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Women's Auxiliary Book Group
"Gilgamesh: A New Rendering in English Verse" by David Ferry
Tuesday, Jan 8th, 2013 12:30 PM

One East 65th Street
Open to all Temple members
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gILGAMESH is the great epic of ancient Mesopotamia, one of the oldest works in Western literature, contemporary with the oldest parts of the Bible. It is the story of a legendary king who achieves heroic victories with the help of the wild man Enkidu; but when his friend dies, Gilgamesh goes in search of the way to escape death, a secret he can learn only from the one man who survived the Great Flood.

Long counted among the world’s great poems, the Gilgamesh epic in the original Babylonian was found on broken tablets, inscribed in ancient cuneiform script. Previously, line-by-line literal translations have necessarily been somewhat discontinuous, while freer versions have departed widely from the original. Now, for the first time, David Ferry in his new version makes Gilgamesh available in the kind of energetic and readable rendering that Robert Fitzgerald and Richmond Lattimore have provided for readers in their translations of Homer and Virgil. Ferry’s poetry combines faithful attention to the literal meanings of the original with a sense for the poetic qualities that make Gilgamesh not only an important document of ancient Mesopotamia but also a profoundly moving story of the love between companions and the terrible inevitability of death.



“There have been other English accounts of this hero with a thousand descendants, but this is the first one that is as much poetry as scholarship.”

— Michael Dirda, The Washington Post Book World


“Ferry’s Gilgamesh is uniquely his own, self-contained in holding aloof from fads and hype. No display of adjectival fireworks could do justice to his poem’s originality or to the integrity of the poet’s formal invention. In identifying the poem as Mr. Ferry’s, I mean no disrespect to Sin-leqe-unninni, the ancient poet-editor that Babylonian tradition credits as having developed to their highest form the epic adventures of Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, and his companion, Enkidu. But like Edward Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat or Ezra Pound’s Cathay, Mr. Ferry’s Gilgamesh is a miraculous transformation of his original into his own, utterly distinctive idiom…. Perhaps the poem’s most moving element is how the desire for fame is superseded, after the death of Enkidu, by a quest that touches every reader, ancient or modern…the wish for physical immortality…. [Ferry’s] technical genius and literary sophistication evoke not only the hero’s anguish but the rage and despair of the untouchable.”

— Tom Sleigh, The New York Times



DAVID FERRY (b. 1924) is an acclaimed American poet and translator. His translations, which include some of the world’s major works of poetry including The Odes of Horace and both The Eclogues and Georgics of Virgil, are known for their fluency and grace. Ferry also is a prize-winning poet in his own right; his poetic works include Dwelling Places (1993) and Of No Country I Know: New and Selected Poems and Translations (1999), which won the Lenore Marshall Prize, the Bingham Poetry Prize and the Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry from the Library of Congress, and was a finalist for the L.L. Winship/PEN New England Award and the New Yorker Book Award. His newest work, Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations (2012), is a finalist for the National Book Award. In 2001, Ferry received an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 2002 he won the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award. He is the Sophie Chantal Hart Professor of English Emeritus at Wellesley College.




Open to all members of the Temple, our discussion will be held in the sixth-floor lounge of the Marvin and Elisabeth Cassell Community House. Rabbi Benjamin Zeidman will lead our discussion. Enter at One East 65th Street. Feel free to bring your lunch. Coffee and cookies will be served. RSVP to (212) 744-1400, ext. 235, or send a message.


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