The Epic of Gilgamesh

The Epic of Gilgamesh, an epic poem from Mesopotamia, is amongst the earliest surviving works of literature, perhaps, the oldest written story on Earth. It tells the tail of the Hero King Gilgamesh, a demigod of superhuman strength who built the city walls of Uruk to defend his people from external threats, and travelled to meet the sage Utnapishtim, who had survived the Great Deluge. He is usually described as two-thirds god and one third man.

The story centers on a friendship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Enkidu is a wild man created by the gods as Gilgamesh’s equal to distract him from oppressing the people of Uruk. Together, they journey to the Cedar Mountain to defeat Humbaba, its monstrous guardian. Later they kill the Bull of Heaven, which the goddess Ishtar sends to punish Gilgamesh for spurning her advances. As a punishment for these actions, the gods sentence Enkidu to death.

The later half of the epic focuses on Gilgamesh’s distress at Enkidu’s death, and his quest for immortality. In order to learn the secret of eternal life, Gilgamesh undertakes a long and perilous journey to find the immortal flood hero, Utnapishtim. He learns that “The life that you are seeking you will never find. When the gods created man they allotted to him death, but life they retained in their own keeping.” His fame however lived on after his death, because of his great building projects, and his account of what Utnapishtim told him happened during the flood.

Translations of the Epic of Gilgamesh
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All rights reserved. Translations of the Epic of Gilgamesh are included for help in research and studies purposes.
Andrew George
The Epic of Gilgamesh: A New Translation
Penguin, 2003
One of the highly recommended versions of the text. It’s a readable and accurate poetic version by one of the world’s leading experts on Gilgamesh. Featuring an excellent introducion, and useful selections of the older Sumerian poems as well. Buy now on Amazon.co.uk
Benjamin Foster
The Epic of Gilgamesh
Norton Critical Edtion, 2001
Clear and accurate translation, with excellent introduction and notes, and with a generous selection of Sumerian and other Gilgamesh material, and several modern critical essays. Buy now on Amazon.co.uk
Stephen Mitchell
The Epic of GIlgamesh: A New English Version
Free Press, 2006
A very readable though loose translation, by a distinguished translator with no knowledge of the original but with a gift for poetic language. Buy now on Amazon.co.uk
John Gardner and John Maier
The Epic of Gilgamesh
Vintage, 1985
A successful poetic collaboration between a contemporary writer and a specialist in the ancient material. Buy now on Amazon.co.uk
Reginald Campbell Thompson
The Epic of Gilgamesh, Complete Academic Translation
Forgotten Books, 2007
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Maureen Gallery Kovacs
The Epic of Gilgamesh
Stanford University Press (30 Sep 1989)
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Robert Temple
He Who Saw Everything: Verse Translation of the Epic of Gilgamesh
Rider & Co (5 Sep 1991)
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