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Archive for June, 2010

Here is one of the more unusual adaptations of the Gilgamesh story, from expatriate American animators the Brothers Quay. This Unnameable Little Broom (The Epic of Gilgamesh) deals mostly with the seduction of Enkidu. This is a minor masterpiece of animation, done entirely in stop-motion.

Thanks to Amanda for bringing this to my attention. Wicked.

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Lions, symbol of Ishtar, Goddess of Love and War. From Wikimedia.

Lions, symbol of Ishtar, Goddess of Love and War. From Wikimedia.

As covered in previous entries, the Epic of Gilgamesh has come to us in pieces. It’s also come to us in several versions. The Babylonians, who came after the Sumerians, used the story as a writing exercise for trainee scribes. Whether they were copying the story from another tablet or taking dictation (difficult to take dictation into wet clay, I’d imagine), we don’t really know. We also don’t know how much the Babylonians added to or changed the story.

The translation I read (Andrew George’s, I recommend it) was assembled from the Nineveh tablets and, where those tablets are too fragmented to make any sense, from copy school tablets and other later sources, which only emphasizes this patchwork structure of the story. Reading Gilgamesh in this fashion is distinctly different from reading a work spun out by a single author, whose narrative voice is more unified and consistent. There are translations out there that smooth over these gaps in content and time, but I rather like this one. It reminds you constantly that we don’t have the whole tale. It is like picking up the fragments and reading them on your own.

There are a load of perfectly good summaries of this tale out there. I can’t bring myself to write another detailed one; it seems superfluous. I will, however, explain what struck me thematically about the story, after the jump.

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So far I’ve found two companion reads for this. One’s a book, the other a series of lectures on a website.

The Buried Book: The Loss and Rediscovery of the Great Epic of Gilgamesh, by David Damrosch, 2007.

From educator Clay Burrell’s “Beyond School” blog: Unsucky English Series on Gilgamesh.

Haven’t read Damrosch’s book yet– I have only just discovered its existence– but I love that sort of non-fiction (I also enjoyed God’s Secretaries, by Adam Nicolson, about the making of the King James Bible).

Mr. Burrell’s lectures are fun, though I found the first one a bit hard to take– he seemed to be trying too hard to get down with the kids, and admitted as much in the comments. Also, I know a few kids of middle-school age, and the ones who would stay on one webpage that long to read anything do exist, but they are exceptional.

Still, the joy he takes in pieceing through Gilgamesh is infectious, and I am really looking forward to his next installment (the last one was in June). If you’re interested in reading what other not-an-Assyriologists have to say about Gilgamesh, I’d start with Mr. Burrell’s page.

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