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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Gilgamesh for teenagers., 28 April 2010
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This review is from: Gilgamesh (Paperback)
I first read Gilgamesh in the German version by Raoul Schrott, then Bottéro's French translation, and now Stephen Mitchell's "poetic version".
"I don't read cuneiform and have no knowledge of Akkadian." So: " Once my prose version" ( extracted from 9 existing translations ) "was completed, I began the real work, of raising the language to the level of English verse." Let us look at an instructive example: the famous Adam-Eve episode of Enkidu and Shamhat.
Bottéro's translation ( from Akkadian to French ): "And Shamhat/Unveiled/Baring her genitals/Offering voluptuousness/Without any fear/To take off his breath./She got rid of her clothings/And he lay on her/And she did to the wild one/her female business." Mitchell raises the language: "She stripped off her robe and lay there naked,/with her legs apart, touching herself./Enkidu saw her and warily approached./He sniffed the air. He gazed at her body./He drew close, Shamhat touched him on the thigh,/touched his penis, and put him inside her./She used her love-arts, she took his breath/with her kisses, held nothing back, and showed him/what a woman is."
The epic-to-poetic transformation produces kitsch ( apparently, Mitchell is Rilke-infected ). The problem behind is the following: Epic is a profoundly male literary form, whereas poetry is a profoundly female concept: Here, breath, openness, movement, repetitions, there, image, symbol, closure, law. Proust, the great male-towards-female transformer, heavily insists on the priority of writing over speaking ( of symbol over breath ). And Mitchell agrees: "I chose not to reproduce some of the quirks of Akkadian style, which for ancient readers have been embellishments but are tedious for us: for example, the word-for-word repetitions of entire passages and the enumerations from one to seven or twelve." This is a complete castration of epic style ( what about the ship catalogue of the Iliad ? ).
The introduction celebrates "true heroes: those who risk harm or death for the sake of others. The anonymous, everyday heroism of fire fighters and police officers ..." The great commonplace of matriarchal esthetics: Only glory for protectors, only beauty for knights of fertility. James Cook's surrounding of the Antarctica reduces to pure nonsense. And Mitchell definitely leaves the epic scene.
Remains best-selling "poetry", and the acclaim of Harold Bloom.
By the way: Rilke made love on petals of roses.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 27 Jul 2010 17:28:22 BDT
Brilliant.

Posted on 16 Nov 2010 14:18:19 GMT
What a wonderful review.

Posted on 17 Dec 2010 09:33:25 GMT
Bob Salter says:
A very convincing and well worded critical review. I got the feeling from reading this version that perhaps Mitchell had taken a few too many liberties. It is a bit like "The Message" version of the Bible which dumbs down the content allegedly for todays reader. It seems the Neanderthals are making a comeback. Thanks for your efforts.

Bob Salter
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