After putting it off since, oh I dunno, like FOREVER, I finally purchased a copy and decided to tackle this. One of my reading projects is reading chronologically through the ages (more about that in another post) and what better way to start than with the oldest known epic.
If you are unfamiliar with what this is about, here is a brief synopsis:
*contains some spoilers if you’ve never heard of the story*
The city of Uruk is the self proclaimed most badass city in the world ruled by the handsomest, strongest, bravest guy in the world… Gilgamesh. He’s two thirds divine and also a bit of a douche so the citizens cry out to the gods for relief who respond by creating a rival for Gilgamesh. This rival, called Enkidu, is a wild man who lives out in the wilderness with the animals. Stuff happens and so a temple prostitute is sent out to the wilderness to civilize this guy. We then get an account of how Enkidu is such a man that he has sex with this woman for 7 days and 6 nights straight and suddenly he’s civilized and goes back to the city with her. He decides to fight Gilgamesh and the two decide they should become besties (obviously). They then decide to go wreck shit up in the Cedar forests of Lebanon. Later they get into a shouting match with the goddess Ishtar which culminates with Enkidu launching the thigh of the bull of heaven into Ishtar’s face (yes you read that correctly). Obviously Enkidu needs to die for that disrespect and Gilgamesh is inconsolable. He decides to go on yet more adventures to try and find a way around death and seeks out Utnapishtim, the Noah character of the Sumerian flood story. This ends up not working how he planned and eventually Gilgamesh learns that death is inevitable and so he decides to go back and rule his city that he abandoned.
I have to point out that I didn’t do a lot of research before beginning this and so I picked up a copy without verifying the version (total rookie mistake). Being such an old story, there are many different versions of it recorded on stone tablets in languages ranging from Akkadian to Babylonian. I knew a little background of the story before reading so I was somewhat bewildered when I started reading and whole sections of the text were missing. Not only is it an ancient text with nothing I can relate to, it was also missing large chunks of the story (see below) and there were long sections where I wasn’t sure what was happening. Needless to say I started getting bored and put it away for days at a time.
Determined to get through it, I bought the audiobook… and LOVED it. Because I purchased the audiobook of the ancient Babylonian version there were fewer gaps and it flowed so smoothly and George Guidall as a narrator is on point. I was able to follow along for the most part with my paperback and the experience went from boring to thoroughly entertaining.
The story itself is difficult to critique. This is a piece of literature that is thousands of years old, so while I cannot stand Gilgamesh, I understand that to an ancient he probably had impressive qualities. I also realize that I probably do not appreciate it for the reasons I should. I was amused and entertained when a contemporary of the work would have been awed and impressed. There were adventures galore but I found myself giggling a lot because Gilgamesh was super extra and a lot of the dialogue amused me.
All in all, I do think the book ended on a serious note and focusing on a solemn theme and I do think there were a lot of adventures but I could not stand any of the characters. I am glad I’ve read this and I would love to hear other people’s opinions of it so please tell me if you loved or hated this.