If you didn’t read The Epic of Gilgamesh for a high school or college assignment, what are you waiting for? You’re millennia late to the party as Gilgamesh was written some four-thousand years ago.
You’ll find familiar themes in this book, such as all of the central elements of the Hero’s Journey (see my review of The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell for more information on that). Picture a Bronze Age Sumerian version of Lord of the Rings.
And oh, by the way, you’ll discover the story of a great flood that wipes out all living things, except for the people and animals that Utnapishtim brought onto the great ship that he was told to build. And then when he wants to test to see if the water level has gone back down, he sends out birds to seek out dry land. When the birds stopped returning to the ship, he knew the worst of it was over because that bird was perched on an de-submerged tree somewhere.
Anything in that piece of the story ringing any bells? Remember the written version of this story is dated back well over a thousand years before Genesis was written, and probably more like two-thousand years.
Parts of the story that pre-date the written record could be tens of thousands of years old, and may even be as old as the human oral tradition itself.
What’s so amazing about this to me is how we preserve our stories by handing them down from generation to generation, over thousands of years.
One of the things I’ve had to let go of personally is my belief that our ancient ancestors didn’t have much to offer us intellectually. But the more I read of ancient texts like Gilgamesh, the Holy Bible and even Plato’s Republic, I realize that our ancestors were no dummies. They just didn’t view the world in the same way that we do. In particular, they viewed the world as a place of experiences and tools, as opposed to our Enlightenment-era scientific worldview that views the world around us as a place of objects. I won’t get too buried into the details of that notion, but if you’re at all interested in that concept, look at the review I recently wrote for Professor Jordan B. Peterson’s book Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief.
I think you’ll find that this particular book is a much more modern translation that really flows well. I also really liked the author’s essay at the end where he breaks down his methods for translation and gives an overview of the history related to the story itself and of its translation since it was first discovered.
Thanks for reading! If you are so inclined, go pick up my book (available on Kindle or paperback) at Amazon. It’s called “Jamey Jones and the Sons of Noah.” It’s a fun science fiction book about a group of teenagers living on a planet called Kepler 438b. It’s seventy pages long, inexpensive, and it’s kinda good, even if I say so myself.