Archive for stephen mitchell


Posted in book reviews with tags , , , , , on October 17, 2010 by acousticchick

‘Gilgamesh’ is the oldest story in the world, but it doesn’t read like other musty tomes from the days of clay tablets. More introspective than the martialist ‘Iliad’ or Old Testament (and a thousand years older than either), this Mesopotamian poem follows Gilgamesh, a testosterone-addled demigod, on his search for immortality. And to keep you from getting bored, the ancient Mesopotamians threw in plenty of monster-slaying and boobs.

Unfortunately, I can’t read ancient cuneiform writing, so I had to settle for Stephen Mitchell’s translation. This is the only translation I read, so my opinion will be one-sided. (Real live critics rave about it, but who cares what they think?) Mitchell told the story of Gilgamesh smoothly, with a frank, no-frills style. He did, however, write an introduction and a section of notes that were each as long as the poem itself, which struck me as pretty self-important, so to spite him I refused to read them. They’re likely unnecessary anyway; ‘Gilgamesh’ is an action story with a few simple life lessons thrown in. It doesn’t require a whole lot of clarification.

Reading ‘Gilgamesh’ won’t change your life, but it’s fun to read and quick. Some of the highlights include Enkidu and his week-long boner, the slaying of Humbaba The Fierce, and a Flood myth with a few different plot points than the Judeo-Christian one you’re probably familiar with. In the end, though, there’s more to it than that; after Gilgamesh’s best friend/lover dies, he goes on a quest to find the secret to eternal life. Instead, he learns the unsurprisingly universal moral of the story: Everybody dies and that’s just the way it is, but life is more valuable, not less, because it’s transient.

But seriously, read it for Humbaba.