The Buried Book--David Damrosch

This is one of those books that I couldn't wait to tell you about.  Normally, I'm on a weekend hiatus, but this book demanded a review.

So, what's the big deal?  Gilgamesh.  But not just Gilgamesh.  In the course of discussing how the epic was written, lost, and eventually rediscovered, the author shares insights about Victorian Archeology, Victorian prejudice, Asshurbanipal, Sumerian, Akkadian, Old Persion, Aramaic, Philip Roth, Saddam Hussein, among other things.  The book analyzes the writing, preservation, discovery, and decoding of an epic that we have come to take for granted as part of our heritage.  All the while one contemplates its potential loss and the question of how much more may be out there waiting recovery/discovery.

For a while the author went off on a long discursion regarding Esarhaddon, the father of Asshurbanipal.  Even as I gobbled up this information about a civilization I had been taught so little about, I did wonder where in the world this was going. Well,, it turns out that Esarhaddon's paranoia encouraged Asshurbanipal's literacy, which in turn encouraged the accumulation of a library in which one of the main sources for the Akkadian Gilgamesh that has come down to us today.

Oh, and the wonders you learn about Gilgamesh the legend and Gilgamesh King of Uruk.  I hadn't realized how much we knew about Assyrian/Sumerian civilization, and so every turn of the page was an opportunity to discover something new.  You learn about types of cuneiform--Sumerian (very dead language), Akkadian (dying language), and Persian.  You learn about the "Rosetta Stone" of cuneiform (a passage I shared earlier from the book). You learn about the similarities of certain figures from the Homeric stories and the Gilgamesh story.

In short, for me, a book of wonders.  So much to learn, so much to enjoy, so much to savor in a brand new world.  A rare experience.

Highest recommendation *****


  1. Steven,

    Thanks for the review. Sounds like a a fascinating book. I've intrigued by Gilgamesh for many years now.

  2. Another 'thanks' for the review. This wasn't available at my library when I read Gilgamesh a couple of years ago but it is now. I'll definitely add this review to my notes and resources until I can get around to reading this myself. What little bit I did read on the path to rediscovery was fascinating, so I look forward to finding out more.

  3. Dear Fred and Dwight,

    If you are interested either in Gilgamesh or in Assyrian civilization, I think you will be well rewarded by this book. It is one of those that, once I picked it up, it preempted everything else on my reading list. Do get this and enjoy! I found it at a deep discount at a remaindered shop over the weekend--so library or discount (or, and I rarely say this, full price) this book is worth the effort.

    Thank you both for stopping by and taking the time to comment.



  4. You've hit a sweet spot for me, too. This book goes to the top of my "to acquire" list.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Another Queen of Night

Lewis Carroll and James Joyce

Structures--Ulysses and Mrs. Dalloway