The Epic of Gilgamesh
As with Homer's account of the Trojan War, the Epic of Gilgamesh
has bedeviled scholars who have tried to determine how much of
the story is rooted in historical fact. We now know that a real
Gilgamesh served as a king of Uruk, perhaps some five thousand
years ago.   The antiquity of the work our limited knowledge of
the society that created it complicate our understanding of the
narrative, as does the fragmentary nature of our sources for the
text.   Yet many aspects of it are quite familiar to us:  the tale of
the great flood reminds us of the
Old Testament account;  the
account of Gilgamesh bears comparison to the myth of Hercules;  
and Enkidu's vision of the world of the dead summons up similar
scenes in Western literature.  Yet an over-riding sense of mystery
and other-ness remains in the work, no matter how hard we try
to assimilate it to our known world.

This text has long
translators.  The
novelist John Gardner
-- who tackled the
Beowulf tale in his
novel Grendel - was
working on a
translation of
Gilgamesh at the
time of his death.
Stephen Mitchell's
fine translation is
readily available in an
inexpensive edition.  
I also recommend
David Ferry version,
which served as my
own introduction to
this epic work.


Stephen Mitchell
works hard -- perhaps
too hard -- to
convince readers that
the oldest story in the
canon can be read as
a statement on
modern US
intervention in Iraq.