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Gilgamesh: A New Rendering in English Verse Paperback – June 1, 1993

4.4 out of 5 stars 50 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

This is one of the more recent translations of the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, about the hero-king of ancient Mesopotamia whose adventures--searching for eternal life, surviving a worldwide deluge in an ark filled with animals, to name a couple--make up one of oldest pieces of literature on record. David Ferry's version attempts to provide the most readable rendering of the epic, artfully finding a poetic voice that's particularly accessible to the modern ear, as well as working to smooth over the gaps in the poem caused by the fragmentary record of the original clay tablets. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Ferry's ( On the Way to the Island ) version of this Mesopotamian epic is not simply a translation but an artful interpretation which aims to convey the spirit rather than the letter of the fragmentary original. Working from scholarly translations of the Sumerian and Akkadian tablets but departing from them freely, he has produced a "rendering" with shape and wholeness. And Ferry has enhanced the closeness of the relationship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu, the wild man created by the gods to temper the hero's fierceness. Early in the poem, Gilgamesh sagely tells Enkidu, "The life of man is short. / What he accomplishes is but the wind." After Enkidu's death, Gilgamesh is driven to seek the secret of eternal life from Utnapishtim, who was granted eternal life. Gilgamesh learns bitterly the truth of his own words in the beautiful but unconsoling speech of the wise man: "Time after time the river has risen and flooded. / The insect leaves the cocoon to live but a minute." Ferry's iambic pentameter is more lyrical than epic, and captures the elegiac and ironic undertones of Gilgamesh's failed search for immortality. One senses that he has restored the poetry of this oldest epic.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 112 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Reprint edition (June 1, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374523835
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374523831
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.3 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #14,207 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
For years I have had trouble with translations of "Gilgamesh" that were either too formal, too literal, or too academic. Ferry's translation is involving, adventurous, psychological and above all, extremely accessible to the modern reader. And what do you get? Political power, a romance that transcends death, a bit of wit, gorgeous poetry, a great war, and an ending that is so spiritual that it will stay with you for years. I read Ferry's translation last year, and returned again this year to see if it was as beautiful as I remembered. The answer: moreso!
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Format: Paperback
If you enjoyed Robert Fagels' wonderful translation of the Illiad and the Odessey, I think you will appreciate what David Ferry has done with this ancient story. By his own admission he has taked some poetic liberties but by doing so he has made these archaic characters accessible and human. Other editions will give you a feel of the problems of translation; this will give you a sense of the primordial power of simple story telling and simple themes.
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Format: Paperback
... and the questions then were the same as now: is there life after death?, can I achieve immortality?, will people remember me when I'm gone?, what is true friendship/love?, how to get/keep/use power? what makes one human?

This reading of Gilgamesh was my first foray into the writings of the "Ancients." I found Ferry's rendering to be understandable, lyrical, attention-grabbing, interest-holding, heart-wrenching, and even humorous in parts.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Translating poetry is a tricky thing. Some people maintain that it can't be done. I would say that the translator can set himself three possible goals. First, he can try to create a "trot," a plain, "literal" translation where every word of the original is explained. See Nabokov's "Eugene Onegin" for an example of this. Second, he can try "simply" to translate it, to give his reader a good idea of what is there on the page, the mood, and so forth. LOTS of translators do this.

Third, and most elusive, most difficult, is to create a work of literary art IN ENGLISH (or whatever the target language is). Hopefully this third goal will automatically include all the most important elements of "mere translation." But, if the translator succeeeds, he will have created an independent work of art which will then take on a life of its own. The most famous example of this would probably be FitzGerald's "Ruba'iyat of Omar Khayyam," probably better described as a fantasy and variations on themes of Omar Khayyam. Alexander Pope's translation of Homer's "Iliad" surely has legs, still in print after all these years.

David Ferry has attempted the third goal in his translation of "Gilgamesh," and to my mind he succeeds. The result is a moving and beautiful work of literary art, and I predict a very long life for it.
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Format: Paperback
I was initially introduced to this version of the classic epic of GILGAMESH through Harold Bloom's THE WESTERN CANON. This is, without a doubt, the best translation of the Mesopotamian epic, giving the reader a taste of the style of the original.
GILGAMESH is one of the oldest works of Western literature, having been written around the same time as the Bible. It tells the tale of King Gilgamesh and his companion Enkidu and their journeys, finally, with the tale of Gilgamesh's attempts to escape death.
David Ferry's translation of GILGAMESH is exquisite. Poetic and lyrical, it has a flavor uniquely of its own. With excellent explanatory notes, anyone with an interest in ancient literature, or in the GILGAMESH epic would do themselves a favor to read Ferry's translation. If there is any weakness to GILGAMESH, it is the fact that the epic itself is very short, and will leave readers feeling that the stories ended all too soon.
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Format: Paperback
There are three really good versions of Gilgamesh for the common reader, this one, Stephen Mitchell's, and N.K. Sanders'. This one is the most poetical, while Mitchell is the best for pure narrative. Plus, this one is free of Mitchell's political correctness, which often pushes an anachronistic feminist softening of Inanna. In Ferry's version, she is her authentic badass self.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I've read two translations of Gilgamesh over the years ( Dalley's in Myths from Mesopotamia, and the prose version published by Penguin classics ). I enjoyed them but Ferry has given us a beautiful poetic version that, although faithful to the translations, is liberated enough from them for the artistic spirit to soar, thus giving us the heart and beauty of this timeless story.
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Format: Paperback
Okay, I am not an expert on ancient history, nor do I read much from Sumerian times. Having said that, I did have to read "Gilgamesh" for a history class, and while it is a very good story (fellow students-you won't be bored), Ferry's translation is not the way to go. First, it is written in poetry form. Unless that is something you are looking for, I just believe it makes the story unclear. Secondly, and let me remind you I am not a scholar; the lines did not flow well. Ferry's interpretation also seemed to deviate from other editions I have read. 3 stars, because if you know what you are looking for, this translation is not without merit.
And one final thought, I liked the Penguin Classics translation by N.K. Sanders. It was clearly written, in a story form. Plus, there is a lot of background information, historical facts and footnotes to guide the reader.
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