See how its ramparts gleam like copper in the sun.
Climb the stone staircase, more ancient then the mind can imagine,
approach the Eanna Temple, sacred to Ishtar,
a temple that no king has equaled in size or beauty,
walk on the wall of Uruk, follow its course
around the city, inspect its mighty foundations,
examine its brickwork, how masterfully it is built,
observe the land it encloses: the palm trees, the gardens,
the orchards, the glorious palaces and temples, the shops
and marketplaces, the houses, the public squares.
Find the cornerstone and under it the copper box
that is marked with his name. Unlock it. Open the lid.
Take out the tablet of lapis lazuli. Read
how Gilgamesh suffered all and accomplished all.
- Gilgamesh, translated by Stephen Mitchell
Although I’ve been kind of a poetry machine lately, I decided to take it easy on myself for my 30 Day Fan Poetry Challenge and match poems I liked to Dragon Age screenshots, concept art or fan-art. (Although, considering I just spent 30 minutes looking for the right artwork for this one, I suspect this whole “taking it easy on myself thing” might be utter BS).
This serves two purposes: One, it allows me to express my love for this universe in a new way that avoids any guilt for not continuing my existing fanfic or meta projects (which I’m taking a hiatus on until this massive work project is complete). Second, it forces me to familiarize myself with more poetry, since I don’t really have a huge knowledge base to start from. Not only that, but it encourages me to analyze and contextualize them, to make it personal, which is kind of the point of good literature, right?
So back to Gilgamesh. Amid all the bulls and floods and wild clay-men, it’s easy to overlook that Gilgamesh, in large part, is a man’s first love letter to the city, and we’ve been penning awestruck sonnets to them ever since.
How is a man’s hometown his legacy? How does the city push back on him and offer him life everlasting? What do they owe each other? It’s all here in Gilgamesh, the story of a man and his adopted home, this city he protects even though, like him, it is mortal and fallible and corrupt…because it’s beautiful, too, in a way that “no city on earth can equal”, and that’s why the poem ends as it begins: with a love song to Uruk, a listing of its virtues.
Stephen Mitchell’s translation of The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of my favorite, favorite, favorite writings of all time. Mitchell doesn’t just translate Sumerian; he worships it, this dusty weird language that nobody has spoken or written in for 3,000 years, and he has such an innate sense of its cadence, its rhythm… Unlike so many other translations of this epic, which make it sound as lively as dishwater, Mitchell infuses every character and setting with personality and life. In fact, it all reads very much like something Varric might write in the Hanged Man, feet propped up, cold mead on his lips, toes warming before the fire crackling in the hearth.
Seriously, it’s just marvelous. Go check Gilgamesh out.