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The Epic of Gilgamesh (Penguin Classics) Paperback – April 29, 2003

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Editorial Reviews Review

This edition provides a prose rendering of The Epic of Gilgamesh, the cycle of poems preserved on clay tablets surviving from ancient Mesopotamia of the third mi llennium B.C. One of the best and most important pieces of epic poetry from human history, predating even Homer's Iliad by roughly 1,500 years, the Gilgamesh epic tells of the various adventures of that hero-king, including his quest for immortality, and an account of a great flood similar in many details to the Old Testament's story of Noah. The translator also provides an interesting and useful introduction explaining much about the historical context of the poem and the archeological discovery of th e tablets. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


"Andrew George has skillfully bridged the chasm between a scholarly re-edition and a popular work”
London Review of Books

“Humankind’s first literary achievement...Gilgamesh should compel us as the well-spring of which we are inheritors...Andrew George provides an excellent critical and historical introduction.”
—Paul Binding, Independent on Sunday

“This volume will endure as one of the milestones markers...[George] expertly and easily conducts his readers on a delightful and moving epic journey.”
—Samuel A. Meier, Times Literary Supplement

“Appealingly presented and very readably still comes as an exhilarating surprise to find the actions and emotions of the Sumerian superhero coming to us with absolute immediacy over 30-odd centuries.

“Andrew George has formed an English text from the best of the tablets, differentiating his complex sources but allowing the general reader a clear run at one of the first enduring stories ever told.”
—Peter Stothard, The Times

“An exemplary combination of scholarship and lucidity...very impressive...invaluable as a convenient guide to all the different strands which came together to produce the work we now call Gilgamesh.”
—Alan Wall, Literary Review

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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reissue edition (April 29, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140449191
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140449198
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (203 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #691 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

113 of 113 people found the following review helpful By Jordan M. Poss VINE VOICE on May 29, 2006
Format: Paperback
This was the first translation of Gilgamesh that ever really grabbed me. I had waded through plodding, tedious translations (mostly in prose) before, and been left feeling like Assyriologists must be the most bored people in the world.

George's translation, however, is in verse and adds vigor to what appeared to me, for years, to be a bland jumping off point for bigger and better epics of later eras. I flew through this translation, hanging on every word, and was almost sad to see it end.

The notes and critical bits were nice as well, and the numerous lacunae showed me just how little of the full story we really have. Heartbreaking, really, and it made appreciate those bored people I used to pity.

If you're new to The Epic of Gilgamesh and want an engaging, readable verse translation of it, this is the one to buy.

Highly recommended.
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41 of 41 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 24, 2001
Format: Paperback
The Epic of Gilgamesh is an ancient story-- perhaps 4 thousand to 5 thousand years old. Originating in ancient Sumeria, it spread throughout the Near East and the version we have has been reconstructed from Akkadian, Babylonian, Hittite, and Hurrian translations inscribed on clay tablets. Its themes and motifs (including a divinely ordained Great Flood) influenced the development of other great poetic works and mythological traditions, including those of ancient Egypt, Israel, and Greece.
The story here is mythic and powerful. I won't try to summarize it other than to say that it raises truly timeless questions about what it means to be human-- questions about love sex and friendship, about nature and civilization, of the simple joys in life and about our desire to do great deeds, about our fear of death and the impossiblity of escaping it.
There is much about this story that may seem archaic, naive, and odd to first-time readers, ranging from the description of Gilgamesh as 2/3 god, 1/3 mortal (which may perplex folks who try to work out how that can happen hereditarily speaking), to the repetivite narrative voice that stem from the conventions of orally performed poetry (which does seem a bit odd when being *read* silently in a book). However, once one learns to see beyond these curious features, it is apparent that _The Epic of Gilgamesh_, as it has come down to us, is a brilliant and clever piece of poetic craftsmanship and storytelling. The use of recurrent images and motifs, the narrative symmetries and ironies (e.g. how, after Enkidu's death, Gilgamesh leaves the city, puts on animal furs, and goes off into the wilderness... becoming much like Enkidu was at the beginning of the story).
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93 of 100 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Jolley HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 30, 2002
Format: Paperback
The Epic of Gilgamesh is a fascinating tale of great historical importance. Composed 1500 years before Homer's epics, the story is one that modern man can readily understand and appreciate. Gilgamesh was the more than capable ruler of the ancient town of Uruk; his strength and physical beauty were unmatched by any in the land, and his subjects adored him. Although he possessed so much, Gilgamesh wanted desperately to live forever like a god. He was two-thirds god and one-third human, but he refused to accept his destiny to die. If it were his lot to die, he wanted to perform great deeds so that his name would never be forgotten.
The story opens with the story of Enkidu, a wild man of nature who was to become Gilgamesh's best friend and accompany him on his dangerous journeys. The first trip takes them to the Land of the Cedars where Gilgamesh sets out to kill Humbaba, the guardian of the forest. When he later slays the Bull of Heaven, the anger of the gods is turned upon him and Enkidu, leading to new suffering by Gilgamesh. In desperation, he seeks Utnapishtim in the land of the gods; Utnapishtim was granted eternal life after preserving mankind in the wake of a great flood. Gilgamesh again finds only heartache for his troubles. Returning to Uruk, he preserves the story of his journeys and deeds in writing, and it is, perhaps ironically, in this written record that Gilgamesh is recognized today for the great man he was.
One learns much about the ancient gods in this tale, and the story of the great goddess Ishtar's role in the related events is pretty amazing. When Ishtar invited Gilgamesh to be her husband, he issued forth a litany of former lovers whom Ishtar had turned out and cursed, boldly rebuffing Ishtar's advances.
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43 of 44 people found the following review helpful By John L Murphy TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 24, 2007
Format: Paperback
I recommend this Penguin Classic, but it offers more thorough scholarly apparatus than usual for the series. This is not meant as a criticism! But, a beginner may find a "version" such as Stephen Mitchell's easier to start with for an overview of the storyline, and a briefer introduction and helpful endnotes. The poem itself is not lengthy, but the ancillary texts and sources, as Andrew George shows us, do take up considerable space which may please enthusiasts but discourage newcomers to this epic poem.

George prepared for Oxford UP in 1999 a two-volume edition, and this Penguin adapts the core of the English translation for a wider audience. It appears ideal for a college classroom or the reader wanting to learn more about the lacunae, the gaps, the language, and the editorial decisions made by George and fellow translators. A fascinating appendix shows how out of grammatical markers, syllabic, and half-syllabic cuneiform incisions the sounds and rhythms and absences that fill this most ancient of narratives turn into what we can understand. To a point.

Terms such as "louvre-door," "glacis-slope," "hie to the forge," and notably Ishtar's exhortation to "stroke my quim" give a rather archaic diction to parts of the translation. George aims obviously for precision in such terminology, but this does clash with the more demotic vernacular chosen by Mitchell in his popularization. Mitchell's also considerably more erotic and develops passages that in their original state, reading George, remain terse.
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