Wow, I am completely shocked by how much I absolutely loved this. What an amazing story. So great. And uplifting. And just... great. Apparently most of the other translations on the market are really kind of academic in nature; Mitchell, who is not in any way a scholar of ancient Akkadian, compiled this version by studying all the other translations and doing a lot of research into the word choices and finally just making poetic decisions that seemed to fit the tone of the original epic. And it worked. It was a quick read, and beautifully written, and I want my own copy now. (Besides which, Captain Picard references the story of Gilgamesh in one of my favorite Next Gen episodes! That makes it even more awesome.)
For those of you who don't know, Gilgamesh is basically the earliest epic in world literature--it predates The Iliad by a good thousand years. It's the story of the king of Uruk (present-day Iraq) and his true friend Enkidu and their adventures, and how Gilgamesh sets out to find an antidote for death. ( A few spoilers. )
"Humans are born, they live, then they die,
this is the order that the gods have decreed.
But until the end comes, enjoy your life,
spend it in happiness, not despair.
Savor your food, make each of your days
a delight, bathe and anoint yourself,
wear bright clothes that are sparkling clean,
let music and dancing fill your house,
love the child who holds you by the hand,
and give your wife pleasure in your embrace.
That is the best way for a man to live."
- Shiduri the tavern keeper, to Gilgamesh
prolong your grief? Have you ever paused
to compare your own blessed lot with a fool's?
the gods have lavished you with their gifts...
Can't you see how fortunate you are?
You have worn yourself out through ceaseless striving,
you have filled your muscles with pain and anguish.
And what have you achieved but to bring yourself
one day nearer to the end of your days?"
- Utnapishtim, to Gilgamesh( More. )