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C O U R S E 
Masterpieces of World Literature
Martin Puchner, Harvard University
C O U R S E   L E C T U R E 
Gilgamesh as World Literature
Notes taken on August 9, 2017 by Edward Tanguay
when Austen Henry Layard discovered the clay tablets on which Gilgamesh is written, nobody could read them
he brought them back to the British Museum
gradually people start to study them
Sir Henry Rawlinson (1810-1895)
was in the British service in Persia
got interested in inscriptions
found inscription in Behistun which turned out to be by Darius I (550-486 BCE), in three different scripts
copied the inscription onto paper
spends 20 years learning how to translate it by comparing the scripts
by the 1870s, there is a rudimentary knowledge
George Smith (1840-1876)
first to decipher part of the Gilgamesh cuneiform
had never been to college or high school
gets interested in Biblical history
his firm was in walking distance on his lunch hour to the British Museum
got hired by the museum
published what they had of Gilgamesh and publishes it under The Chaldean Epic of the Deluge
Chaldea is the region of Southern Iraq today
where the Babylonians came from
published the book The Chaldean Accounts of Genesis
in the 12 tablets of Gilgamesh, one tablet is about the flood story
George Smith persuades the British Museum to send him to look for more tablets
died when he was 36 after writing 8 books and establishing the field of Assyrian studies on a new basis
what does it mean for a work of world literature to enter the world
Gilgamesh made a career for George Smith but this interest also led to his death in a sense
after he wrote to the British Museum that there was tribal warfare, diseases, the British Museum told him to keep looking for it, and so he stayed two more months and died
Hormuzd Rassam (1826-1910)
first important Iraqi archeologists
was a friend and then rival of George Smith
found a number of the tablets
wrote the book, "Asshur in the Land of Nimrod"
Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)
claimed this was the greatest ancient work he has ever read
Saddam Hussein authored a book: "Zabibah and the King"
written in 2000, is a novel that the CIA believes was written by Saddam Hussein, probably with the help of some ghostwriters
the plot is a love story about a powerful ruler of medieval Iraq and a beautiful commoner girl named Zabibah
she comes to the city to restrain and educate the headstrong monarch
as Enkidu comes to Gilgamesh
Zabibah's husband is a cruel and unloving man who rapes her
the book is set in 7th or 8th century Tikrit, Hussein's home town
Joan Lunden
Australian novelist
heroine goes on a quest
Gilgamesh is relevant in the world today but comes from such a different world 3000 years old
a Sumerian king who has everything
the gods dispatch a wild man to teach him his place
the plan goes awry when they become best friends
they set out together to see the world
they become so arrogant that the gods condemn the wild man to the Underworld
bereft, the king makes one last effort to achieve immortality but fails
he stands before the walls of his great city
he knows his story will be his only lasting testament
has an ancient epic formality
rather dramatic but has a formal pace
1200 BCE priest Sîn-lēqi-unninni remade the text an adventure story into a story about a quest for ancient knowledge
so this story is about seeking antiquity to find a modern lesson
no one ever lived in antiquity
everyone always lives in the present
the oldest texts we have are already talking about an antiquity that they're reacting against
delivery of poem
when spoken in Akkadian
measured, formal progress
much alliteration
half lines and then couplets
points which allow the one reciting it to catch their voice