When I bought this book I had never heard of Derrek Hines. I sought simply to read the Epic of Gilgamesh, the ancient Sumerian story which dates back over four thousand years. It is the earliest literary work we know of. I assumed (hoped) that Hines' book would present an energetic, poetic yet faithful translation, in the style of (if not necessarily of the same quality as) Seamus Heaney's Beowulf. In Beowulf, Heaney's great accomplishment is to maintain an extraordinarily close proximity to the text, and embellish it with a vibrant and striking lyricism. Hines' Gilgamesh, on the other hand, is not really a translation at all. It takes and follows a grossly simplified version of the ancient story, but treats it as a framework on which to fasten the author's own thoughts and images. And the thoughts and images can fly thick and fast. Parts of this book are so incredibly dense that I had to read them over and over. It is a very postmodern, self-referential work. By this I mean that the story is aware of its own historical significance. It makes frequent reference to the fact that it is the original epic: the story of Gilgamesh, the original hero; that it was born in an age where writing was in its infancy. For the cut of every thought here is new for our race, and tart with novelty. Then look: footprints of the mind's bird in its take-off scramble across wet clay tablets. Writing! This is a hugely ambitious exercise in cross-cultural literary syncretism. Throughout the book, it evokes Classical mythology and Christian lore and features of our modern materialist world. At times this book is patchy, but frequently it is brilliant. In particular, Hines' imagery is highly intelligent and breath-takingly beautiful, and the final chapter of the book is outstanding, both from intellectual and emotional perspectives. This book does not represent a faithful translation of the ancient Sumerian tale. Nonetheless, it is a fine, accomplished work, which veers at times towards spectacular heights. We are made and broken on a miracle we look on and cannot see - as though we had sold out instinct to thought blinding us to what the world is, the heart's gate to eternity.
A modern interpretation on the epic Gilgamesh is by no means an easy task, however this is a great example of how it should be done. Hines has managed to succesfully transpose a modern dialectic onto the oldest epic poem or indeed any literature, without losing the magic and intensity of the original translations. I was concerned at first that referances to modern events and items and modern conceptions of life and morality may detract from the important symbolism and metaphor of the classic Gilgamesh, as well as the historical aspect. I was wrong. It helps to connect the modern, perhaps unfamilar, reader with the most important aspects of the old and sometimes difficult text. Many traditionalist may disagree, but without learning Cuneiform and interpreting the original tablets it is imposible for someone like me to properly judge anyone else's interpretation anyway. Hines' poetry really stands up on its own merit and in places it almost seems incidental that it charts the story of Gilgamesh. The imagery he uses is outstanding and this is highlighted in the battle between Gilgamesh and his opposite Enkidu and later, their battle against the Demon of the Cedar grove which Hines interprets as a wizard. All in all, this is a well written, refreshing and modern take on the story. A must for fans of the epic tradition and ancient literature or students looking for a good and helpful interpretation. You may also like to check out the Shamus Heeney's take on Beo Wolf if you liked Gilgamesh.