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on September 20, 2007
The well meaning Mr. Mason does not represent the Epic of Gilgamesh well in his verse narrative. In fact, it is not a translation of the Epic, rather has he cooked up his own version of somebody else's translation. He did this in times when few knew much about Gilgamesh, and made many novices belive it was the Epic. I have even heard of a small country where the most prominent philosopher translated Mason's narrative into the native language. The literature professor entered it into the curriculum for early literature and everyone thought they were reading the Epic of Gilgamesh.
Mason's verse narrative is strikingly purged of place and time specific references. In his hands this complex monument of Babylonian literature has become just "an old story... that can still be told" about friendship, loss and human mortality. In Mason's popular retelling, the character Gilgamesh has been reduced to a sentimental simpleton, who cannot deal with the facts of life. Such a retelling can be recommended for children, but it is too full of anachronistic references to "thoughts" (unheard of in early texts) and other modern phenomena to deserve the attention of grown-ups. From Mr. Mason's recreation of the poem alone it would seem unlikely that the Epic of Gilgamesh had held the fascination of generations of writers and scholars, ever since it was rediscovered in the 19th century.
One former reviewer states: "If this wonderful epic were familiar to everyone in our culture, as it was to the Babylonians who made it their national epic back in the third millenium B.C., we would be the richer for having a wealth of images to sustain us as we encounter our tragedies and walk through our dark valleys." I do essentially agree, but in that case it is imperative to keep closer to the Epic itself, not to rely on an imitation. My recommendations: For those who need textual supplementary information and variant readings I recommend either of Maureen Gallery Kovacs or Andrew R. George's translations. Stephen Mitchell's New English Version should be easy to use for those who are looking for a simplified translation for a clear understanding.