A. R. George's new edition of the Epic of Gilgamesh is in every respect worthy of its great subject. No other work of Mesopotamian literature has attracted as much scholarly and non-scholarly interest. For well over a century, virtually every Assyriologist has written about the epic and many have translated it. Many more writers, innocent of any knowledge of the ancient texts, have produced their own renderings, for adults and children, in numerous languages of Europe and Asia. A recent entry in the amateur field, Stephen Mitchell's Gilgamesh: A New English Version (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004), has the distinction of being the first based on consultation with George's edition, but has the sancta simplicitas to claim that George's own rendering was not, for Mitchell at least, a "genuine voice for the poem" (p. 2). Serious students of the poem have long faced daunting challenges even by the standards of Assyriology. The many fragments of the ancient manuscripts were scattered in collections across three continents. Some of the most important were published in the early days of Assyriology using widely varying epigraphic standards. For key fragments or manuscripts, a vast specialized literature burgeoned: conflicting proposals for difficult signs, words, and passages, conflicting collations, some published, some circulated privately. A few fragments remained technically unpublished but were quoted by a privileged elite over a period of decades (one piece, identified in 1961, is definitively published here for the first time!). The two most important collected text publications, P. Haupt, Das babylonische Nimrodepos, Assyriologische Bibliothek 3 (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1891), and R. Campbell Thompson's The Epic of Gilgamish: Text, Transliteration, and Notes (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1930) were major achievements in their own times, but, their merits notwithstanding, they have been dwarfed into insignificance by George's work and are now wholly superseded. After Campbell Thompson's collection of sources of 1930, the inventory of manuscripts has nearly doubled, much of it scattered through the technical literature of Assyriology. The professional had to assemble a most diverse group of material and was always plagued with doubts as to the reliability of his text, much less his understanding of it. One marvels at George's years of patient effort and arduous travel to collections in Europe, the United States, Israel, Syria, Turkey, and Iraq. One marvels even more at the exquisite new copies of the sources, in so many periods and styles of cuneiform writing, including some major projects like exact new copies of the large Yale and Pennsylvania tablets. Epigraphically, no other text edition in the history of Assyriology can compare with this. We now have a reliable text of what remains of the Epic of Gilgamesh for the first time and we can hope that the usual flurry of clever and sometimes forced and fantastic new readings that often follow a new text edition will be smaller than usual.
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Merely a monograph
CAVEAT EMPTOR! This is NOT a translation of Gilgamesh, but merely the introduction to the translation. It is--in essence--a 29 page book review. And though it is adequately perceptive, and contains a handful of valuable insights on George's translation, it is not the actual translated work.
Worthwhile scholarly review
I suggest that the reviewers complaining about this article should have read the free sample, or at least the full title. This is a serious review by a Yale professor of the now-standard edition of the world’s first epic, written by a serious scholar. Unless you’re contemplating purchasing a physical copy of the work (whose price has risen in the used market now that Oxford has let it go out of print, though a scanned version is available on the University of London web site), the free sample would probably suffice.
I did read the full review; while my Akkadian is nowhere near sufficient to judge the accuracy of Dr Foster’s points, they sounded eminently reasonable. My only complaint is that I would have appreciated a mention of the coverage, or lack, of the Sumerian predecessors to the Akkadian epic; it seems to me that only one of these stories is included.
The American Oriental Society is doing a considerable service by making substantial free extracts available; I suspect that relatively few will pay for the full reviews (this is the only one I have purchased so far), but those who do will, with a modicum of care, get their money’s worth.
Disclaimer: While I’ve studied or worked at the universities named, I regret that I have not met either Dr Foster or Dr George.
This is a high priced book review, not a translation of the epic itself.