaps that's because this translation is academic in nature? Whatever the reason, the Epic won't continue to enthrall people for another several thousand years with translations like this.

As a side note: I didn't find the critical essays particularly interesting, so the book didn't work for me that way either. I'd pick the Penguin translation over this one in a heartbeat.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Dan on January 4, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Epic of Gilgamesh is a difficult text, both to translate and to read. I'm not a fan of translating Shamat (the woman who seduces & helps civilize Enkidu) as a "harlot." It's better than "prostitute" or "temple prostitute," but I think it has a very particular (negative) connotation in modern English that it probably didn't carry in Sumerian, Akkadian, and Bablylonian civilizations. On the other hand, Foster is the one who "knows" the language, not me. The ancillary material that Norton Critical editions contain, however, is the real problem with this edition. I very much enjoyed the inclusion of individual texts and stories from earlier epochs (i.e., Sumerian texts before the epic was "compiled"). And there is a useful discussion about the various "stages" of the text we read today (actually a first millennium BCE compilation - some 2000 years later than the first stories about Gilgamesh!). But the essays require more guidance, especially since many of them directly contradict Foster's introduction/translation, and unlike (e.g.) reading Shakespeare, only a handful of people in the WORLD can justly be referred to as experts on this material. So there needs to be some discussion of the included texts BY Foster (or another modern scholar) in order to give us wee non-experts some sort of ground to stand on.
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