Why I Read It: Non-fiction on the discovery of the epic poem Gilgamesh, my new obsession.
Where I Got It: Audio from the library, own the hardback.
Who I Recommend This To: Those interested in ancient history, early archaeology, epic poetry.
Narrator: William Hughes
Publisher: Blackstone Audio (2007)
Length: ~7.5 hours
David Damrosch has laid this book out in a very accessible manner, starting with the early archaeology days and Smith translating parts of the epic poem, to Hormuzd Rassam who discovered the ancient city of Nineveh, to the Victorian England sensationalism over the Gilgamesh flood story. I loved how the tale of unearthing this ancient story rolled it’s way backwards to Ashurbanipal, wh0 was an ancient Mesopotamian king who could and did read. He created one of the largest libraries of ancient Mesopotamia, which eventually burned. Luckily, Gilgamesh was preserved on clay tablets, and was such a popular tale, copies of it were wide spread – including into Hittite culture. It is also possible the ancient Greek bards were singing the deeds of our hero Gilgamesh during the time of the Homeric poets.
The author also takes us through the poem itself, summarizing the each section and providing background about what we are missing and guessing at parts that we don’t have strong references for. If you have read Gilgamesh, this is an excellent book to follow it up with. Being a language geek (cuss in several, master of none), I loved how Damrosch explained the great difficulty in translating the Gilgamesh tablets – cuneiform was the scribes writing, and in an ancient language (Akkadian) that had not been read, or heard, in over 2000+ years; Ashurbanipal was one of the last folks that could still read and speak this esoteric language. We also learn what little there is to know about the historical figure Gilgamesh. Truly, it is fascinating how myth and fact intertwine throughout this book.
At the end, Damrosh brings us back to the present, listing several authors and modern political figures who have associated themselves with Gilgamesh. Personally, I found the ancient bits more fascinating, but it was cool to hear about the various works inspired by this oldest of recorded human stories.
The narrator, William Hughes, had an even voice, rolling through the ancient, foreign names with ease. He also imbued the book with a sense of excitement and discovery at the proper moments, giving this book a travel or adventure feel.
What I Liked: Ancient archaeology; the language bits; the adventure of unearthing something lost for 2000+ years; the thought that there could be more such stories, fiction or otherwise, just waiting to be rediscovered.
What I Disliked: Robert Silverberg’s Gilgamesh the King was not listed among the modern works inspired by Gilgamesh.