The Epic of Gilgamesh
A Myth Revisited
By Danny P. Jackson (English), Saul Tchernichovsky (Hebrew)
Illustrated by Zeev Raban
The longing stretch toward the infinite... the reluctant embrace of the temporal... this is the eternal lot of mankind; this is The Epic of Gilgamesh. Born in the cradle of civilization over 4,000 years ago, literature's first chronicle of man's search for meaning continues to intrigue us with its universal themes
This book has its provenance in Zeev Raban's fourteen remarkable gouache illustrations of The Epic of Gilgamesh. The artist's family provided us with these previously unpublished and never-before printed works of art. Raban (1890-1970), who was born in Poland, came to Eretz Yisrael in 1912. Well-known for his work on Biblical themes, especially the Song of Songs, he only once embarked upon a project not derived directly from Jewish sources. His Gilgamesh represents an attempt to appropriate this ancient myth into nascent modern Hebrew culture and its emerging reservoir of visual imagery. Raban learned of Gilgamesh and its charms, and was inspired to illustrate it, through the virtuoso translation by the famous Hebrew poet Saul Tchernichovsky (1875-1943), which first appeared in 1924. Tchernichovsky's mastery of classical poetic forms enabled him to widen the horizons of Hebrew poetry and culture. Through his appropriation of the aesthetic forms and thought-worlds of ancient myths and epics such as Homer's Iliad and Odyssey or the Finnish epic Kalevala, he was able to introduce to the modern Hebrew readership a new appreciation of the mores and ethics of pre-monotheistic traditions.
The English verse rendition of Gilgamesh by Danny P. Jackson, while adopting a contemporary, updated approach, still succeeds in retaining much of its original magic. The poem of the adventures of the Assyrian-Babylonian hero comes from the Library of Ashurbanipal of Nineveh. While dating from the beginning of the second millennium B.C., The Epic of Gilgamesh remains remarkably in tune with man's modern condition and sensibility. Indeed, Gilgamesh may well be regarded as the first existentialist hero. Thus, we feature here an essay on the psycho-existential dimensions of this ancient-modern hero by David S. Kahn, a clinical psychologist and scholar of myths and creativity. We have also included the personal reading and appreciation by James G. Keenan and the perspective of art historian Gideon Ofrat. These analytic articles are intended to illuminate, elucidate and deepen our intellectual and psychological comprehension of the epic as well as providing the iconographic backdrop for an understanding of Raban's paintings. "Gilgamesh" is also known as "He who discovered the source", or "He who saw it all". His myth is revisited here through Raban's unique illustrations. This book incorporates an original design that also employs the painter's palette and enlarged details of his paintings as background to the poetic narrative. Word and image now coalesce into a seamless whole.
- Editor's Note
- Saul Tchernichovsky's classic Hebrew translation of The Epic of Gilgamesh
- Brilliant, full-color illustrations by Zeev Raban
- Art commentary by Gideon Ofrat: The Song of Songs which is of Gilgamesh.
- The Epic of Gilgamesh as a Journey of Psychological Development by David S. Kahn
- The Epic of Gilgamesh in English verse by Danny P. Jackson
- Gilgamesh, An Appreciation by James G. Keenan
Danny P. Jackson is a teacher of Greek and Latin with degrees in comparative literature and classical languages. Formerly a project editor for Prentice Hall, a freelance journalist, and a teacher of English and religion, he has done preliminary work on a poetic rendition of Enuma Elish, the world's first recorded creation story, also from the ancient Near Eastern milieu. Jacksons work has appeared in The New York Times, National Catholic Reporter, English Journal, Phi Delta Kappan, Commonwealth, New Jersey Educational Review, Media & Methods, and Ocean County Times Observer.
Comments and Reviews
This book is handsomly designed. The soft, sensual texture of the matte dust jacket is well suited to the artwork as well as emotionally complementary to the subject matter. It is a clean design that does nothing more than state the title, but it does that extremely well (in both English and Hebrew). This is a cover that stands out for its graceful simplicity.
One of the most outstanding design choices was that of the paper. Not only does the paper have body and quality, it is also an excellent choice for illustration reproduction that quietly enhances rather than stands out.
The title and copyright pages are nicely done, maintaining the clean crisp appearance promised by the dust jacket. The choice of font a sans serif one also continued that same feeling. Nevertheless, I am of two minds about the choice of font. While continuing the "feel" is important, it is equally important to factor in the readability of any design choices. Sans serif fonts are not considered as easy on the eyes as serif ones and are, for that reason, usually restricted to titles, captions and other short pieces of text. Using such a font for the entire text is exciting, but tiring, and publishers should always stay aware of the practical needs of their audience while designing.
However, I do especially want to note that the size of the font throughout the text was perfect. This is a publisher who is aware of two important issues: (1) the potential audience is probably over the age of 40 and appreciates larger fonts; and (2) that the larger font lends itself perfectly to the size of the book.
I loved the size of the book. It gave a feeling of substantiality and quality that lent itself well to the poem's significance. Each section of the book was well set off from the others without being so different as to cause notice.
The glossary is a thoughtful addition to the book as is the commentary on Zeev Raban and his illustrations. And the reproduction of the illustrations themselves is magnificent.
This is extremely well done, and its dos-a-dos format makes this a book worthy of commendation.
Evaluation Scores (1 - 10)
Use of Color: 10
Use of Graphics: 10
Benjamin Franklin 2003 Awards Evaluation
This English-Hebrew volume contains two translations in one, the English verse version by poet Danny P. Jackson, and the other in Hebrew by poet Saul Tchernichovsky together with 14 color reproductions of Raban's previously unpublished paintings illustrating the myth. It also contains an essay on the psycho-existential dimensions of this ancient-modern hero by clinical psychologist and myth scholar David S. Kahn; an essay by classical scholar James G. Keenan guide to the epic's themes and narrative forms and types; and a commentary by art historian Gideon Ofrat on Raban's work. This oversize book (9.25x14") is printed on art-quality vellum paper.
Editor, Book News Inc.
The Epic of Gilgamesh, A Myth Revisited, is a real treat for all literature and art lovers. The original poem, describing the adventures of this Assyrian-Babylonian hero, found in the Library of Ashurbanipal of Nineveh, was written at the beginning of the second millennium B.C. The translation into Hebrew was done in 1924 by Saul Tchernichovsky; the English version is by Danny Jackson. Both manage to retain the original text's rhythm and spirit-they have created poetry that has its own life and that conveys the ancient period's style of writing, pace, and expressions.
The book is beautiful to look at and the text is captivating and informative. Having read Tchernichovsky's Gilgamesh as a high school student, it was a pleasure for me to revisit it here. The book showcases the rare talent of Tchernichovsky as well as Raban's striking artistry. The artist chose a number of lines FROM the text's "tablets" and used vivid, rich colors to bring these lines to life: a feast for the eyes. In addition, pages of the text are printed over enlargements of colors and patterns FROM Raban's paintings, which sets the mood and enriches the written text.
Three scholarly commentaries complement the text: David Kahn's essay, "The Epic of Gilgamesh as a Journey of Psychological Development"; James Keenan's article, "Gilgamesh: An Appreciation"; and Gideon Ofrat's "The Song of Songs which is of Gilgamesh." Kahn, a clinical psychologist, conveys the message, implication, and relevance that the original text has for modern twenty-first-century readers. Keenan, a professor of Classics, provides a helpful introduction, context, and personal appreciation of the epic. Art historian Gideon Ofrat's knowledge of the historical and artistic background illuminates Raban's lush miniatures. Together, these commentaries enable readers to understand and better appreciate the epic and Raban's depictions of it. A brief editorial overview of the historical period of the epic's eponymous hero and a helpful glossary of names round out the edition.
The Epic of Gilgamesh, A Myth Revisited, goes beyond being the beautiful "coffee table" book that it of course is. It is also a welcome addition to the collections of serious readers and Gilgamesh scholars, and to those of us who simply appreciate and enjoy fine art. The book is a veritable treasure trove-great poetry, beautiful artistic pictures and illustrations, scholarly essays, historical perspectives, psychological analysis and implications for the contemporary reader-all in one sumptuous volume that is a pleasure to hold and read. Readers will be inclined to come back and reread the whole of it over and over, and also to savor it, bit by bit. This book is a rarity: both rich and enriching, and one that will appeal to more casual, pleasure readers as well as to serious scholars.
Professor, Foundations and Research
The Epic of Gilgamesh is often regarded as the first piece of world literature. Even after four thousand years, it still reaches all of us, wrestling as it does with basic questions of the meaning of life and death. New translations, retellings and studies of Gilgamesh appear every year, directed to scholars, to a more popular audience, and even to children.
This volume is meant for a popular audience. It includes a translation into English, by Danny P. Jackson, and one into Hebrew, by the poet Saul Tchernikovsky. Both translations, but particularly that of Jackson, are rather free renderings of the text, not literal translations. The book is prefaced by articles (each in both English and Hebrew) which explore the psychological dimensions of Gilgamesh. The heart of the volume are fourteen gouache paintings by Zeev Raban, never previously published, which illustrate events of the narrative. The colors in these paintings are stunning.
This is a handsome, even sumptuous volume, one which it is a pleasure to touch and to read. The translations are printed over colors and patterns drawn FROM Raban's paintings. Specialists will argue over nuances of the translations. The true test of a classic is that each time one reads it, one finds something new, and that is true of these translations.
Dr. John Hayes
Near Eastern Studies
University of California
Berkeley CA 94720-1940
Dr. Hayes will be publishing a longer and more scholarly review of this title in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Near Eastern Studies.
It is a magnificent book and a true treasure. I was quite amazed at the artistry of its production.
James M. Kennedy