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Gilgamesh: A New English Version

4.2 out of 5 stars 199 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 0.8 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 (199 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,353 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Hardcover
I was in a wine store the other day, looking for an exquisite wine. Somehow Stephen Mitchell's name came up in the conversation. Then the wine merchant told me how his life had been deeply influenced by Mitchell's translations of Rilke. He said that the essence of Rilke's work had inhabited Mitchell's translations.

So it is no wonder that Mitchell's latest offering, his translation of the ancient epic Gilgamesh, has been chosen as the Book Sense "2004 Highlight for Poetry." Harold Bloom agrees with the wine merchant about Mitchell's ability as a translator when he writes that Mitchell's Gilgamesh "is as eloquent and nuanced as his translations of Rilke."

Mitchell is that rare talent who combines scholarship and exquisite poetic sensibility in the service of a translation. His rendering of Gilgamesh expresses the soul of this most ancient of epics in all of its lyrical splendor and primordial wisdom - so much so that you can feel the beauty and the wisdom on every page.

Mitchell informs us in his introduction that Rilke wrote: "Gilgamesh is stupendous. I consider it to be one of the greatest things that could happen to a person." So when you have a work with such ancient and innate power as Gilgamesh, we are doubly fortunate when someone such as Mitchell gives us the gift of his translation. His scholarship and poetic eloquence resonate in harmony together to capture the essence of the work.

Mitchell says he was possessed by the task of the translation when in reading Gilgamesh one of its lines came to him as "Climb the stone staircase, more ancient than the mind can imagine." I am reminded of how John Fowles described the inception of The French Lieutenant's Woman as an image that came to him of a woman standing alone at the end of a misty pier.
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