The Refined Reader aims to take a look at the journey to where we are as readers today. It's part history, part commentary - providing a brief, conversational summary of various aspects of our bookish past and comparing it to how it has affected us in modern times. I love history, but I am no historian, and while I plan to do my research, if there are any errors, please let me know! This is as much a learning venture for me as I hope it is for my blog visitors!
It was written four thousand years ago, in the style of an epic poem and chronicles the life of Gilgamesh, a great ruler of Babylonian times. It seems that there was a real person named Gilgamesh who was a king in Mesopotamia, but the Gilgamesh of the story has god-like powers and consorts with other gods in accord with the polytheistic beliefs of the time. In case you don't know the plot - this is the synopsis from Goodreads:
A great king, strong as the stars in Heaven. Enkidu, a wild and mighty hero, is created by the gods to challenge the arrogant King Gilgamesh. But instead of killing each other, the two become friends. Travelling together to the Cedar Forest, they fight and slay the evil monster Humbaba. But when Enkidu is killed, his death haunts and breaks the mighty Gilgamesh. Terrified of mortality, he resolves to find the secret of eternal life...
That sounds like a good read, right? It was written in cuneiform on 12 tablets and was first discovered by archaeologists in 1853 with the first modern translation published in 1870. There was considerable damage to the tablets when they were found so there are many translations that take liberties with the story. But what I find the most interesting is that this story contains some parallels to the Bible. It was written almost 1000 years before the Old Testament Bible and features striking similarities in their versions of the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah's flood and Samson and Delilah. Obviously, that can mean different things to different people - for some it might validate the events of the Bible as true history, and for others (myself included) it seems to indicate that the Bible is a collection of stories and can not always be taken literally. But that's a whole other discussion.
I think for most people it is hard to imagine what these ancient dates really mean. It's hard to picture just how wondrous it is (at least I think it is amazing) that we have such an ancient story preserved. So I made this little (hopefully accurate) timeline to visualize just how ancient this text is:
(As a complete aside - I came across this in my internet research and was just delighted by this ancient picture of a bookworm! From Pompeii, AD 79)
Is anybody interested in reading The Epic of Gilgamesh and seeing what life was like in c 2000 B.C.? Do you like to read books from our historical past and imagine what it was like for the author to actually live in that time?
(The translation by Andrew George is commonly thought of as the best.)
Exploring Ancient World Cultures
Chronology of Ancient Literary Works