Gilgamesh

July 26, 2019 at 4:47 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

If you’re studying ancient history in chronological order, sometime after you’ve read the Book of Genesis, it’s really fun to dive into Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh is an epic poem most kids have to read in high school or early college for literature classes, originally written in Akkadian. It’s a mythological adventure about a real Sumerian king documented in history, who, like many kings of old, became a legend passed down through the ages, the truth of his life distorted and lost to deification.

Ludmilla Zeman has a fantastic children’s picture book trilogy that I find to be the best starting point for learning about Gilgamesh. It is consistent with most translations and full of beautiful illustrations. When kiddo was small and we were studying ancient history the first time around, we checked these out from the library over and over again. She loved them. This time I bought them, brand new. They’re worth every penny.

I picked up used copies of the epic for myself. I was disappointed to discover that every translation available was a translation of a translation. I know its ignorant to expect to read direct translations of the Old Babylonian tablets when you pick up a Penguin trade paperback, but I did. I went back to the store after reading through David Ferry’s pretty version and N.K. Sandar’s better translation, looking for something closer to Andrew George’s 2003 version – or better yet, George Smith’s 1870’s version! To no avail. Everyone wants new and better more modern ways to tell the tale, while I bemoan my inability to read archaic clay tablets I’d never get my hands on anyway.

I was hoping to find a cool cartoon on the tale for us to watch together, desiring a repeat of the experience we had when we studied Beowulf in 2016 (YouTube had an amazing cartoon rendition of Beowulf featuring the voice of Joseph Fiennes at the time…). All I found were some not so kid friendly “cliff notes” style videos of people walking students through what it was all about so they wouldn’t have to read the book themselves.

Attention all animators: Please provide a kid appropriate Gilgamesh cartoon, featuring an oddly famous actor of the 90’s of my choice. Thanks.

Gilgamesh is neat. I love the beautiful picture books we own. I will be the parent that makes sure she reads poem and doesn’t watch internet video summaries when she’s older. But I’m not in love with it the way I am with The Iliad and Beowulf. I think it may be the insincerity of it all. It feels obvious that it was a legend born of puffing up the ego of a king and his people. It takes Noah’s ark and twists it, I love reading confirmation that many regions of the world had a major flood, I’m saddened when the details are distorted and inconsistent, making heroes of those who weren’t and forgetting the one man who did obey.

Maybe I’ll love it when I finally get my hands on one of the George translations…

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