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A simple retelling of a complex story
on 19 August 2002
If you want to read the story of Gilgamesh without worrying too much about where that story came from, then this is the book for you. Unlike the newer Penguin edition, this is a straightforward retelling of the epic in prose form, and no attempt is made to reflect the complexity of the many fragmentary versions of the text.
The story is told in six chapters, based on the Standard Version of the epic, but without following its line and verse structure. It's short and snappy and by the time you've finished you'll have seen Gilgamesh's adventures in the Forest of Cedar, in the Underworld, and at the end of the world as he is instructed by Uta-napishti, the only survivor of the Deluge. You'll see Gilgamesh progress from haughty despot to responsible ruler, as he realises that the only way to immortality is through the good works you leave behind.
This is a story of gradual realisation and painfully acquired insight which we can all relate to. Though it lacks the sure touch of the Iliad or the Odyssey, which may be due to the extremely fragmentary and disparate sources, there is a real humanity to Gilgamesh and his inner turmoil which goes to show that human nature hasn't changed that much.
It also comes with an excellent short introduction to ancient Mesopotamia and its geography, history and culture.