It took me a while to get this one right. The first version I read turned out to be a "retelling" which, although critically acclaimed (at least on its back cover), disappointed me. I don't want a retelling, darn it, I want the original!
Oh, wait, it's in Sumerian? It's in ancient Sumerian? The language spoken in the geographic area of Iraq back in 2150 BCE? Oh, well, then. Never mind.
Truth be told, I haven't given the Sumerians a whole lot of thought since Gozer the Destructor appeared in Ghostbusters. But in the interest of semi-authenticity, I tracked down a second version that is closer to the original, and I'm happy with that.
It's really good. I like the way ancient literature tends to get right to the point. Homer and his ilk knew how to embellish, but this far older work is quite straightforward. It's episodic and there is plenty of action.
Gilgamesh was a real king, back in the day, although there is some question whether all of the adventures related in the epic actually happened. There has certainly been time for his legend to grow since he was alive. True or not, this story packs a lot of depth and emotion into the relatively brief tale of an accomplished king and his best friend.
This epic may also be the first bromance, the prototype of a deep, enduring, manly friendship terminated by death, and the fall-out that follows for the one who lives on. It's very relatable. People haven't changed all that much, when it comes to matters of love and friendship. Everybody loves and mourns and wonders why. Even 4,000 years ago.
Gilgamesh was king of Uruk,
A city set between the Tigris
And Euphrates rivers
In ancient Babylonia.
Enkidu was born on the Steppe
Where he grew up among the animals.
Gilgamesh was called a god and man;
Enkidu was an animal and man.
It is the story
Of their becoming human together.