In Which A Reader's Respite Teaches Ancient Literature

Ancient literature, of course, begins with the Epic of Gilgamesh. Written by the Sumerians circa 2000 B.C., it is one of the earliest examples of literature ever recorded.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, A Reader's Respite will summarize it for you and thereby save you the trouble.....

Meet Gilgamesh. As the child of gods and ruler of Urak, he's bold, brassy and not a little full of himself. History records Gilgamesh as looking something like this:

A Reader's Respite, however, envisions him more like this:

Anyhoo, the gods decide that what Gilgamesh really needs is a good buddy to keep him on the straight and narrow since he's become something of a pain in the butt with his subjects.

Enter Enkidu.

Enkidu has lived his entire life with wild animals. He protects those animals, saving them from hunter's traps and is generally an all-around wild life conservative.

Because he's described as even being hairy like the animals, A Reader's Respite pictures him looking like this:

Now in order to lure Enkidu away from his comfy life living amongst the animals and introduce him to Gilgamesh, thus fulfilling their destiny to be BFF, a local harlot is trotted out to seduce Enkidu.

Not surprisingly this technique works like a charm and Enkidu spends seven days holed up doing the horizontal hokey-pokey with her until his strength is sapped away and he embraces his human side. (Men can be very predictable at times, no?)

Enkidu is then introduced to Gilgamesh and they do the traditional man-like tussling for supremacy (Gilgamesh wins) before establishing a life-long friendship.

Would that the story ends there. But no.

The two decide, in true manly fashion, that they must go on a great adventure together. They chose to conquer the Land of Cedars where the ferocious giant Humbaba stands guard.

Bad Police Sketch of Humbaba

Long battle scene made short, Gilgamesh and Enkidu manage to subdue ol' Humbaba, who begs for his life. Gilgamesh is inclined to offer clemency, but Enkidu goes rogue on us and wants to kill him.

Enkidu wins and Humbaba bites the dust.

Now this act catches the attention of the goddess Ishtar, a vain and petty woman who is pretty much used to getting her way. I picture her looking like Rita Hayworth.

Turns out, Ishtar is pretty impressed by Gilgamesh and wants to marry him. Gilgamesh, however, is somewhat familiar with her nefarious ways when it comes to men and declines the offer.

Suffice it to say that this pisses Ishtar off BIG TIME. And it's probably not a good idea to piss off a goddess.

To make herself feel better, she decides Enkidu must die.

After his BFF kicks the bucket, Gilgamesh is besides himself. True, he's lonely without Enkidu, but let's be honest here: he's more concerned with his own mortality.

And so Gilgamesh heads off on an epic quest for everlasting life (think Lord of the Rings here).

Gratuitous Picture of Viggo Mortensen

The quest is pretty long and I won't bore you with the details, except to say that Gilgamesh finally finds a wiseman named Utnapishtim, who has managed to attain immortality by surviving the Great Flood.

That's right. The same flood that pops up in the Old Testament some 600 years later (give or take a few hundred years).

Anyhoo, Gilgamesh finally arrives on the doorstep of Utnapishtim who eventually tells him about some plant at the bottom of a river that is the big secret to immortality. Gilgamesh goes diving and gets it, but loses it.

And that is pretty much the end of that.

Gilgamesh, it should be noted, was an actual king of Sumeria.

Whether or not the Epic of Gilgamesh is a reliable biography is up for debate.

If you'd like the read the story for yourself (what? you don't trust my translation?), head over here.



  1. I love the pictures! I'm actually reading Stephen Mitchell's translation of Gilgamesh, although I haven't gotten very far. You have to be in the right mood to read it.

  2. Thanks for the lesson! I love the pictures. Isn't that Harry from Harry and the Hendersons? I made my parents watch that movie so many times when I was a kid. :)

    Viggo Mortenson pictures are always appreciated.

  3. hehehehe I just read Stephen Mitchell's Gilgamesh, so this was fun. :D

  4. Meg and Eva - can't believe the both of you are actually reading this one....good for you! Let me know your thoughts on the "real thing." :)

    Alyce - yes, it's Harry! I loved that movie as a kid! And yes, I'll take any excuse to post a pic of Viggo. Guess I'll have to reread LOTR for my next excuse, ha.

  5. I glanced at the story but i think i will skip it. I am happy with your summary :)

  6. I'll take your short version, thanks! Much more entertaining. I prefer your Gilly with the six pack verus the stone bust of Gilly with the rotini beard. I know that I do need to spiff myself up in the classics department, but having been forced to read The Iliad in college, I made a decision then and there that I would focus on classics written in the A.D. time period!

  7. I once actually read the it also, but it really says something (NOT GOOD) about the state of my brain that I too am more than happy with your version now. You should consider doing all the classics.

    The original not not have your excellent pics

  8. Note to self: avoid drinking coffee in front of the computer.

    Thanks for the hilarious and quite accurate summary! I wish I'd had this in my intro theology course in college.

    And, can a picture of Viggo ever really be gratuitous? I think not.

  9. I've read the Epic of Gilgamesh a couple of times. Very nice summary! And I am in complete agreement with your photo representations. :-)


  10. This was the most entertaining summary ever! The pictures you picked fit the summary perfectly...still smiling;-)

  11. Any post with Viggo in it is a good one!!!

    Absolutely terrific summary and perfect visuals. Brilliant!

  12. Your translation was a much better read than the original!

  13. Violet - I don't think you've lost too awfully much by skipping it. But that's just me. ;)

    Sandy - I fully expected you to be hollering, "Stop messing around with Gilgamesh, we're reading WUTHERING HEIGHTS, dammit!" Ha!

    Caite - I'll hit some ancient Far East writings next. That should do

    Booklady - You are absolutely correct: there are NO gratuitous pics of Viggo. I might just add him to every post for the heck of it!

    Lezlie - I was hoping I could count on you for a real review! I promise to leave Faulkner alone (for now). :)

    Lucy - awwww, aren't you sweet? Especially since I should be writing real reviews and not messing around with meaningless stuff like this!

    Beth -- agreed re: Viggo. I *heart* that man.

    Lisa - I'm so impressed with how many of you have read the original! Wow....I was never so well read as most of you are!

  14. Perfect! <3 Now when I go to grad school, I'll need you to do this for all the required reading.

  15. You're hilarious! I really like this feature...kinda like we're learning with you. And what can be more fun than history?

    And...oh do I love me some Viggo!! We must find a way to include a picture of him in every post! Yum.

  16. Smash - just say when...I'm here for you! LOL!

    Amy - I'm working on that part (putting him in every post), LOL. Maybe I'll have to reread the LOTR series to justify it.

  17. This was great. I read Gilgamesh last year so it's pretty fresh in my mind. Your adaptation is rather good and much more colorful. :)

  18. I think I'll just trust your translation lol.

  19. I read this in college, I like your version better! Much easier on the brain and complete with illustrations. I'm totally impressed that so many people are reading classics like this voluntarily!


  20. I have never read this story myself and don't have the desire to do it. I will have to trust your translation which I am sure is more entertaining than the actual thing.

  21. Michele, if you meander into my bookstore, I'll be so thrilled to see an intelligent, articulate person that I won't know what to do with myself. Happy layover!

  22. It was actually a really straight-forward, fun, short read-the text itself is only about 90 pages. I'll be reviewing it soon, and I'm definitely linking to your interpretation. ;)


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