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With evidence of its existence dating back nearly 4,000 years, The Epic of Gilgamesh is without question the world's oldest known epic, predating the works of Homer and Vergil by many centuries.
The work is not only a historical landmark, but a literary and philosophical one as well. A great flood, paradise lost and a quest for immortality figure prominently in the text, marking it as the first of the mythological parallels to the Bible. Versions of the story made their way into many cultures throughout the ancient world and its universal themes are issues which continue to preoccupy you and me.
The tale follows Gilgamesh the king as he is transformed from a powerful and arrogant ruler to a man who has been forced by the realities of life to confront and accept his own mortality. It is a compelling tale, filled with drama, passion and pathos.
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Epic of Gilgamesh is an excellent achievement. It makes this great
work accessible to college and general readers. -- --Kevin Herbert Professor of Classics Washington University
I welcome this edition of The Epic of Gilgamesh for making
accessible to modern readers the poetry and the drama, presented in heroic
terms of life, love, friendship and, finally the recognition and acceptance
of the ultimate reality of human existence. It is one of the great epic
tales surviving from the ancient world of "The Land
Between-the-Two-Rivers," Mesopotamia, and though incomplete, reflects an
ancient range of human experience and emotion not so far removed from our
The epic states, "When the gods created mankind, they allotted death to
mankind, keeping life eternal for themselves."? Yet while death is
inevitable, Jackson's lyrical and moving presentation gives renewed life to
this wonderful tale of Gilgamesh. -- --Robert D. Biggs The Oriental Institute The University of Chicago
The Great Books Foundation has declared The Epic of Gilgamesh a
classic...The Bolchazy-Carducci edition has been adopted by Great Books
Gilgamesh permits us to tie the ancient Near East and the ancient
Mediterranean together like nothing else: no other document makes so clear
the symbolism of the snake or the divine bull, or the situation of temple
prostitution, or even the background of Plato's Aphrodite Pandemos and
Aphrodite Ourania. They are all here in Gilgamesh, plain as day. These
unifying tie-ins make it logical to use Gilgamesh as a lead-off text in a
classical mythology course.
The Bolchazy-Carducci edition, more readable than its predecessors, makes
it practicable. Students liked it, and for the professor it is one light
bulb after another. -- --Thomas N. Winter University of Nebraska
The text is excellent in its clarity of story line and motif. -- --Jim Caputo Instructor of English, Latin, Humanities Regis University
With Kapheim's remarkable woodcuts that go so well with Jackson's
powerful poetry, and with Biggs' excellent introduction, including those
fascinating photos of cuneiform tablets, ziggurats, and cylinder seals, the
paperback is a steal... It should be an ideal textbook for a college (or
high school) course in mythology or epic literature... -- --Anne Groton and Jim May St. Olaf's College
Extras - 1
The Great Books Foundation has developed questions and discussion guidelines for The Epic of Gilgamesh.
1. Why is Enkidu created? (Table I, Column ii)
2. What does Enkidu gain and lose through his encounter with the temple girl? (Table I, Columns iv, v)
3. Why does Enkidu wrestle with Gilgamesh at Ishara's doorway? (Tablet II, Columns iv, v)
4. Why does Enkidu counsel Gilgamesh to kill rather than show mercy to Humbaba? (Table V, Columns iv, vi)
5. What does Gilgamesh's speech in response to Ishtar's offer of herself reveal about him? (Table VI, Columns i, ii)
6. In Enkidu's dream following the killing of the divine bull, what does the conversation between Anu, Enil, and Shamash indicate about the gods' concept of justice? (Table VII, Column i)
7. Why does Enkidu die? (Tablet VII) Why does Gilgamesh claim that his own sorrow at the loss of Enkidu is shared by everything and everyone else? (Tablet VIII)
8. Why does Utnapishtim tell the story of the flood when Gilgamesh asks how he came to be immortal like the gods? (Tablet XI, Column i)
9. Who or what causes the flood and controls it? (Tablet XI, Columns i, ii, iii)
10. Why is Gilgamesh denied the gift of eternal life? (Tablet XI, Column vi)
For Further Reflection
1. What is Gilgamesh's greatest achievement?
2. What does this story say about the connection between love and friendship?
3. In what ways, if any, does Gilgamesh mature in this story?
4. What role or roles in the story do the women characters play?
5. What does Gilgamesh learn from Utnapishtim?
Questions from GREAT CONVERSATIONS I, by the Great Books Foundation. Copyright (c) 2008 by the Great Books Foundation. Reprinted by permission of the Great Books Foundation.
Extras - 2
Gilgamesh and the beginning of literary history
For centuries the beginnings of the literary history of the West were defined by the Hebrew Bible--what most people call the Old Testament--and Homer's epic poems, the Iliad and Odyssey. These texts were once naively imagined to have come about in splendid isolation either as a miracle of divine creation or the spontaneous combustion of the "Greek genius." The mighty stream of words down over the millennia to our own time are so many generations of offspring still somehow beholden to their initial begetters. Thus do we construe Western Literature.
Charles Rowan Beye
Ancient Epic Poetry, chapter 8: "Gilgamesh," p. 279
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