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Gilgamesh is great as an e-book - from Toronto Public Library
Gilgamesh is great as an e-book - from Toronto Public Library

In Praise of Rereading: The Epic of Gilgamesh

At various times in my life I’ve been a big reader (surprise).

At one point, I got a bit obsessed with trying to understand All The Great Works Of World Literature courtesy of The New Lifetime Reading Plan, published in 1999. My home was full of books (actual print books), read and unread, especially inexpensive Dover Thrift Editions from the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver, where I lived.

Did I manage to read all the works in The New Lifetime Reading Plan, before I went to graduate school and almost all recreational reading went out the window? Certainly not. I did manage quite a few though, according to the highlights, check marks, underlines, and comments to myself in my copy.

I’d noted that I had read the first, and oldest, item in the Plan, The Epic of Gilgamesh, written ca. 2000 B.C.E. Recently, to distract myself from my father’s death (sigh), I thought I might pick up the Plan again, and reread Gilgamesh.

Did I remember very much from my first reading of this ancient narrative poem, twenty years ago? Not a lot, which was a bit disturbing. However, this time, perhaps coincidentally, I felt a strong affinity with the description of King Gilgamesh’s experience of grief, as he copes with the loss of his friend Enkidu.

All that is left to one who grieves
Is convalescence.

It is that inner atmosphere that has
An unfamiliar gravity …Book III, Gilgamesh: A Verse Narrative, Herbert Mason

Furthermore, I’m glad now to have been able to take some time to better understand the story and the historical context, and plant it in my head so I’ll remember it twenty years from now.

You know what really helped (short of sitting in a university lecture)? Videos! There are some outstanding free resources out there on the Internet, and one I just discovered is the Crash Course video series on World Mythology on YouTube. Here, in 14 glorious minutes, is an introduction to The Epic of Gilgamesh. I could not love this more.

Next up to reread are The Iliad and The Odyssey. I studied these in university and I can still hear my Classics professor chanting, “Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus’ son Achilleus…,” and “wine-dark sea,” and a few other bons mots, and I’m looking forward to visiting them again.

This time, in 2019, I’m rereading these works, wherever possible … on an e-book reader. Why? Because it’s more convenient for me now, when perched just right in a comfy reading position, with the light just so, to swipe or tap, rather than to readjust the text and my position constantly.

I’m old school enough to feel a teensy bit guilty about this for some reason, but not too guilty. I figure whatever gets you (re)reading is a good thing.