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Gilgamesh Paperback – August 12, 1985


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage Books ed edition (August 12, 1985)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394740890
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394740898
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #272,163 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"[Gilgamesh] has never been better served than in this new translation...Maier's contribution is the meticulous scholarship that envelopes the book...John Gardner's contribution...is the translation itself: lyrical, sinewy, emotionally uncompromising and rhythmically brilliant."

-- William L. Moran, The New York Times Book Review

"The authors brilliantly achieve the goal of infusing the poem with new life and meaning for the modern reader"

-- Ronald Bailey, Newsday

"A moving and exceptionally readable version of the poem."

-- Aaron Shurin, The San Francisco Chronicle

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)

Customer Reviews

I didn't read a lot of them I just wanted to read the tablets and I did enjoy them.
Jan E. Blackman
There is also an extensive amount of notes and details and other supplementary information that helps the reader gather more context about the story.
Kyle W. Murray
I have read several renderings of the Gilgamesh epic, and in my opinion this version by John Gardner and John Maier is the best overall.
Brendan Barnwell

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 55 people found the following review helpful By tepi on June 15, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
GILGAMESH : Translated from the Sin-leqi-unninni Version by John Gardner and John Maier, with the assistance of Richard A. Henshaw. 304 pp. New York : Vintage Books, 1985 (1984). ISBN 0-394-740-89-0 (pbk.)
The present book is the fruit of a collaboration between John Gardner, literary scholar and writer who was responsible for the translation, and John Maier, who wrote the 50-page Introduction, the extensive Notes, and the concluding Appendix. Although both might be described as 'non-specialist enthusiasts,' and it was their intention to write "a translation for the non-specialist" (page 4), evidence of real scholarship is evident throughout, and it's clear that we are dealing here with enthusiasts who were madly in love their subject and knew a great deal about it.
The Gilgamesh story has a very long history and reaches back to a real Sumerian hero of the Third Millenium B.C. Its late version was written, not in Sumerian but in Akkadian, the language of Sumer's conquerors, by the priest, Sin-leqi-unnini, around 1300 B.C., and it is this Middle Babylonian version that we have been given in the present book.
Although Gilgamesh is usually presented as a poem in twelve books, Gardner and Maier, guided by the fact that each of its twelve cuneiform tablets has six columns on each side, and feeling that "the column is an important unit of composition" (page vii), decided to treat the tablets as seventy-two columns or separate poems. Hence the unusual column-by-column layout of their book.
Most clay tablets that have survived are usually in a pretty battered condition, and have lost many words and lines of their text. These losses are usually smoothed over and largely hidden in translations for the ordinary reader.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Brendan Barnwell on June 1, 2003
Format: Paperback
The epic of Gilgamesh would, of course, be of historical interest regardless of its content, since it seems to be the oldest written narrative in human history. Its relevance, however, goes far beyond the purely archival -- the story is engaging and powerful, and addresses fundamental questions of humanity. The combination of these two important characteristics makes for a classic creation of human culture; it is somehow comforting and at the same time humbling to know that people 3000 years ago struggled with the same questions with which we struggle still today.
I have read several renderings of the Gilgamesh epic, and in my opinion this version by John Gardner and John Maier is the best overall. It is probably the most direct translation you will find. The original text from which this translation is drawn (the "Sin-leqi-unninni" version) is written on 12 stone tablets, each of which has 6 columns of cuneiform. (The appendix includes pictures of some of the tablets, along with commetnary about the translation process.) Gardner and Maier have preserved this format, dividing their text according to the tablet and column divisions of the original. They have also, for the most part, translated line-by-line from the original, rather than reorganizing it as many other renderings have done.
The result is a work of disarming simplicity. Taking little or no poetic license, Gardner and Maier allow the text to speak for itself. Not being a reader of Akkadian myself, I cannot say how literal or accurate this translation is; I can, however, say that, to me as a reader, it FEELS authentic, and I think that is at least as important.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By William B. Whiddon on March 18, 2000
Format: Paperback
Gardner and Maier's Gilgamesh provides the reader with a full understanding and comprehension of the epic tale at a time when parts of the story may have been linked to real historical events. The Gilgamesh story of the flood was long thought to be just a curious predating story of Noah's flood, but recent oceanographic and archaeological findings indicate that the ancient Sumerian tale may have described a real flood of the ocean through the Bosporus which raised the Black Sea, resulting in a human diaspora which forever changed civilization. I strongly recommend this book be read along with "Noah's Flood" by William Ryan and Walter Pitman (Touchstone, 1998) because of the exciting historical, scientific, and human contexts provided. The book provides extensive explanatory text and a full chapter on translating Gilgamesh from the original cuneiform, with specific examples taken from the tablets. It is a joy to read. I was left with great respect for the translators and strong desire to see more fragments of the story unearthed.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Mike..M on December 16, 2003
Format: Paperback
"Gilgamesh" was Gardner's last project, according to co-author Maier; he died just after completing the typescript. "Gilgamesh" is not a playful reworking of the story like "Grendel" or "Jason and Medeia" (serious play there): this is a line by line translation of a single version of the poem. Where only one word of the original clay tablet was legible, this book has one word on the page. Where there were enough words to work with, Gardner has given us some powerful poetry. It is hard-hitting, primal stuff. Hypnotic repetitions pull the reader along, then crash into the pit of dismembered or missing fragments. What's not-there is very much a part of this "Gilgamesh." The notes supply the missing story line from alternate versions of the poem, but reading the fragments as fragments is part of Gardner's and Maier's "Gilgamesh": even poetry itself is mortal.

My opinion may be skewed--this was the first translation of "Gilgamesh" that I had read. My other experience with it is an old, yellowed Penguin version in academic prose. I came to this after "Grendel" which is another 5-star epic.
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