21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Satisfying, trustworthy, & enjoyable.,
This review is from: The Harps that Once...: Sumerian Poetry in Translation (Paperback)
What I was hoping for was translations that were slightly conservative, more concerned with accuracy than whether or not readers were on the edge of their seats. I wanted someone with a good handle on poetry, but not someone who used an ancient work as a springboard or departure point for their own jazzed-up, modern re-creations. (Worst case example: someone's translation of Gilgamesh describing a wave of water as "Manhattan-high." Are you kidding me?) Thus, I was delighted with Jacobsen's work. He describes his own attempts in this way: "The translations have been kept as literal, and held as close to the wording of the Sumerian original, as at all possible."
Other reviewers have listed what he includes, but let me point out what he does not, just as full disclosure. The book does not include debates, royal hymns, Edubba texts, proverbs and wisdom literature, fables such as "the sorcerer from Aratta," or Gilgamesh texts.
But before reading this book, I first recommend Samuel Noah Kramer's "Sumerians" or "History Begins at Sumer," as well as Marc Van De Mieroop's "History of the Ancient Near East." As a follow-up to "Harps" I suggest "Before the Muses" by Benjamin Foster, which picks up with Akkadian (Babylonian) literature where this book leaves off.
The poems in "The Harps That Once" can sometimes be quite lively. In the "Ninurta Myth," the winged warrior god and his intelligent, animated weapon (changes from a mace to a lion-headed eagle) do battle with a supernatural villain named Azag - a sort of giant cedar that walks on his roots - and his army of animated boulders.
That said, these archaic writings are fourteen centuries older than Homer, but if you have an especially short attention span, you're probably not reading these posts in the first place.