The translation is a fresh take on the ancient epic and seeks to bring out the poetic power, clarity, and enchanting cadence of the original text.
The book also includes an introduction that guides first-time readers through the long-lost world of ancient Iraq, and five interpretative essays that help to make sense of the epic, its long history, literary structure, and emotional intensity.
You can read a preview of the book here.
“It’s a thrilling, enchanting, desperate thing to read, moving from questing adventure to surging grief and the confrontation with the reality of death . . . With a clear-eyed and informative introduction and five essays that provide context and insight into the epic, the book Helle has made feels both magic and deeply, lastingly human.” – Nina MacLaughlin, Boston Globe
“In Sophus Helle’s brilliant new translation of the Gilgamesh epic . . . readers have a timely opportunity to reconsider a masterpiece of world literature that is also a sobering portent of the Anthropocene.” – Daniel Simon, World Literature Today
“Looks to be the last word on this Babylonian masterpiece.” – Michael Dirda, Washington Post
“Sophus Helle’s Gilgamesh is woven of earthly, muscular language that breathes an epic of gutsy dreams and ancient knowhow. In Helle’s rendition, this scholar truly translates rhythm and movement until Gilgamesh breathes anew.” – Yusef Komunyakaa, author of Everyday Mojo Songs of Earth
“The translation is elegant and eloquent. The essays and elucidations are learned, lively, and hugely illuminating. Sophus Helle is a poet, a scholar, and, if truth be told, a genius.” – Marshall Brown, University of Washington
“Helle’s new translation reminds us just what a miracle it is that Gilgamesh has survived, an emblem of mortality available only in fragments, yet speaking to our mortal loves and fears with undying force.” – Wai Chee Dimock, Yale University
“Engaging, well-paced, and extremely well written, this study of Gilgamesh will leave its readers delighted.” – Martin Worthington, Trinity College Dublin
“A dazzling work of scholarship that manages complex topics with elegance and thoughtfulness.” – Louise Pryke, University of Sydney
“A fresh and vital translation, alive to the music of the original, and accompanied by essays offering crucial background and insightful analysis, Helle’s Gilgamesh will bring the ancient poem to life for new audiences.” – Alexander Beecroft, University of South Carolina
What is Gilgamesh?
Gilgamesh is an epic written c. 3,000 years ago. When the poet Rainer Marie Rilke first read it in 1916, he said: “I feel that it concerns me.” He was not alone. Countless readers since then have had the same experience: millennia after its composition, and in myriad different ways, Gilgamesh continues to concern us.
A tale of love and loss
Written in the Standard Babylonian dialect of the Akkadian language, in the cuneiform writing system, Gilgamesh recounts the story of the legendary king of Uruk.
The story is divided into two parts. The first tells of Gilgamesh’s love for the wild man Enkidu and their triumphs in battle. The second tells of Gilgamesh’s deep grief when Enkidu dies, and his desperate search for immortality.
A poem for the ages
What fascinates me most about Gilgamesh is that every reader seems to find in it something that resonates with them, personally.
It is a story about love between men. About loss and grief. About the confrontation with death. The destruction of nature. Insomnia and restlessness. Finding peace in one’s community. The voice of women. The folly of gods. Heroes and monsters – and so on, seemingly without end. Every reader relates to it in their own way.
Gilgamesh in Danish
In April 2019, I published a new Danish translation of Gilgamesh with my father, the award-winning poet Morten Søndergaard. Read a sample here.
“One of those miracles that makes life worth living.” – Bjørn Bredal, Politiken.
“The new translation of Gilgamesh is set to become a classic in this country.” – Erik Skyum-Nielsen, Information.
“A wonderful, lively, wild, violent encounter with this fascinating early portrait of us grim, dumb, yet so clever human animals.” – Mikkel Bruun Zangenberg, Weekendavisen.