Executive Times

 

 

 

 

 

2005 Book Reviews

 

Gilgamesh by Stephen Mitchell

 

Rating: (Recommended)

 

 

 

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Timeless

 

The epic of Gilgamesh was written on stone tablets a thousand years before The Iliad which probably makes it the oldest book in the world. Stephen Mitchell’s new version brings the story to life for modern readers. While Mitchell’s Gilgamesh is not an exact translation, the accomplishment here involves accessibility of a great story to a wide audience who are likely to find meaning for today in this epic.

 

Here’s an excerpt, from the beginning of Book IV, pp. 105-111:

 

At four hundred miles they stopped to eat,

at a thousand miles they pitched their camp.

They had traveled for just three days and nights,

a six weeks’ journey for ordinary men.

When the sun was setting, they dug a well,

they filled their waterskins with fresh water,

Gilgamesh climbed to the mountaintop,

he poured out flour as an offering and said,

“Mountain, bring me a favorable dream.”

Enkidu did the ritual for dreams,

praying for a sign. A gust of wind

passed. He built a shelter for the night,

placed Gilgamesh on the floor

and spread a magic circle of flour around him,

then sprawled like a net across the doorway.

Gilgamesh sat there, with his chin on his knees,

and sleep overcame him, as it does all men.

 

At midnight he awoke. He said to Enkidu,

“What happened? Did you touch me? Did a god pass by?

What makes my skin creep? Why am I cold?

Enkidu, dear friend, I have had a dream,

a horrible dream. We were walking in a gorge,

and when I looked up, a huge mountain loomed,

so huge that we were as small as flies.

Then the mountain fell down on top of us.

Dear friend, tell me, what does this mean?”

 

Enkidu said, “Don’t worry my friend,

the dream you had is a favorable one.

The mountain stands for Humbaba. He will fall

just like that mountain. Lord Shamash will grant us

victory, we will kill the monster

and leave his corpse on the battlefield.”

Gilgamesh, happy with his good dream,

smiled, and his face lit up with pleasure.

 

At four hundred miles they stopped to eat,

at a thousand miles they pitched their camp.

They had traveled for just three days and nights,

a six weeks’ journey for ordinary men.

When the sun was setting, they dug a well,

they filled their waterskins with fresh water,

Gilgamesh climbed to the mountaintop,

he poured out flour as an offering and said,

“Mountain, bring me a favorable dream.”

Enkidu did the ritual for dreams,

praying for a sign. A gust of wind passed.

He built a shelter for the night,

placed Gilgamesh on the floor and spread

a magic circle of flour around him,

then sprawled like a net across the doorway.

Gilgamesh sat there, with his chin on his knees,

and sleep overcame him, as it does all men.

 

At midnight he awoke. He said to Enkidu,

“What happened? Did you touch me? Did a god pass by?

What makes my skin creep? Why am I cold?

Enkidu, dear friend, I have had a dream,

a dream more horrible than the first.

I looked up and a huge mountain loomed,

it threw me down, it pinned me by the feet,

a terrifying brightness hurt my eyes,

suddenly a young man appeared,

he was shining and handsome, he took me by the arm,

he pulled me out from under the mountain,

he gave me water, my heart grew calm.

Dear friend, tell me, what does this mean?”

 

Enkidu said, “Don’t worry, my friend,

the dream you had is a favorable one.

Again, the mountain stands for Humbaba.

He threw you down, but he could not kill you.

As for the handsome young man who appeared,

he stands for Lord Shamash, who will rescue you

and grant you everything you desire.”

Gilgamesh, happy with his good dream,

smiled, and his face lit up with pleasure.

 

At four hundred miles they stopped to eat,

at a thousand miles they pitched their camp.

They had traveled for just three days and nights,

a six weeks’ journey for ordinary men.

When the sun was setting, they dug a well,

they filled their waterskins with fresh water,

Gilgamesh climbed to the mountaintop,

he poured out flour as an offering and said,

“Mountain, bring me a favorable dream.”

Enkidu did the ritual for dreams,

praying for a sign. A gust of wind

passed. He built a shelter for the night,

placed Gilgamesh on the floor and spread

a magic circle of flour around him,

then sprawled like a net across the doorway

Gilgamesh sat there, with his chin on his knees,

and sleep overcame him, as it does all men.

 

At midnight he awoke. He said to Enkidu,

“What happened? Did you touch me? Did a god pass by?

What makes my skin creep? Why am I cold?

Enkidu, dear friend, I have had a dream,

a dream more horrible than both the others.

The heavens roared and the earth heaved,

then darkness, silence. Lightning flashed,

igniting the trees. By the time the flames

died out, the ground was covered with ash.

Dear friend, tell me, what does this mean?”

Enkidu said, “Don’t worry my friend,

the dream you had is a favorable one.

The fiery heavens stand for Humbaba,

who tried to kill you with lightning and flames.

But in spite of the fire, he could not harm you.

We will kill Humbaba. Success is ours.

However he attacks us, we will prevail.”

Gilgamesh, happy with his good dream,

smiled, and his face lit up with pleasure.

 

If you’ve never read Gilgamesh, there’s no excuse, thanks to this fine version from Stephen Mitchell.

 

Steve Hopkins, June 25, 2005

 

 

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ă 2005 Hopkins and Company, LLC

 

The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the July 2005 issue of Executive Times

 

URL for this review: http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/Books/Gilgamesh.htm

 

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