The Buried Book
The Loss and Rediscovery of the Great Epic of Gilgamesh
By David Damrosch
(Henry Holt and Co., Hardcover, 9780805080292, 336pp.)
Publication Date: March 6, 2007
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Adventurers, explorers, kings, gods, and goddesses come to life in this riveting story of the first great epic--lost to the world for 2,000 years, and rediscovered in the nineteenth century
Composed by a poet and priest in Middle Babylonia around 1200 bce, The Epic of Gilgamesh foreshadowed later stories that would become as fundamental as any in human history, The Odyssey and the Bible. But in 600 bce, the clay tablets that bore the story were lost--buried beneath ashes and ruins when the library of the wild king Ashurbanipal was sacked in a raid.
The Buried Book begins with the rediscovery of the epic and its deciphering in 1872 by George Smith, a brilliant self-taught linguist who created a sensation when he discovered Gilgamesh among the thousands of tablets in the British Museum's collection. From there the story goes backward in time, all the way to Gilgamesh himself. Damrosch reveals the story as a literary bridge between East and West: a document lost in Babylonia, discovered by an Iraqi, decoded by an Englishman, and appropriated in novels by both Philip Roth and Saddam Hussein. This is an illuminating, fast-paced tale of history as it was written, stolen, lost, and--after 2,000 years, countless battles, fevered digs, conspiracies, and revelations--finally found.
David Damrosch is a professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University. He is the general editor of The Longman Anthology of World Literature and the founding general editor of The Longman Anthology of British Literature. He lives in New York City.
"An altogether compelling narrative of a crucial episode in cultural history. This is a book that vividly demonstrates why humanism matters and how it is enhanced by exercising an unconventionally broad reach."--Robert Alter, author of The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary, and Class of 1937 Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the University of California at Berkeley "The Buried Book is a thrilling intellectual adventure: a brilliant study of Gilgamesh, it is also a rich and complex narrative of colonialist adventurers, obsessed scholars, anxious theologians, and contemporary writers all caught up in the ancient epic's amazingly wide net."--Stephen Greenblatt, author of Will In The World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare "David Damrosch's The Buried Book is a remarkably original, narrative analysis of the loss, rediscovery, and literary-spiritual values of the ancient epic, Gilgamesh. There is somber wisdom and wit in Damrosch's comprehensive story, which finds room for Philip Roth's The Great American Novel and the murderous fictions of Saddam Hussein. It is salutary to be reminded by Damrosch that ultimately we and Islam share a common literary culture that commenced with Gilgamesh."--Harold Bloom, author of Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?