Gilgamesh among Us: Modern Encounters with the Ancient Epic

Gilgamesh among Us: Modern Encounters with the Ancient Epic

by Theodore Ziolkowski
     
 

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The world's oldest work of literature, the Epic of Gilgamesh recounts the adventures of the semimythical Sumerian king of Uruk and his ultimately futile quest for immortality after the death of his friend and companion, Enkidu, a wildman sent by the gods. Gilgamesh was deified by the Sumerians around 2500 BCE, and his tale as we know it today was codified

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Overview

The world's oldest work of literature, the Epic of Gilgamesh recounts the adventures of the semimythical Sumerian king of Uruk and his ultimately futile quest for immortality after the death of his friend and companion, Enkidu, a wildman sent by the gods. Gilgamesh was deified by the Sumerians around 2500 BCE, and his tale as we know it today was codified in cuneiform tablets around 1750 BCE and continued to influence ancient cultures-whether in specific incidents like a world-consuming flood or in its quest structure-into Roman times. The epic was, however, largely forgotten, until the cuneiform tablets were rediscovered in 1872 in the British Museum's collection of recently unearthed Mesopotamian artifacts. In the decades that followed its translation into modern languages, the Epic of Gilgamesh has become a point of reference throughout Western culture.

In Gilgamesh among Us, Theodore Ziolkowski explores the surprising legacy of the poem and its hero, as well as the epic's continuing influence in modern letters and arts. This influence extends from Carl Gustav Jung and Rainer Maria Rilke's early embrace of the epic's significance-"Gilgamesh is tremendous!" Rilke wrote to his publisher's wife after reading it-to its appropriation since World War II in contexts as disparate as operas and paintings, the poetry of Charles Olson and Louis Zukofsky, novels by John Gardner and Philip Roth, and episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Xena: Warrior Princess.

Ziolkowski sees fascination with Gilgamesh as a reflection of eternal spiritual values-love, friendship, courage, and the fear and acceptance of death. Noted writers, musicians, and artists from Sweden to Spain, from the United States to Australia, have adapted the story in ways that meet the social and artistic trends of the times. The spirit of this capacious hero has absorbed the losses felt in the immediate postwar period and been infused with the excitement and optimism of movements for gay rights, feminism, and environmental consciousness. Gilgamesh is at once a seismograph of shifts in Western history and culture and a testament to the verities and values of the ancient epic.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"This book represents a fascinating foray—written by a scholar known for his scrupulous research, clarity of expression, subtlety and wit—into the relatively new field of reception history. It offers us a complex history of the reception of the Gilgamesh cycle, rather than an analysis of the constitutive role played by an ancient epic in the emerging modern world."—Louis A. Ruprecht, Jr., Journal of the American Academy of Religion

"Ziolkowski brings together an extraordinary assemblage of creative endeavors—literary, musical and artistic—all bound in some way to the ancient poem recovered by Assyriology. . . . Gilgamesh's emergence into the company of what are now identified as the 'great books’ is fully explained by the reception history that Ziolkowski describes."— Andrew R. George, Reviews in History (July 2012)

"Ziolkowski's treatment [of the reception of the epic of Gilgamesh] is immensely thorough and supported by rich documentation. He sees the story of Gilgamesh as 'a finely tuned seismograph whose reception registers to a significant degree many of the major intellectual upheavals of the past century.' Highly recommended."—Choice (January 2013)

"This wide-ranging book charts the rebirth of Gilgamesh after two thousand years of oblivion. Surveying the myriad ways writers and artists have reconstructed and deconstructed Gilgamesh, psychologized and feminized him, Theodore Ziolkowski shows how the ancient epic serves as 'a finely tuned seismograph' that registers many of the major tensions of the contemporary world."—David Damrosch, Ernest Bernbaum Professor of Literature, Harvard University

"The ancient and long-lost story of Gilgamesh, his friends, enemies, and staggering adventures is shown in Theodore Ziolkowski's learned and astute book to be, for artists of many nations, a resonant sounding board for urgent issues of modernity and postmodernity."—Stephen Knight, Cardiff University, author of Merlin: Knowledge and Power through the Ages

"Theodore Ziolkowski is immensely learned and has read a staggering array of modern publications that somehow or other use Gilgamesh. He is interested to know why the epic evokes such a response and links it to various movements in the arts and literature, especially in the United States, as well as to specific social conditions in Germany."—Benjamin R. Foster, Yale University, translator of the Norton Critical Edition of The Epic of Gilgamesh

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780801463426
Publisher:
Cornell University Press
Publication date:
11/18/2011
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
240
File size:
1 MB

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