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Publisher's Summary

This brilliant new treatment of the world's oldest epic is a literary event on par with Seamus Heaney's wildly popular Beowulf translation. Esteemed translator and best-selling author Stephen Mitchell energizes a heroic tale so old it predates Homer's Iliad by more than a millennium.

In the ancient city of Uruk, the tyrannical King Gilgamesh tramples citizens "like a wild bull". The gods send an untamed man named Enkidu to control the ruthless king, but after fighting, Enkidu and Gilgamesh become great friends and embark on a series of adventures. They kill fearsome creatures before Enkidu succumbs to disease, leaving Gilgamesh despondent and alone. Eventually, Gilgamesh moves forward, and his quest becomes a soul-searching journey of self-discovery.

Mitchell's treatment of this extraordinary work is the finest yet, surpassing previous versions in its preservation of the wisdom and beauty of the original.

©2004 Stephen Mitchell (P)2004 Recorded Books LLC

Critic Reviews

"Stephen Mitchell's Gilgamesh is a wonderful version....This is certainly the best that I have seen in English." (Harold Bloom)
"Here is a flowing, unbroken version that reads as effortlessly as a novel....Vibrant, earnest, unfussibly accesible....The muscular eloquence and rousing simplicity of Mitchell's four-beat line effectively unleashes the grand vehemence of the epic's battle scenes." (The New York Times Book Review)
"Mitchell seeks language that is as swift and strong as the story itself. He conveys the evenhanded generosity of the original poet....This wonderful new version of the story of Gilgamesh shows how the story came to achieve literary immortality: not because it is a rare ancient artifact, but because reading it can make people in the here and now feel more completely alive." (Publishers Weekly)

What members say

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • George
  • Alexandria, VA, USA
  • 07-16-08

A defense of this "translation"

This is a very good reading of the Epic, which I have read many times in various translations. But rather than say how wonderful the book is, which others have already done, there are some things that should be pointed out:

For some reason Audible called this a "children's" book, which is debatable. The sexuality is quite direct and graphic. However, my mother let me read another version of Gilgamesh as a child and its frankness was fine by her and me. It isn't outright pornography, but it is sexually blunt. In other words, some parents may find this book objectionable - others just honest. You decide.

Also, as far as sexuality goes, another reviewer mentioned how the redactor of this book implies a homoerotic relationship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu. The "translator" is actually not making this up: in the 12th tablet of the story, which is not part of this recording for boring academic reasons, the sexual nature of their friendship is explained without mixing words.

Another comment mentions that is book is not a real "translation", which is true. However, that is not without good reason. An actual word for word translation of the epic is unreadable - only compilations are useful to the general public. If you want to see what I mean, find a true translation at your library and count the number of missing lines and unclear words. It's like reading a book where you can only see every tenth word or so.

The essay at the end is hit or miss. The political messages (even the ones I happen to agree with) are out of place and preachy. But occasionally he is insightful. Either way, check this book out, as it's a pleasure to listen to.

430 of 438 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Impressive story with impressive history

"Gilgamesh" is the story of the king of Uruk and the wild-man, Enkidu, who fight and end up as friends. Gilgamesh and Enkidu go have several adventures, followed by Gilgamesh's solo search for immortality after Enkidu's death. You can think of it as a 4700-year-old "bromance."

The story is timeless, and is one of the oldest works of literature known. More poetry than prose, the story is an epic tale of heroes and adventure, friendship and loss. Written for an age where almost nobody was literate, it was meant to be recited, making it a great option for an audiobook.

Parental warning: there is some blatant sexual content (e.g. intimate body parts are mentioned by name, Ishtar tries very hard to seduce Gilgamesh) in this audiobook. I'm not sure the original Mesopotamian audience would have thought this would be a problem, but modern folk tend to hide such details from younger children.

[I am only reviewing the original story. I skipped the second half of the audiobook, a commentary written by the author/translator.]

75 of 80 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Robert
  • Yamhill, OR, United States
  • 09-21-11

Classic literature plus a modern interpretation

Having been brought up on the classics, I’m not sure how I missed Gilgamesh. It was probably because my earliest education was of the Catholic variety and this would probably not be in most Catholic, let alone other Christian, stacks. So why read it now? Partially because it is so classic and I had not read it, but also, and perhaps mostly, it was a Stephen Mitchell translation. Mitchell can take the most arcane and make it understandable, the most seemingly simple and make it fresh and sophisticated for even the most intellectually-challenged among us.

The book is fraught with duality as is often a theme contained in other SM books. The book is about beauty and ugliness, strength and weakness, friends and enemies. The poetry of the narrative is quite beautiful and powerful in its own right but the essay of a critique that follows it is like icing on a cake: delicious. Great books can be read more than once and each time the reader will glean something entirely new or understand something at a deeper level. The essay adds a whole other dimension to the main piece that I certainly would not have appreciated had I not read it. And, given how short Gilgamesh is, it is certainly worth listening to again, this time with a whole new appreciation and understanding.

33 of 35 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Yes, it's great . . . but is it Gilgamesh?

I enjoyed this selection as much as the other reviewers, or perhaps almost as much. However, I think it should be noted that the "author" (or perhaps "editor") calls this a "version" of Gilgamesh rather than a translation. He says in his essay that he does not know anything of the language in which our existing fragments of the Gilgamesh epic or the earlier Gilgamesh poems are written. Instead, he has taken existing English translations, laid them side by side, and written a new English epic based on existing translations. In the process, he has added details where he found the action a little flat or the transitions a little abrupt. It seems to me that what he has done is not unlike someone writing a screenplay based on a novel -- or perhaps the somewhat less common act of writing a novel based on a screen play, as with the Star Wars books.

In dramatic terms, the project succeeds; it is indeed a very powerful version. And its earthiness does have the effect of making one think that people in the ancient near east were very much like people today. However, the force of that observation was considerably diminished when I learned (at the end) how freely the author/editor had handled the text. In particular, the author/editor's essay draws some comparisons between one of Gilgamesh's adventures and recent U.S. policy in Iraq, and it's impossible for the reader to know whether those points of similarity were always there or whether they were put there by the essayist himself.

That doesn't sour me on the book -- I enjoyed it and I'm giving it four stars. But I think people should know that this is a little bit like reading Edith Hamilton's Mythology, which is a fine book but is not The Iliad.

85 of 92 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Lisa
  • Whiting, IN, United States
  • 11-27-04

Just Wonderful!

This is a wonderful combination of an excellent translation of this epic poem and the exceptional performance of a first class reader. Gilgamesh is the oldest known story in the world. Everyone who considers themselves to be educated should be familiar with it. But up until now, the translations available have been stilted and hard to read. This one captures the passion and intensity of the tale, and the performance makes this a first rate listen.
The essay explaining the work actually follows the reading of the poem, which lets the listener form their own impressions before being exposed to those of the author. An excellent idea, since one enters the tale without any preconceived interpretations.
Don't be afraid of this one. It's an exceptional work.

80 of 89 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

well worth the low price

fantastic narration, and you get to check one more classic off the endless list of things you should read with very little investment in time or money. I was surprised by how wrapped up in the story I became, given that I really only listened to it because it is "important." Much more fun than Beowolf or The Fairie Queen.

Customers should notice however that only half of the playing length is devoted to the actual story --the rest is an interpretive essay by the translator. It's quite a good essay --I, at least, found it helpful for appreciating a work originating in an ancient culture I know next to nothing about. At an hour and a half though, the essay might be off-putting for anyone who fears anything that reminds them of their University days.

30 of 33 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Ron
  • Clovis, NM, USA
  • 04-07-05

Unsurpassed in translation and narration!

I taught History and Humanities at the university-level for 27 years. I've read numerous translations of Gilgamesh, but this one is STUNNING! Brilliant translation/editing, perfect narration.

It "stopped me in my tracks." And the information at the end should be enough to appeal to anyone, no matter how much of a novice in the subject. THANK YOU!

36 of 40 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Darwin8u
  • Mesa, AZ, United States
  • 03-22-13

A myth formed out of fertile Babylonian clay

I've loved Stephen Mitchell's take on the classics since I first read his translation of Rainer Maria Rilke's poetry, and most recently with his update of Homer's Iliad. The strength of Mitchell is that he approaches the text as a poet FIRST and a translator second (and sometimes actually skips the translator role completely). The closest I've come to this in other translators is the husband and wife team of Richard Pevear (poet) and Larissa Volokhonsky (translator) and their amazing translations of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Gogol.

With Gilgamesh, Mitchell doesn't really actually translate, but rather blends and updates. He takes other academic and previous translations (more than six plus other versions by the look of the bibliography) and squeezes, lifts and shapes them into a a new text, and then renews them into contemporary English and sets it all in a 'loose, nonaimbic, nonaliterative, tetrameter'.

His version is robust, manly, and shows that thousands of years before the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Bible there was poetry being written and myths being formed out of fertile Babylonian clay.

41 of 47 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Impressive, Odd and Inspiring

Having only read portions of this work in College I was impressed the power of the narrative in this version. I was running while listening and found parts strangely inspirational. However, sexual content came as a total surprize. While the influence of this work may be limited in our literature it certainly reveals the universal themes that cause humanking to create art. All this in a short 3 hour program, time well spent. The bonus lecture is very helpful. After listening I felt prepared to lecture on the epic myslef.

22 of 26 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • David
  • Halifax, NS, Canada
  • 05-18-11


I can't comment on its fidelity to the original, but this is a very engrossing rendering of the tale. The reader does a great job, and the translation is smooth and listenable. There's also an excellent essay at the end which answered all the questions that I had!

8 of 9 people found this review helpful