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Gilgamesh: A New English Version

172 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0743261692
ISBN-10: 0743261690
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The acclaimed translator of the Tao Te Ching and the Bhagavad Gita now takes on the oldest book in the world. Inscribed on stone tablets a thousand years before the Iliad and the Bible and found in fragments, Gilgamesh describes the journey of the king of the city of Uruk in what is now Iraq.At the start, Gilgamesh is a young giant with gigantic wealth, power and beauty—and a boundless arrogance that leads him to oppress his people. As an answer to their pleas, the gods create Enkidu to be a double for Gilgamesh, a second self. Learning of this huge, wild man who runs with the animals, Gilgamesh dispatches a priestess to find him and tame him by seducing him. Making love with the priestess awakens Enkidu's consciousness of his true identity as a human being rather than as an animal. Enkidu is taken to the city and to Gilgamesh, who falls in love with him as a soul mate. Soon, however, Gilgamesh takes his beloved friend with him to the Cedar Forest to kill the guardian, the monster Humbaba, in defiance of the gods. Enkidu dies as a result. The overwhelming grief and fear of death that Gilgamesh suffers propels him on a quest for immortality that is as fast-paced and thrilling as a contemporary action film. In the end, Gilgamesh returns to his city. He does not become immortal in the way he thinks he wants to be, but he is able to embrace what is.Relying on existing translations (and in places where there are gaps, on his own imagination), Mitchell seeks language that is as swift and strong as the story itself. He conveys the evenhanded generosity of the original poet, who is as sympathetic toward women and monsters—and the whole range of human emotions and desires—as he is toward his heroes. This wonderful new version of the story of Gilgamesh shows how the story came to achieve literary immortality—not because it is a rare ancient artifact, but because reading it can make people in the here and now feel more completely alive.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Mitchell's version of Gilgamesh should be the standard for general and classroom readers for the foreseeable future. It includes everything in the Akkadian texts, though shorn of some fragmentary passages and emended by Mitchell for clarity (extensive endnotes flag every change Mitchell makes and provide literal translations wherever Mitchell feels such would further illuminate meaning and spirit). The prologue and the closing page, both of which advert to Gilgamesh's great city of Uruk, are cast in five-beat lines, with the story per se in 11 books of four-beat lines. Mitchell manages both meters masterfully, writing verse that is musical and propulsive for all its "free" characteristics. The 66-page introduction interprets the entire poem as a philosophical fable as well as an engaging, episodic story, and not without describing some of the prosodic devices of the ancient Babylonian poem. Mitchell understands the poem to be overarchingly concerned with self-discovery and acceptance, with appreciating that humans are mortal, hence less than the gods, but also capable of love, and thus greater than mere gods. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 290 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books (February 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743261690
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743261692
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (172 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,221 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Stephen Mitchell was born in Brooklyn in 1943, educated at Amherst, the Sorbonne, and Yale, and de-educated through intensive Zen practice. His many books include the bestselling Tao Te Ching, The Gospel According to Jesus, Bhagavad Gita, The Book of Job, Meetings with the Archangel, Gilgamesh, The Second Book of the Tao, and the Iliad. When he is not writing, he likes to (in no particular order) think about writing, think about not writing, not think about writing, and not think about not writing. He is married to Byron Katie and cowrote two of her bestselling books: Loving What Is and A Thousand Names for Joy. You can read extensive excerpts from all his books on his website,

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

220 of 228 people found the following review helpful By Dave_42 on August 8, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In general, I am more interested in the scholarly translations of the Epic of Gilgamesh than I am those that attempt to create an English literary version of the Epic. That being said, Stephen Mitchell's new version of the Epic is a very readable adaptation, even if he takes a lot of liberties with the original story. Mr. Mitchell draws from several different translations, including Stephanie Dalley's and Benjamin Foster's, both of which I have read and can recommend to others as very good literal translations. He also uses Andrew George's "The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic" which has been highly recommended to me, and which I look forward to reading.

In his efforts to produce a more literary version of the Epic, parts of it have been cut or rearranged, so if you are looking for a pure translation, this is not only not a good choice but it would be one of the worst selections you could make. However, if you are looking for an enjoyable and easy to follow version of the Epic, this is a nice introduction. I would not suggest that you read only this edition though, but rather use it as a starting place to get a feel for the story and then move on to the other translations, which while more difficult to follow are ultimately more rewarding.
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170 of 183 people found the following review helpful By Todd Havens on October 21, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I have heard the Gilgamesh title bandied about in conversations over the years, but I never had any interest in reading the epic that carries the historical king's name until Stephen Mitchell's translation came along. Call it fate, downtime between freelance jobs or an intriguing cover that happened to feed into my backburnered fascination with the Ancient Near East. In any event, I purchased the book and have just now finished reading it.

One of my biggest obstacles in approaching ancient literature is language. I want to be able to read it in a modern-enough translation that I don't lose the rhythm of the writing. Nothing destroys my interest in finishing a book more than constantly having to flip to a rear glossary or bouncing down to incessant footnotes. Mitchell's translation avoids all of that clutter by telling the story in a vernacular that facilitates finishing the work within a single sitting.

There are ample endnotes that delve into the issue of language translation if that floats one's boat, but there is also a wonderful (and timely) introduction that sets the stage for the literary adventure that is Gilgamesh. Mitchell's love for the epic is evident in his writing style which never suffers from erudite jargon or stuffy, scholarly analysis.

I found this translation completely accessible and a great joy to read!
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By General Breadbasket on August 28, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I remember in Year 9 literature, our teacher came and whacked down a great pile of photocopies on each of our desks. It was bits and pieces of this story called Gilgamesh, one of the oldest surviving written works around. We were reading the part about the Scorpion Men, I remember, and I thought it was pretty interesting. Since then, I've always been meaning to check it out, and just recently, I picked up this modern version of the Sumerian epic.

Gilgamesh is the story of the giant of the same name, King of the ancient Sumerian city of Uruk. He's handsome, he's strong, he's brave, but unfortunately he's a bit of a tyrant, and he oppresses his people. To stop his brutal ways, the gods create a likeness of Gilgamesh, Enkidu, who they put out in the wilds. Enkidu is a man who grows to become Gilgamesh's closest ally, and over a series of quests is one who changes his life and his life's meaning forever.

This adaption is a version, and not a translation. Stephen Mitchell, the author of this version, admits that he can't read Akkadian (the original language of Gilgamesh) but instead relied on several amplified and literal translations of the text for inspiration. As it is, I found it very, very easy to read, even compared to other modern versions of literature (Seamus Heaney's version of Beowulf, for instance). At a relaxed pace, I was able to get through this book in a couple of days.

The book itself I felt could have been a bit shorter. The introduction and endnotes combined take up half the pages! The introduction was all right, but not exactly my cup of tea.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By S. Schisgall on July 6, 2005
Format: Hardcover
If you're looking for an extremely enjoyable version of Gilgamesh, look no further. I'm glad I put in a few hours of research before deciding which version to read because the other versions may have been accurate to the original tablets, but based on skimming five other versions of the text, the other writing styles were not nearly as comprehensible as Mitchell's. I strongly recommend this version because of the fluidity and entertainment it provides for the modern reader.

If you're not familiar with the epic of Gilgamesh, Mitchell includes a very clear and useful 60 page introduction that provides any reader with an overview of Gilgamesh's history and a basic analysis of the story. If you have no idea what Gilgamesh is about, which was the case for me, you shouldn't have any problems following the story's plot if you start on the first tablet, but I feel that perusing Mitchell's Introduction made the story a lot more enjoyable than if I had dove straight into the story.

One other note about the text: If you have any knowledge about the Old Testament there are numerous allusions between the two texts, which I found cool because Gilgamesh was written before the Old Testament.

I highly suggest this version to all readers interested in the epic.
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