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The Loss and Rediscovery of the Great Epic of Gilgamesh

by Naomi Karavani
Oct. 2, 07

The recovery of the Epic of Gilgamesh in the mid-nineteenth century could best be described as disorienting. Credit went to the eastern parts of the Fertile Crescent for urbanization and farming, but literature belonged to the Greeks and Hebrews. When the tablets bearing Gilgamesh were discovered, the Bible and Homer's verses were already embedded in the foundation of Western consciousness. British historians of the nineteenth century, with their shovels in the Promised Land and Asia Minor, never suspected such a literary treasure to be culled from the dusts of what is today Iraq. The Buried Book: the Loss and Rediscovery of the Great Epic of Gilgamesh by David Damrosch allows us to relive the historical moment when Gilgamesh met the modern world.

The Buried Book begins at the British Museum in London, 1872. After more than twenty five hundred years of the tablets lying buried and incomprehensible, George Smith decoded the Babylonian flood story and then, in mad excitement, and "to the astonishment of those present, began to undress himself." Smith's rapture over the epic was shared by many; the story seems to confirm and offer origins, for Noah's flood. But for the scholar, discovery became complicated. When they set out to unearth the rest of the tablets upon which Gilgamesh lives, they had to face the mess that was (and still is) Middle Eastern politics. The Assyrian archaeologist was not only an adventurer, but he was also an anomaly, an ambassador, a mistrusted foreigner, a prisoner of dictator-kings, and ultimately, a man set on his own self-destruction. The lives that unearthed the famous epic sacrificed themselves in the name of history with little recognition. Smith endeavored to uncover the remainder of the story he had begun to translate, with his health failing and little support from his motherland. He died of dysentery in Aleppo, leaving behind a large family in England. Damrosch has his own mission of recovery, that is, to recount the tragic pioneers who disinterred the library of the Assyrian King Ashurbanipal, where the tablets of the Epic of Gilgamesh were contained.

Most readers walk away from Gilgamesh seeing a simple struggle against mortality, and overlook the era in which the epic was understood. It is hard to imagine that in the capital of the Assyrian Empire, Nineveh--the location where the tablets were produced--the epic was already considered a classic. As early as 2,700 BC, an unknown Babylonian poet composed the epic's verses. They were passed down orally for centuries before they were etched in stone. Damrosch details how the Assyrian king who commissioned the tablets might have interpreted them, more than two thousand years after their composition. Unlike royalty before him, King Ashurbanipal then learned the ancient languages of Akkadian and Sumerian, in order to have access to literature, and give a voice to his reign. His appreciation of the epic was, in part, its utility. It served as a cautionary tale for proud rulers. King Gilgamesh constantly suffers repercussions for his arrogance, especially when he snubs the goddess of love, Ishtar.

Damrosch's final pages are dedicated to contemporary writers, and the resurrection of the King of Uruk in today's literature. Saddam Hussein's first novel (strange but true--with the help of ghostwriters, he purportedly wrote four) Zabibah and the King, incorporates the themes of leadership found within the ancient text. Philip Roth's The Great American Novel is about "Gil Gamesh," a tyrannical baseball player. By pointing out the use of the epic by these novelists of very different cultures, Damrosch intends to explain a common heritage. He hopes to leave us pondering an expansion of the boundaries of civilization; the Mesopotamian King's legend is compelling for modern intellects as well as ancients, Eastern as well as Western. But while George Smith, Saddam Hussein, and Ashurbanipal may share a story carved into the same tablets, the modern treatments are all too apt to claim exclusive inheritance, and to deny a common history in favor of contemporary clashes.










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Tishreen I = October

The Loss and Rediscovery of the Great Epic of Gilgamesh
Oct. 2, 07

Ealool = September

Binding up the wounds of war Sept. 30, 07

Iraqi Christians Forced to Flee Homes or Risk Death
Sept. 30, 07

Grand Opening of the Banipal Library in Teikeep Sept. 29, 07

A frightful car bomb explosion shakes the Assyrian town of Baghdeda Sept. 29, 07

Video- Assyriaska the Assyrian Soccer Team in Sweden
Sept. 29, 07

ABC News invites Christians of Iraq to be part of a news segment on an Iraqi translator Sept. 27, 07

U.S. withdrawal debate ignores Iraq refugee crisis Sept. 27, 07

Abducted Assyrian girl released after ransom was paid
Sept. 26, 07

Assyrian suffering overlooked in Iraq Sept. 25, 07

Old Trade Losing Its Foothold in Moscow Sept. 25, 07

Why I want to keep fighting in Iraq Sept. 25, 07

Muslim Intimidation Could Make 'Land of Jesus' Barren in 15 Years Sept. 23, 07

New artifacts discovered in al-Hasaka (Syria) from the neo Assyrian period Sept. 23, 07

Panelist Insults Assyrian Christians of Iraq! Sept. 23, 07

Elephants: the way to beat looters Sept. 23, 07

Armed gunmen loot Assyrian homes in Dora-Baghdad
Sept. 22, 07

Ethnic violence forces more Arabs to flee Iraq’s Kirkuk
Sept. 22, 07

Video - Iraqi Christians Search for Safe Haven Sept. 22, 07

CWS presses U.S. government to speed resettlement of Iraqi refugees Sept. 20, 07

Fleeing Saddam's Impending War Sept. 21, 07

Assyrians in Gen. Patraeus Testimony Before U.S. Senate
Sept. 19, 07

Sweden Offers Safe Haven to Iraqi Refugees Sept. 19, 07

Yonadem Kanna's Speech in Alqush Sept. 17, 07

UN adopts landmark resolution on rights of indigenous people
Sept. 15, 07

Time For The Truth! Who Speaks for Assyrians? Sept. 15, 07

Canada Broadcasting Company report About Assyrian refugee in Sweden Sept. 13, 07

Petreaus, Crocker Support Christian Assyrians in Iraq!
Sept. 13, 07

US Must Take Action on Iraq's Threatened Minorities
Sept. 12, 07

Iraqi Christians greet Muslims before Ramadan Sept. 12, 07

Islamic Terrorists Posing As Christians: Abusing Faith, Churches Sept. 12, 07

US Withdrawl may cause Slaughter of Iraqi Christians
Sept. 11, 07

U.S. Authorizes Funds for Refugees Sept. 11, 07

Rally this Friday and, Ashur TV Interview Sept. 11, 07

Iraqi Forces in Ninewah Province Continue Progress Sept.10, 07

Christians of Nineveh; A documentary Sept. 9, 07

Islam: a Plan for World Domination? Sept. 06, 07

USCIRF to Rice: US Must Address Threats to Religious Minorities in Iraq Sept. 06, 07

US Must Take Action on Iraq's Threatened Minorities
Sept. 06, 07

Wedding celebration in Iraq has a lot in common with American event Sept. 06, 07

Local Iraqis mourn demise of Christian churches in Iraq
Sept. 06, 07

The Assyrian Democratic Organization Celebrates its 50th Anniversary in Sweden Sept. 05, 07

Festival Offers Taste of Assyrian Culture Sept. 05, 07

Bush Sees Hope for Iraq's Future Sept. 04, 07

Mr. Bush Has Forsaken Iraq's Minorities Sept. 03, 07

Assessing the Wounds of an Ancient Assyrian Ruler
Sept. 02, 07

North Iraq fears pullout Sept. 02, 07

Defend the Persecuted Christian Minority in Iraq Sept. 2, 07

Tabokh = August

Under Siege: Iraq's Christians August 31, 07

The Iraqi refugees in Beirut who don’t officially exist
August 31, 07

Swedish Uproar After Turkish Threats to silence dialogue about the Assyrian Genocide August 29, 07

Iraq's Minorities Lose Out in Classroom August 29, 07

Tensions on Iraq-Turkey border send residents packing
August 29, 07

Iraq's Endangered Minorities August 27, 07

Mosul Christians in dire danger August 27, 07

U.S. Troops Must Not Withdraw, Say Iraqis August 26, 07

Just the Facts, in Words and Pictures August 24, 07

Kurdistan's Twin Towers: The Massacre of the Yazidi August 24, 07

UAT Instructor Creates Cuneiform and Hieroglyphic Translator August 24, 07

The Tale of Gilgamesh at The Ashby Stage August 24, 07

Iran: It Can Be Tough to Say Goodbye August 23, 07

Threats to Iraq’s Communities of Antiquity August 22, 07

The Plight of the Cristians in the Middle East August 21, 07

Crushing Iraq's human mosaic August 21, 07

Iraq's minorities face a rising threat August 20, 07

The situation in my country is tragic,” the man continued.
August 18, 07

Kirkuk poll seen unlikely on time August 18, 07

Wanton killing in Nineveh plains August 18, 07

Iraqi boy brought here for lifesaving surgery August 17, 07

Turkey's Dam will destroy Hasankeyf's unique heritage
August 16, 07

Video of beheading used to threaten Christians August 16, 07

Four suicide bombings kill 175 in Iraq August 14, 07

Controversy over a Mardin Assyrian monastery August 11, 07

Kurds Arrest Iraqis for Raising Iraqi Flag August 11, 07

Muhammad Shamsaddin Megalommatis betrays his Anti
Assyrian Bias
August 10, 07

Jordan to Let 50,000 Iraqi Children Into Its Schools August 10, 07

Iraqi Kurdistan Faces Trouble on Two Fronts August 10, 07

Prayers for the suffering Assyrians in Iraq August 10, 07

NEWS ALERT: Withdrawal US Troops Could Lead To
"Extermination Iraqi Christians", Group Warns
August 9, 07

Gunmen in total control of major Baghdad district August 9, 07

Mosul Christian Community Dwindles August 7, 07

IRAQ Mosul, "focal point" of Wahabi extremism in Iraq August 5, 07

Solidarity, Commitment by the Austrian Ruling Party for
Recognition of the Assyrian Genocide
August 5, 07

Helping Iraqi refugees should be part and parcel | of fighting
August 3, 07

A deadly day in Baghdad August 3, 07

EWTN - Special television program on Christian of Iraq
August 3, 07

Iraqi Christians flee ancient roots for uncertain future in Beirut suburbs August 2, 07

Report on the International Association of Genocide Scholars Conference August 2, 07

Assyrian wins Sweden journalist award two years in a row August 1, 07

An Eastern Christian in the Capital of the Islamic Revolution
August 1, 07


June - July 07

May - April 07

February - March 07

December 06 - January 07

October, November 06

August, September 06

June, July 06
March April May 06
February 06
December05 Januray 06