Thanks to Nigel Holt for introducing me to this performance (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUcTsFe1PVs) of a portion of The Epic of Golgamesh by Peter Pringle, but of course no music has actually come down to us from the Sumerian era for the very good reason that neither musical notation nor tape recording had yet been invented, and no one really knows what the music sounded like, though one may make guesses from current Middle-Eastern music, as Pringle seems to have done. Nor do I know of any original musical instruments that survived the aeons. Third, this “beginning” of The Epic of Gilgamesh is not like any version I have seen, including my own version, The Hero Enkidu: An Epic.
Those who are interested in such things as epics are likely to know that The Epic of Gilgamesh “is, perhaps, the oldest written story on Earth. It comes to us from Ancient Sumeria, and was originally written on 12 clay tablets in cunieform script,” the Academy for Ancient Texts avers on its Web page. “It is about the adventures of the historical King of Uruk [Erech, modern Iraq] (somewhere between 2750 and 2500 BCE).” In fact, however, it is an amalgamation of two stories, the older having to do with the adventures of a most likely mythological person named “Enkidu,” and the second about an ancient King of Erech.
Over the course of no one knows how many centuries, the two tales of Enkidu and Gilgamesh became intertwined and it is in this form that Gilgamesh has come down to us in various versions and languages. To blend the earlier tale of Enkidu with the later doings of Gilgamesh, apparently in order to ascribe to the latter many of the feats of the former, the pair came to be seen as in some essential ways twins, even to the point where they look alike, for the King is a bit taller, it seems, and his close companion Enkidu is broader.
What I have attempted to do here is to cut away from the Gilgamesh epic those actions and events that can quite clearly be ascribed to the older Enkidu and to write his own tale in the manner of the author of the anonymous Medieval epic titled Gawain and the Green Knight, that is to say, in cantos of the strong-stress metric line called Anglo-Saxon prosody with appended five-line accentual-syllabic metrical tails called “bobs-and-wheels.”
I do not claim to have restored the Enkidu epic, nor am I writing history: I am still writing fiction, like the original author(s), and I could not absolutely separate Gilgamesh and his companion. What I do claim is that I have given back to Enkidu what pretty clearly is his tale, and I hope I have written it in a comprehensible and interesting way for modern audiences.
My sources are few and select. I used primarily An Old Babylonian Version of the Gilgamesh Epic, etc., by Morris Jastrow, Jr., and Albert T. Clay, New Haven: Yale, 1920, supplemented by “Monsters from Mesopotamia,” an illustrated essay by Robert Lebling, in my favorite periodical of many years’ standing, Saudi Aramco World, Vol. 63, No. 4, July-August 2012, which gave me the idea for my endeavor, the first little bit of which was a sestina in Anglo-Saxon prosody with bobs and wheels added titled, “The Green Knight and the White” which appeared in a print journal, Mea'sure, in 2015 and which is appended to the text in the Afterword of The Hero Enkidu: An Epic by Lewis Turco, New York: Bordighera Press (www.BordigheraPress.org ), VIA Folios 107, 2015, 101 pp. ISBN 978-1-59954-098-6, trade paperback.
We returned a couple of days ago from our annual little vacation in Rockport, MA, where I had the opportunity to read your poem/translation/adaptation The Hero Enkidu, which I very much enjoyed. It is beautifully done, inventive, and precise in diction, viz, the several words signifying that Lilitu is a dangerous woman (as you know, whore is cognate with L. carus, and G. hetaira is fine since Lilitu has some of the requisite stature). Needless to say, you (il miglior fabbro, as Eliot might put it) manage the verse forms flawlessly. In short, it is a pleasure to read.
Enkidu puts me in mind of the many exotic, mostly Asian, works our students at New Paltz were required to read in Freshman English back in 1963. Shifting to theShakuntala of Kalidas, the Genji of Lady Murasaki, and the Monkey of Wu Cheng'en was a challenge for someone who had been teaching McTeague in Cleveland just the year before. Had you done Enkidu then, surely it would have been on our reading list. (I dimly recall that we did look at the Gilgamesh, perhaps in some anthology.)
Of course your use and discussion of verse forms, especially that of the Gawain poet, prompts me to think of the many times I have taught Gawain and the Green Knight over more than forty years (seventy by my estimate), not to mention my exposure to Old and Middle English literature at Columbia. In retirement, verses still swim around in my mind randomly but at appropriate moments, for example, as I pass a cemetery, “At the round earth's imagined corners, blow your trumpets, angels...”. There is even the banal example, as I watch a Yankee game, and the batter Didi Gregorius is announced, “Gregorius se halga papa anwearde on thisum daege heofonwarde” (not to be pedantic, but excuse the respelling and lack of diacritical marks).
There is also, in your postscript, some discussion of the vernacular in literature, in which I have for decades been interested particularly with reference to Sicilian “dialect.” There is no region of Italy which has poured out such a stream of dialectal or dialect-based literature as Sicily, and the contribution to Italian literature is considerable: Capuana, Verga, Pirandello, Vittorini, Sciascia, Quasimodo, Lampedusa, et al. Andrea Camilleri, who is still active, is published world-wide in translation, however unfortunate translation is in his case, for his novels, the best known of which are detective stories featuring Inspector Montalbano, are brilliantly written in macaronic Italian/Sicilian but are flattened by translation.
This is nothing new: Dante thought (De Vulgari Eloquentia) literary Sicilian the best of the 13th-14th century Italian dialects.
So in perhaps a tangential way you are part of a great tradition. Lingua americana in bocca siciliana.