Gilgamesh: A New Rendering in English Verse

Overview

A new verse rendering of the great epic of ancient Mesopotamia, one of the oldest works in Western Literature. Ferry makes Gilgamesh available in the kind of energetic and readable translation that Robert Fitzgerald and Richard Lattimore have provided for.

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Overview

A new verse rendering of the great epic of ancient Mesopotamia, one of the oldest works in Western Literature. Ferry makes Gilgamesh available in the kind of energetic and readable translation that Robert Fitzgerald and Richard Lattimore have provided for.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Ferry's version [of Gilgamesh will] become the standard English text."—Fred Marchant, The Harvard Review

"There have been other English accounts of this hero with a thousand descendants, but this is the first one that is as much poetry as scholarship."—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post Book World

"Ferry's skill brings a fresh interpretation to the power of Gilgamesh." —John Ray, The Times Literary Supplement

"Ferry's Gilgamesh is uniquely his own, self-contained in holding aloof from fads and hype. No display of adjectival fireworks could do justice to his poem's originality or to the integrity of the poet's formal invention. In identifying the poem as Mr. Ferry's, I mean no disrespect to Sin-leqe-unninni, the ancient poet-editor that Babylonian tradition credits as having developed to their highest form the epic adventures of Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, and his companion, Enkidu. But like Edward Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat or Ezra Pound's Cathay, Mr. Ferry's Gilgamesh is a miraculous transformation of his original into his own, utterly distinctive idiom . . . Perhaps the poem's most moving element is how the desire for fame is superseded, after the death of Enkidu, by a quest that touches every reader, ancient or modern. . . the wish for physical immortality . . . [Ferry's] technical genius and literary sophistication evoke not only the hero's anguish, but the rage and despair of the untouchable."—Tom Sleigh, The New York Times Book Review

"The Gilgamesh epic . . . came to light again in the mid-19th century and, thanks to the labors of an arduous, exacting philology, slowly began to assume its place as one of the great poems of the world. Hitherto, however, it has existed only in posse, waiting for a poet who could actualize it. David Ferry has performed this service, and has given us a noble poem as close to the ancient original as we in our ignorance have any right to. May his achievement quickly win the recognition it deserves."—D.S. Carne-Ross, The New Criterion

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Ferry's ( On the Way to the Island ) version of this Mesopotamian epic is not simply a translation but an artful interpretation which aims to convey the spirit rather than the letter of the fragmentary original. Working from scholarly translations of the Sumerian and Akkadian tablets but departing from them freely, he has produced a ``rendering'' with shape and wholeness. And Ferry has enhanced the closeness of the relationship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu, the wild man created by the gods to temper the hero's fierceness. Early in the poem, Gilgamesh sagely tells Enkidu, ``The life of man is short. / What he accomplishes is but the wind.'' After Enkidu's death, Gilgamesh is driven to seek the secret of eternal life from Utnapishtim, who was granted eternal life. Gilgamesh learns bitterly the truth of his own words in the beautiful but unconsoling speech of the wise man: ``Time after time the river has risen and flooded. / The insect leaves the cocoon to live but a minute.'' Ferry's iambic pentameter is more lyrical than epic, and captures the elegiac and ironic undertones of Gilgamesh's failed search for immortality. One senses that he has restored the poetry of this oldest epic. (June)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374523831
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 6/1/1993
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 96
  • Sales rank: 246,389
  • Product dimensions: 5.45 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.31 (d)

Meet the Author

David Ferry, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry for his translation of Gilgamesh in 1992, has translated The Odes of Horace, The Eclogues of Virgil, and the Epistles of Horace. For Of No Country I Know: New and Selected Poems and Translations he won the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, given by the Academy of American Poets, and the Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry, given by the Library of Congress. In 2001 he received an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 2002 he won the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award. He is the Sophie Chantal Hart Professor of English Emeritus at Wellesley College.

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Read an Excerpt

Gilgamesh

A New Rendering in English Verse


By David Ferry

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 1992 David Ferry
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-374-52383-1



CHAPTER 1

    TABLET I


    i


    The Story

    of him who knew the most of all men know;
    who made the journey; heartbroken; reconciled;

    who knew the way things were before the Flood,
    the secret things, the mystery; who went

    to the end of the earth, and over; who returned,
    and wrote the story on a tablet of stone.

    He built Uruk. He built the keeping place
    of Anu and Ishtar. The outer wall

    shines in the sun like brightest copper; the inner
    wall is beyond the imagining of kings.

    Study the brickwork, study the fortification;
    climb the great ancient staircase to the terrace;

    study how it is made; from the terrace see
    the planted and fallow fields, the ponds and orchards.

    This is Uruk, the city of Gilgamesh
    the Wild Ox, son of Lugalbanda, son

    of the Lady Wildcow Ninsun, Gilgamesh
    the vanguard and the rear guard of the army,

    Shadow of Darkness over the enemy field,
    the Web, the Flood that rises to wash away

    the walls of alien cities, Gilgamesh
    the strongest one of all, the perfect, the terror.

    It is he who opened passes through the mountains;
    and he who dug deep wells on the mountainsides;

    who measured the world; and sought out Utnapishtim
    beyond the world; it is he who restored the shrines;

    two-thirds a god, one-third a man, the king.
    Go to the temple of Anu and Ishtar:

    open the copper chest with the iron locks;
    the tablet of lapis lazuli tells the story.


    ii

    There was no withstanding the aura or power of the Wild
    Ox Gilgamesh. Neither the father's son

    nor the wife of the noble; neither the mother's daughter
    nor the warrior's bride was safe. The old men said:

    "Is this the shepherd of the people? Is this
    the wise shepherd, protector of the people?"

    The gods of heaven listened to their complaint.
    "Aruru is the maker of this king.

    Neither the father's son nor the wife of the noble
    is safe in Uruk; neither the mother's daughter

    nor the warrior's bride is safe. The old men say:
    'Is this the shepherd of the people? Is this

    the wise shepherd, protector of the people?
    There is no withstanding the desire of the Wild Ox.'"

    They called the goddess Aruru, saying to her:
    "You made this man. Now create another.

    Create his double and let the two contend.
    Let stormy heart contend with stormy heart

    that peace may come to Uruk once again."
    Aruru listened and heard and then created

    out of earth clay and divine spittle the double,
    the stormy-hearted other, Enkidu,

    the hairy-bodied wild man of the grasslands,
    powerful as Ninurta the god of war,

    the hair of his head like the grain fields of the goddess,
    naked as Sumuqan the god of cattle.

    He feeds upon the grasslands with gazelles;
    visits the watering places with the creatures

    whose hearts delight, as his delights, in water.


    iii

    One day a hunter came to a watering place
    and saw Enkidu; he stood expressionless,

    astonished; then with his silent dogs he went
    home to his father's house, fear in his belly.

    His face was as one estranged from what he knows.
    He opened his mouth and said to his father: "Father,

    I saw a hairy-bodied man today
    at the watering place, powerful as Ninurta

    the god of war; he feeds upon the grasslands
    with gazelles; he visits the watering places

    with the beasts; he has unset my traps and filled
    my hunting pits; the creatures of the grasslands

    get away free. The wild man sets them free.
    Because of him I am no longer a hunter."

    His father said: "Go to Uruk and there
    present yourself to Gilgamesh the king,

    who is the strongest of all, the perfect, the terror,
    the wise shepherd, protector of the people.

    Tell him about the power of the wild man.
    Ask him to send a harlot back with you,

    a temple prostitute, to conquer him
    with her greater power. When he visits the watering place,

    let her show him her breasts, her beauty, for his wonder.
    He will lie with her in pleasure, and then the creatures,

    the gazelles with whom he feeds upon the grasslands,
    and the others with whom he visits the watering places,

    will flee from him who ranged the hills with them."
    So the hunter went to Gilgamesh in Uruk

    and told him about the power of the wild man,
    and how he had unset the traps and filled

    the pits, so that the creatures got away free.
    The lord of Uruk said to the hunter then:

    "When you return, a temple prostitute
    will go with you and with her beauty conquer

    the wild man. He will lie with her and then
    the gazelles with whom he feeds upon the grasslands,

    and the others with whom he visits the watering places,
    will flee from him who ranged the hills with them."


    iv

    The harlot and the hunter traveled together,
    taking three days, back to the watering place.

    For three more days they waited, and finally
    Enkidu came with the creatures that love the water,

    the gazelles and the others, so as to drink their fill.
    The temple prostitute looked at him, Enkidu,

    the hairy-bodied wild man of the grasslands,
    the hair of his head like the grain fields of the goddess,

    naked as Sumuqan the god of cattle.
    "That is Enkidu, Shamhat, show him your breasts,

    show him your beauty. Spread out your cloak on the ground.
    Lie down on it. The wild man will look at you.

    Show him your body. The hairy-bodied man
    will come to you and lie down on you; and then

    show him the things a woman knows how to do.
    The gazelles and with them all the other creatures

    will flee from him who ranged the hills with them."
    And so the harlot, Shamhat, showed him her breasts,

    showed him her body. The hairy-bodied man
    came over to her, and lay down on her, and then

    she showed him the things a woman knows how to do.
    For seven days Enkidu in his wonder

    lay with her in pleasure, and then at last
    went to seek out the company of the creatures

    whose hearts delight in feeding upon the grasslands,
    and visiting the watering places, and

    ranging the hills. But seeing him, they fled.
    The creatures were gone, and everything was changed.

    His body that loved to range the hills was now
    unable to follow; but in the mind of the wild man

    there was beginning a new understanding.
    Bewildered, he turned, and sought out the company

    of the temple prostitute. He sat down beside her,
    and looked into her face, and listened to her:

    "Enkidu, now you are beautiful as a god.
    Why do you seek the company of beasts?

    Come with me to the city, to Uruk,
    to the temple of Anu and the goddess Ishtar.

    Gilgamesh is the ruler, the strongest of all,
    the terror. The aura and power of his desire

    can be withstood by no one." Then Enkidu,
    whose heart was beginning to know about itself

    and longed for a companion, cried aloud:
    "Take me to Uruk, the city of Gilgamesh,

    whose aura and power cannot be withstood.
    I will cry out in Uruk, challenging him:

    'It is I, Enkidu. The strength of the wild man
    born in the wilderness cannot be withstood.'"

    The temple prostitute replied: "Come then
    to Uruk, where the processions are, and music,

    and let us go together through the dancing
    to the palace hall where Gilgamesh presides,

    the favorite of the gods, the beautiful,
    strongest of all, the terror, the most desired.

    Look at his radiant face, the favorite
    of Shamash and Enlil, Ea, and Anu.

    While you were grazing beastlike with gazelles,
    before your mind had any understanding,

    his mind, a gift to the gifted of the gods,
    had a dream of you before you knew of him.

    In the early morning Gilgamesh arose
    and told his mother his dream: 'I had a dream.

    A star fell from the heavens, a meteorite,
    and lay on the empty plain outside Uruk.

    The men and women came and wondered at it.
    I strove with it to lift it but could not.

    I was drawn to it as if it was a woman.'
    All-knowing Rimat-Ninsun spoke to him,

    the lord of Uruk, Gilgamesh. His mother,
    All-knowing Rimat-Ninsun, spoke and said:

    'The star that fell from the heavens, the meteorite
    that lay on the empty plain outside Uruk,

    the star you could not lift when you strove with it,
    the star you were drawn to as if drawn to a woman,

    is the strong companion, powerful as a star,
    the meteorite of the heavens, a gift of the gods.

    That you were drawn to it as if drawn to a woman
    means that this companion will not forsake you.

    He will protect and guard you with his life.
    This is the fortunate meaning of your dream.'

    Then Gilgamesh the lord of Uruk said:
    'May the dream as you interpret come to pass.'"

    The temple prostitute thus told the tale.


    TABLETS II AND III


    i


    Shamhat took off her robe and divided it
    so that the wild man also could be clothed.

    When this was done and both of them were clothed,
    she took him by the hand as a goddess might,

    leading a worshipper into the temple precinct;
    as if he was a child she held his hand

    and they began their journey. They came to a camp
    where shepherds lived, who gathered about and wondered

    at the huge size and strength of Enkidu,
    the hairy-bodied wild man of the grasslands.

    They said to each other: "He is like Gilgamesh,
    twice the size of ordinary men,

    stronger and taller than a battlement.
    He is like a star that has fallen from the heavens."

    They cooked food and set it down before him;
    they brought out beer they had brewed and set it down.

    But Enkidu knew nothing about these things,
    so he sat and stared at the cooked food and the beer

    for a very long time, not knowing what to do.
    Then Shamhat, the harlot, the temple prostitute,

    said: "Enkidu, this is the food and drink
    men eat and drink. Eat and drink your fill."

    So Enkidu ate his fill of the cooked food,
    and drank the beer. Seven jugs of the beer

    and he was suddenly joyful, and sang aloud.
    Then he washed his hairy body, anointed himself

    with oil, and dressed his body in new clothes,
    so that he looked as beautiful as a bridegroom.

    He took up a weapon to guard the flocks and shepherds
    against the wolves and lions that preyed upon them.

    Therefore, at night, with Enkidu to guard them,
    the shepherds could lie down in peaceful sleep.


    ii

    One day a stranger came into the camp
    bearing a richly decorated platter,

    and Enkidu asked Shamhat to question him.
    "Where are you going? Where are you hurrying to?"

    The young man opened his mouth and said to them:
    "I am going to the wedding feast in Uruk,

    bearing delicious offerings on the platter,
    ceremonial offerings for the feast.

    Before the husband, Gilgamesh will lie
    in pleasure with the bride in the marital chamber.

    There is no withstanding the aura or power of the desire
    of the Wild Ox Gilgamesh, the strongest of all."

    Then Enkidu was full of anger and said:
    "Take me to Uruk, the city of Gilgamesh,

    whose aura and power cannot be withstood.
    I will cry out in Uruk, challenging him:

    'It is I, Enkidu. The strength of the wild man
    born in the wilderness cannot be withstood.'"

    So they set out for the wedding feast in Uruk.


    iii

    Enkidu entered Uruk; then, amazement
    crowded the streets at the sight of the size of him,

    the strength and beauty, the likeness to Gilgamesh.
    "One has appeared worthy of Gilgamesh,

    stormy heart to struggle with stormy heart."
    "The wedding feast of the goddess of love is ready."

    Enkidu stood, guardian on the threshold
    of the marital chamber, to block the way of the king,

    the aura and power of the Wild Ox Gilgamesh,
    who was coming to the chamber to take the bride.

    Stormy heart struggled with stormy heart
    as Gilgamesh met Enkidu in his rage.

    At the marital threshold they wrestled, bulls contending;
    the doorposts shook and shattered; the wrestling staggered,

    wild bulls locked-horned and staggering staggered wrestling
    through the city streets; the city walls and lintels

    shuddered and swayed, the gates of the city trembled
    as Gilgamesh, the strongest of all, the terror,

    wrestled the wild man Enkidu to his knees.
    And then the rage of Gilgamesh subsided.

    He turned his chest away. Enkidu said:
    "You are the strongest of all, the perfect, the terror.

    The Lady Wildcow Ninsun bore no other.
    Enlil has made you sovereign over the city."

    Then Enkidu and Gilgamesh embraced,
    and kissed, and took each other by the hand.


    iv

    Enkidu listened as Rimat-Ninsun spoke
    to Gilgamesh her son: "Enkidu has neither

    father nor mother; there is no one to cut
    the wild man's hair. He was born on the grasslands and grazed

    with gazelles and the other beasts on the grass of the grasslands;
    Enkidu, the companion, will not forsake you."

    Enkidu listened, and wept, and felt his weakness.
    Then Enkidu and Gilgamesh embraced,

    and kissed, and took each other by the hand.


    v

    Enkidu spoke these words to Gilgamesh:
    "Huwawa's mouth is fire; his roar the floodwater;

    his breath is death. Enlil made him guardian
    of the Cedar Forest, to frighten off the mortal

    who would venture there. But who would venture
    there? Huwawa's mouth is fire; his roar

    is the floodwater; he breathes and there is death.
    He hears the slightest sound somewhere in the Forest.

    Enlil made him terrifying guardian,
    whose mouth is fire, whose roar the floodwater.

    Helpless is he who enters the Cedar Forest."
    But Gilgamesh replied: "Who is the mortal

    able to enter heaven? Only the gods
    can live forever. The life of man is short.

    What he accomplishes is but the wind.
    Where is the courage that you used to have?

    Where is the strength? It is Gilgamesh
    who will venture first into the Cedar Forest,

    and you can follow after, crying out:
    'Go on, go forward, go on, embrace the danger!'

    You who have fought with lions and with wolves,
    you know what danger is. Where is your courage?

    If I should fall, my fame will be secure.
    'It was Gilgamesh who fought against Huwawa!'

    It is Gilgamesh who will venture into the Forest
    and cut the Cedar down and win the glory.

    My fame will be secure to all my sons."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Gilgamesh by David Ferry. Copyright © 1992 David Ferry. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents

Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Acknowledgments,
Dedication,
Introduction by William L. Moran,
GILGAMESH,
Tablet I,
Tablets II and III,
Tablets IV and V,
Tablet VI,
Tablet VII,
Tablet VIII,
Tablet IX,
Tablet X,
Tablet XI,
GILGAMESH, ENKIDU, AND THE NETHER WORLD,
Tablet XII,
Notes,
Copyright,

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