The Epic of Gilgamesh
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N. K. Sandars's landmark translation of one of the first and greatest works of Western literature
Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, and his companion Enkidu are the only heroes to have survived from the ancient literature of Babylon, immortalized in this epic poem that dates back to the third millennium BC. Together they journey to the Spring of Youth, defeat the Bull of Heaven and slay the monster Humbaba. When Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh’s grief and fear of death are such that they lead him to undertake a quest for eternal life. A timeless tale of morality, tragedy and pure adventure, The Epic of Gilgamesh is a landmark literary exploration of man’s search for immortality.
N. K. Sandars’s lucid, accessible translation is prefaced by a detailed introduction that examines the narrative and historical context of the work. In addition, there is a glossary of names and a map of the Ancient Orient.
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go armed but alone, and alone they meet the giant Humbaba, who has been variously identified as a North-Syrian, Anatolian or Elamite god, according as to whether the journey is visualized as leading to the northern or the eastern mountains. He protects the forest with various enchantments; though the enchanted gate which Enkidu is supposed to open, to his hurt, may be a misunderstanding. When it reappears later, in his death-bed conversation, it is a gate in Uruk that is meant, the wood of which
between the Sumerian and the Old Babylonian are not greater than those that appear to exist between the Ninevite and Boghazköy recensions, which are generally combined by the modern translators; while the date of writing-down of the surviving Sumerian material (first half of the second millennium) is very close to that of the Old Babylonian of the Yale and Pennsylvania tablets (First Dynasty of Babylon). The Hittite version appears to diverge radically from the others in the later parts, but it
additions of which, in spite of some contradictions, I have made use, is a new Sumerian account of the Humbaba (Huwawa) episode (J. van Dijk). The difficulties inseparable from this sort of interpretation can be seen in the fact that ‘the felled cedars’, and the tying and laying down of the branches, of one translation, have become, in another, ‘aura coats’, rosettes or ‘sleeping camp-followers’. Another addition comes at a point where the text is particularly defective; the crisis of the meeting
heart to his friend. ‘It was I who cut down the cedar, I who levelled the forest, I who slew Humbaba and now see what has become of me. Listen, my friend, this is the dream I dreamed last night. The heavens roared, and earth rumbled back an answer; between them stood I before an awful being, the sombre-faced man-bird; he had directed on me his purpose. His was a vampire face, his foot was a lion’s foot, his hand was an eagle’s talon. He fell on me and his claws were in my hair, he held me fast
small creatures of the pastures. I ate their flesh and I wore their skins; and that was how I came to the gate of the young woman, the maker of wine, who barred her gate of pitch and bitumen against me. But from her I had news of the journey; so then I came to Urshanabi the ferryman, and with him I crossed over the waters of death. Oh, father Utnapishtim, you who have entered the assembly of the gods, I wish to question you concerning the living and the dead, how shall I find the life for which I