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This review is taken from PN Review 209, Volume 39 Number 3, January - February 2013.

The Oldest Poem theodore ziolkowsky, Gilgamesh Among Us: Modern Encounters with the Ancient Epic (Cornell University Press) $35

As Theodore Ziolkowsky explains, in the preface to his scholarly yet accessible book, he has been fascinated by The Epic of Gilgamesh since first being drawn to it as a graduate student of German literature at Yale University in the early 1950s. German-speaking intellectuals were among the first to embrace the great mythopoetic Mesopotamian legend - both Freud and Jung pondered its complexities, while Rilke wrote 'Gilgamesh is tremendous!' and later 'Here is the epic of the fear of death' (Todesfurcht). The question Ziolkowski now asks is why 'this great foundation stone of world literature' still appeals so strongly to modern audiences and continues to inspire translations and versions in a range of media from poetry, art, opera and fiction to TV series and video games. One answer Ziolkowski suggests is that the epic overrides major Western preconceptions and invites us to take a fresh look at our own cultural history. He quotes Vera Schneider's 1967 philosophical study in which she argues that we must attempt a 'spiritual-intellectual re-orientation' so that we can return to an 'intuitive grasp' in order to understand the epic at the subliminal level on which she feels it was supposed to be received. This touches on some of the great scholarly debates surrounding The Epic of Gilgamesh, which claim that the 2,700-year-old story, supposedly the oldest piece of written literature in the world, represents the source material from which not only the stories of the Bible but also the classical myths (especially the ...


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