Friday, July 01, 2016

Gilgamesh retold in Hebrew

CHILDREN'S LITERATURE: The demigod Gilgamesh comes to life for young readers. Cuneiform expert Shirley Graetz put her academic skills to work in a Hebrew-language chapter book for kids (Jessica Steinberg, Times of Israel).
In writer Shirley Graetz’s mind, the Akkadian figure who stars in the ancient poem “Epic of Gilgamesh” sounded a lot like her eldest son. Big, strong, and not always able to delicately avoid things in his path.

“I got to thinking about Gilgamesh,” said Graetz, who at the time was finishing up her PhD on cuneiform, an ancient form of writing from the Mesopotamian region. “He was half human, half god and he was a tyrant. Until he found his match, and then he calmed down and went on adventures.”

Ever practical, the academic turned popular fiction writer also considered the fact that neither Disney nor Pixar had ever touched the story of the Mesopotamian figure.


With the Hebrew-language “Young Gilgamesh and the Enchanted Garden” now in print — Graetz self-published the young reader novel for 8- to 11-year-olds — the chapter book is the first in what will probably be a series of six books about the young king and his many adventures.

It introduces the character and the details of his world, from the foods he eats (beer and beef stews) and clothes he wears to his family, friends and kingdom.

“I thought it would be great for kids to get to know this character, and maybe they’d be more open to read the real epic,” said Graetz. “I wanted to make it as parallel as possible to the real epic, with the atmosphere and the fact that Gilgamesh is kind of a loner because he’s different.”

In the Dead Sea Scrolls Gilgamesh appears as a character in the Aramaic Book of the Giants, and he is also mentioned in an ancient Syriac text.

Gilgamesh is also alive and well in modern popular culture. Performances of the Gilgamesh story in English have been noted here, here, and here. And — in Syriac! — here. His influence on a television episode is noted here. There is a Gilgamesh Restaurant (see also here, here and here). And then there's this. There was talk of a Gilgamesh movie, but I don't think anything has come of it. Although, perhaps unfortunately, there is this. Of the many literary works, especially notable is Robert Silverberg's novel, Gilgamesh the King.

There are, of course, endless translations of the Epic Gilgamesh into English and at least one, by Saul Tchemichovsky, into Hebrew. I am aware of at least a few English versions of the story for children (see here, here, and here), but Graetz’s is the first Hebrew version I've heard of.

If you have kids, then for heaven's sake go and buy this book for them.

And now that I've put all this effort into this post, I notice this Wikipedia article: Gilgamesh in popular culture. But it doesn't include links to all those priceless PaleoJudaica posts.