Tuesday, June 26, 2012



I guess you could say I'm on an epic poem kick, although, given the frequency of how often I've actually read an epic poem, perhaps 'kick' is the wrong word. I've got a penchant; a leaning for epic poetry.

One of the things that attracts me to this old stuff is just how old it is! The Gilgamesh stories go back nearly 5000 years! The written copies we have of this story are about 4000 years old. Yes, actual original manuscripts (in the form of clay tablets) in the original language (cuneiform Akkadian).

What's the oldest extant bible we have?* Any bibles in the original Aramaic? Nothing is lost to time** and the more we study and discover the more we can learn about these stories and the people that wrote them. In a word: epicahistoreiffic!

This, The Epic of Gilgamesh, translated by Andrew George, bridges the gap between scholarly and pop culture reading. There is a great introduction of some fifty pages, that helps to set the stage for the epic; it's context in history, myth, religion, and politics. It also helps to trace some of the traditions represented in the epic forward into today's religions and traditions.

In addition, there are also translations of other, older but smaller Gilgamesh stories which were used by Sin-liqe-unninni, the poet of the standard  version of the epic, as source material. These older stories, many written in Sumerian, were used to infill gaps in this translation of the standard Babylonian version, written in Akkadian, where pieces are lost.

What is called 'the standard version' written by Sin-liqe-unninni between 1100 and 1300 BCE, also has its forebears in other, older versions seen in fragments dating the epic back another 500 years or so. The original Gilgamesh stories from which the epic is compiled, date to the Sumerian tablets which are as old as 2000 to 2100 BCE. that is wicked old, dude.

There is a more current translation out that wasn't available at my library and I'm curious to see if it includes new discoveries since this translation from 1999.

Get yourself some Gilgamesh; it's an amazing story. If you haven't got time to read it you should at least read some of the info in the links I've provided. The history is amazing.

Read this book.

* looks to me like 350 CE, or so.
** because the original stories were oral, for hundreds of years prior to cuneifrom writing records, of course information was lost, altered and modified from its original. The point I'm making is that nothing is lost from the time this work was put to clay tablets, due to re-writing, translating, and glossing through the centuries.

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