Monthly Archives: November 2006

November 15, 2006

Gilgamesh in English

For comparison, here are, from every English version I could find, the opening lines of Tablet V. After a long journey, Gilgamesh and Enkidu arrive at the cedar forest. They are on a quest to kill its guardian, the monster Humbaba (Huwawa).

I’ve divided these into four categories based on the translator’s apparent intent, and ordered them by date within each category. Let me know if you are aware of versions that I’m missing. The dates are of the first editions, though the texts are not necessarily.

A. Line for line translations.

Alexander Heidel (1946, Chicago)

1. They stood still and looked(?) at the forest.
2. They beheld the height of the cedar.
3. They beheld the entrance to the forest.
4. Where Humbaba was wont to walk there was a path;
5. Straight were the tracks and good was the passage.
6. They beheld the mountain of the cedar, the dwelling-place of the gods, the throne-dais of Irnini.
7. The cedar uplifted its fulness before the mountain;
8. Fair was its shade (and) full of delight;
9. [Cov]ered was the brushwood (and) covered the […].

John Gardner and John Maier (1984, Knopf/Vintage)

They stood looking at the forest.
They saw the cedars’ height;
they saw the forest gate.
Where Humbaba walked, a path was made.
The alleys were straight, the road good.
They saw the cedar mountain, home of the gods, throne-base of Irnini.
On the face of the mountain, the cedar lifts its seed.
Its shade is good, full of comfort.
The thorn is covered and hidden …
… the incense of the tree …
… one double-hour …
… again for two-thirds …

Maureen Gallery Kovacs (1989, Stanford) [online]

They stood at the forest’s edge,
gazing at the top of the Cedar Tree,
gazing at the entrance fo the forest.
Where Humbaba would walk there was a trail,
the roads led straight on, the path was excellent.
Then they saw the Cedar Mountain, the Dwelling of the Gods, the throne dais of Irnini.
Across the face of the mountain the Cedar brought forth luxurious foliage,
its shade was good, extremely pleasant.
The thornbushes were matted together, the woods(?) were a thicket
…among the Cedars, …the boxwood,
the Forest was surrounded by a ravine two leagues long,
…and again for two-thirds (of that distance),

Stephanie Dalley (1989, Oxford)

They stood at the edge of the forest,
Gazed and gazed at the height of the pines,
Gazed and gazed at the entrance to the pines,
Where Humbaba made tracks as he went to and fro.
The paths were well trodden and the road was excellent.
They beheld the Pine Mountain, dwelling-place of gods, shrine of Irnini.
The pines held up their luxuriance even on the face of the mountain.
Their shade was good, filling one with happiness.
Undergrowth burgeoned, entangling the forest.

Andrew George (1999, Penguin)

They stood there marvelling at the forest,
&nbsp&nbsp gazing at the lofty cedars,
gazing at the forest’s entrance ­-
&nbsp&nbsp where Humbaba came and went there was a track.

The path was straight and the way well trodden.
&nbsp&nbsp They saw the Mountain of Cedar, seat of gods and goddesses’ throne.
[On the] face of the mountain the cedar proffered its abundance,
&nbsp&nbsp its shade was sweet and full of delight.

[Thick] tangled was the thorn, the forest a shrouding canopy,
&nbsp&nbsp …cedar, ballukku-trees……

Benjamin R. Foster (2001, Norton)

They stood at the edge of the Forest,
They gazed at the height of the cedars,
They gazed at the way into the forest.
Where Humbaba would walk, a path was made,
Straight were the ways and easy the going.
They saw the cedar mountain, dwelling of the gods, sacred to the goddess Irnina.
On the slopes of that mountain, the cedar bears its abundance,
Agreeable is its shade, full of pleasures.
The undergrowth is tangled, the [thicket] interwoven.
Near the cedar [ … ] the balsam tree

B. Conservatively re-written versions.

N.K. Sandars (1960, Penguin)

Together they went down from the gate and they came to the green mountain. There they stood still, they were struck dumb; they stood still and gazed at the forest. They saw the height of the cedar, they saw the way into the forest and the track where Humbaba was used to walk. The way was broad and the going was good. They gazed at the mountain of cedars, the dwelling-place of the gods and the throne of Ishtar. The hugeness of the cedar rose in front of the mountain, its shade was beautiful, full of comfort; mountain and glade were green with brushwood.

Robert Temple (1991, Random House) [online]

They stood quite still and looked at the forest,
Saw how high were the great cedars,
And gazed upon the entrance to the forest.
There, where Humbaba was want to tread,
Was a fine path; straight it was and easy to travel.
They saw also the Cedar Mountain, where lived the gods
And Irnini, Goddess of Love, holy Inanna had her throne seat
The cedar raised aloft its great luxuriant growth:
What cool shade, what delight!
Covering the brushwood, covering the….

Danny P. Jackson (1992, Bolchazy-Carducci) [online]

Gilgamesh and Enkidu froze and stared into the woods’
great depth and height. When they spied
Humbaba’s path, they found the opening toward
straight passage. Then they were able to find and see
the home of the gods, the paradise of Ishtar’s other self,
called Irnini-most-attractive.
All beauty true is ever there
where gods do dwell, where there is
cool shade and harmony and
sweet-odored food to match their mood.

Stephen Mitchell (2004, Simon & Schuster)

They stood at the edge of the Cedar Forest,
marveling at the great height of the trees.
They could see, before them, a well-marked trail
beaten by Humbaba as he came and went.
From far off they saw the Cedar Mountain,
sacred to Ishtar, where the gods dwell,
the slopes of it steep, and rich in cedars
with their sharp fragrance and pleasant shade.
Gripping their axes, their knives unsheathed,
they entered the Forest and made their way through
the tangle of thorn bushes underfoot.

C. Liberally re-written versions.

Herbert Mason (1970, currently Houghton Mifflin)

They stood in awe at the foot
Of the green mountain. Pleasure
Seemed to grow from fear for Gilgamesh.
As when one comes upon a path in woods
Unvisited by men, one is drawn near
The lost and undiscovered in himself;
He was revitalized by danger.
They knew it was the path Humbaba made.
Some called the forest “Hell,” and others “Paradise”;
What difference does it make? said Gilgamesh.
But night was falling quickly
And they had no time to call it names,
Except perhaps “The Dark,”
Before they found a place at the edge of the forest
To serve as shelter for their sleep.

David Ferry (1992, FSG)

They came to the Cedar Forest that grew upon
the sides of the Cedar Mountain, throne of Irnini,

forbidden dwelling place of immortal gods.
This was the place the guradian demon guarded

to frighten away the daring mortal who
would venture there. But who would venture there?

This was the place Huwawa was; Huwawa’s
breath is death. Beautiful is the Forest;

green upon green the cedars; fragrant the air
with the fragrance of cedar trees; the box that grew

along the silent walks of the guardian demon,
shadowed and still, utterly still, was fragrant.

D. High concept.

Derrek Hines (2002, Chatto and Windus/Random House)

In the valley of the Bekaa under Mt Lebanon.
Easy soldiering with the ladies willing,
their legs spread wide as a peal of bells;

plenty of grub, and the zig of split-stone fences
snaking through terraced orchards,
apple and Eve ready.
Good, rolling chariot country.

November 15, 2006

Gilgamesh (2100-1000 BC)

Sumerian / Assyrian traditional
standard Akkadian version attributed to Sin-leqe-unnini, probably ~1200 BC.

Myths From Mesopotamia, edited and translated with an Introduction and Notes by Stephanie Dalley, revised edition (Oxford, 2000)
Gilgamesh: A New Rendering in English Verse, by David Ferry (FSG, 1992)
The Epic of Gilgamesh, an English version with an introduction by N.K. Sandars (Penguin, 1964 ed.)
Bohuslav Martinů: Gilgames [The Epic of Gilgamesh] (1954-5) (as recorded by the BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus under Jirí Belohlávek, 1995. BBC Music vol. IV no. 11, 1996)

So the first thing I did upon solidifying this plan – the inspiration happened in August but I didn’t really move on it until September – was go to Foyle’s, one of the biggest bookstores in London, which happened to be just a few blocks from where I was working at the time, and look for a copy of Gilgamesh. At the time I didn’t yet know that Harold Bloom’s list had more info on it than what can be seen here, so I figured the choice of translation was up to me. There were heaps of Oxford paperbacks on the front tables at Foyle’s – 3 for 2, as you can see above – and right there was “Myths From Mesopotamia,” featuring the Epic of Gilgamesh. I flipped through and the treatment seemed scholarly but unobtrusive. On the back it said “Revised Edition” and also “So much has been discovered in recent years both by way of new tablets and points of grammar and lexicography that these translations by Stephanie Dalley supersede all previous versions.” This edition first published in 2000. Okay, so I bought it.

The images above, by the way, link to full-size scans of the copies I read. PRETTY AWESOME.

Beth and I read Gilgamesh aloud over a couple weeks. The work in its most complete form was written on twelve tablets, and those divisions are maintained in most versions. We did a tablet at a time. Many of them feel like meaningful chapter divisions; a few don’t.

Gilgamesh – or The Epic of Gilgamesh (it’s certainly episodic but it’s not nearly as long or involved as “epic” usually implies) – or, as the ancient librarians called it, “Of him who found out all things,” which is the first line – gets press as “the oldest literary text” and then dated to “almost 5000 years ago,” which is misleading. Gilgamesh may have been a real historical figure – he’s recorded as such, anyway, elsewhere – and whoever he was, he may have lived around 2800 BC. So that’s almost 5000 years ago. But the not-very-historical-King-Arthur-ish stories about him that constitute The Epic of Gilgamesh first appear in writing around 2100 BC. That is, many centuries later. And those are just disconnected stories in Sumerian – earlier versions of a few of the episodes in the epic. Then a few hundred years later, after political shifting, they appear in a somewhat unified form as the “Old Babylonian” version of the epic, now in Akkadian. But the long version, with significant additional material, in particular the Noah’s ark story for which the rest of the epic becomes a frame, comes to us from yet a thousand years later. A thousand! It was collected and archived by one of the very last kings of Assyria, who had an antiquarian bent and was trying to do honor to the ancient culture of his country. This version, the longest, most unified, most “literary” version, is attributed to a named author: Sin-leqe-unnini – someone who had probably lived 600 years earlier. Sort of a Homer to this Odyssey. But my point is, this story and its “author” were as remote as Homer seems now, to the Assyrians who wrote it down for us. And the age of Gilgamesh himself was unimaginably primitive to the people for whom this tale was a classic.

This is to say that there is an important cultural distinction to be made between the context of The Once and Future King (1958) and of the hypothetical historical King Arthur himself (~500 AD). Except for Gilgamesh it’s on an even grander scale.

I tried to keep all that in mind as we read. It seemed relevant for the same reason that it seems relevant to understanding the movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) that the society that made it and enjoyed it was not actually living in castles and thatched roof cottages. The reason is the same: this isn’t one of those situations where we need to try to see past the period-ness of the text. Ancient and mysterious is part of the point. Moreso here than with the bible, even, I think, because so far as I know there were no ritual or religious reasons for this story to be kept around. It seems to have been deemed important mainly because it was good. It notably does not include any “begats” – no genealogies or elaborate invocations or anything else that purports to be important in a way that transcends the story itself. It is appealingly earthy and unpretentious.

Gilgamesh is a young hotshot king of Uruk. He’s two-thirds god, one-third man, which is an interesting breakdown. He’s a little larger than life and he lives life a little too large for the people of Uruk, sleeping with every bride and overworking the military men. The people pray that a proper match for his energies come and carry off some of the burden of dealing with this guy, so the gods create Enkidu, his perfect companion, who enters the world in a state of complete nature, hairy, naked, living like a gazelle in the wild. A plot is hatched to civilize the wild man by sending out one of the temple prostitutes (temples were different back then) into the wild to tempt him. He lies with her, as they say, for a long time, and when he gets up the gazelles flee from him – he’s gained the knowledge of the civilized world. He learns how to drink from a glass and things like that and then goes to the city to confront Gilgamesh. They have a big superhero fight and become best friends.

That’s the first section of the story, at least the way it breaks down in my head, and maybe my favorite part. There’s something very touching to me about Enkidu’s state of innocence being as a gazelle, and that he is civilized by sex with a woman from the city who has come to teach him, and then his friends the gazelles run away, and then he has to learn to deal with a knife and fork – this is much more resonant and interesting, not to mention warm, than the comparatively frowny, nervous story about the snake and the apple, which covers the same mythic territory and for all we know may be obliquely descended from this story. There’s also something sweet about the idea that Gilgamesh is only a tyrant because he has not been properly matched with companions and goals big enough for him; that the people cry out to the gods not to kill their terrible king but to make a best friend for him.

I tried for a while to think of what contemporary story is like Gilgamesh but nothing quite fits the bill. The idea that ran through my head while I was reading it, though, is that the oldest story in literature is sort of a buddy movie. But it gets more complicated than that.

Gilgamesh then announces his desire to achieve fame by taking on great tasks, and sets out with Enkidu to the great cedar forest that is guarded by the terrible monster Humbaba. They eventually succeed at bringing down Humbaba, who begs for mercy in the end. Enkidu warns Gilgamesh not to fall for it and they kill him. They chop down a bunch of cedars and use them to build a gate for Uruk. When they return to Uruk, the goddess Ishtar notices how hot and famous Gilgamesh is and invites him to be her lover, but he says no, that she’s spiteful and selfish. This angers her so much that she releases the Bull of Heaven, which storms around Uruk until Gilgamesh and Enkidu bring it down, thus achieving more fame.

The last section is the most important and gives the story its literary weight. One day Enkidu has a dream that the gods have decided the two need to be punished for their overreaching and have decided Enkidu must die. Gilgamesh tries to comfort him by doing honor to him and reassuring him about his achievements, but Enkidu is more than a little bitter – death is unfair. Then he dies. Gilgamesh is shaken and goes out wandering the countryside in grief, obsessed by the idea that he too is going to die some day. There is one ancient wise man who was granted eternal life by the gods – Gilgamesh goes on a long, increasingly mystical journey to the end of the world, where the wise man lives, to find out what he knows. When he finally gets there, there is a series of “punchlines,” each of which has a shaggy-dog quality. First off, the wise man tells him that there’s no way to live forever, and that he should just be happy that he’s lucky enough to be Gilgamesh. Then he tells Gilgamesh that he himself is only immortal because… and then he tells the story of Noah’s ark, from the point of view of Noah. At the end the gods make him immortal. Then he tells Gilgamesh that if he really wants to be immortal, he first has to stay awake for six days, at which Gilgamesh prompty falls asleep for six days. Then, as Gilgamesh is leaving, the wise man says, okay, I’ll let you in on a secret: there’s a plant at the bottom of the river that will keep you young forever. Gilgamesh swims down, pulls it up, and sets out for home, but at the first rest stop, a snake swims up and steals the plant from him while he’s bathing. This turns out to be why snakes can shed their skins. Gilgamesh returns home empty-handed and the story ends as it began, with some words in praise of how well-built and impressive Uruk is.

So, ultimately, this is a story about confronting the fear, and the inevitability, of death. The more you think about it, the more it seems appropriate that this is our oldest story. In fact, I was struck by how rare it is to come across a treatment of death that seems so accessible and real, in literature. Somewhere in European history, the idea of death got caught up with all sorts of other ideals, and now, in most fiction, death carries some romantic baggage that has nothing to do with the way I fear my own death in real life, or the deaths of people I am close to. On the cover of the New York Times Book Review a few weeks ago, in the review of Cormac McCarthy’s unbearably grim-sounding new book, the reviewer says that McCarthy, quote, “has said that death is the major issue in the world and that writers who don’t address it are not serious.” I thought of Gilgamesh. Death in Gilgamesh is something recognizable. Gilgamesh goes on a quest to save himself from it that has a big shrug at the end of it. I recognize that from black humor, but this isn’t humor and it also isn’t black. The deadpan ending, extolling the high-quality bricks of Uruk, is not a slap in the face. It’s just not reassurance either; or, rather, it’s reassurance in terms of everything we can be reassured about, which is life, not death.

Gilgamesh’s grief for Enkidu is simple and believable. It’s very affecting that the fairy-tale constructions (everyone tends to say things three or more times) are here put in the service of a basic emotion that for whatever reason isn’t a big one in the European tradition – fear of death. Gilgamesh says that he saw a worm fall from the dead Enkidu’s nose, and, more or less, that it really freaked him out. He tells this to everyone he meets.

The more I write it here, the more it’s starting to bother me. Why has fear of death been so marginalized and degraded? Talk of “cowardice” and “immortal souls” and whatnot have usurped our commiserating about something that is the thing for humans to commiserate over. Gilgamesh offers that and it offers it in a very unassuming, accessible way.

In general, this was an interesting read because it offered access to the mindset of an alternate, to-me-unknown culture, the attitudes of which seemed to me immediately interesting and applicable, in the way that some people are innately drawn to “Eastern thought” or whatever. This Sumerian worldview – though, let me be clear, intensely foreign and peculiar – made more immediate human sense to me than the ancient Chinese worldview or the ancient Egyptian worldview, etc. Insofar as I’ve been exposed to those.

Another interesting thing about reading something this old and this foreign is that the degrading effect of all that time is unavoidably relevant to the task: it’s full of holes and question marks. “Gap of about 40 lines” is an extremely mysterious and evocative thing to encounter in a story you’re reading. You get good at guessing what goes in the gaps that only affect half of a line, and then you start to know what’s going on even when several sentences are missing. And then you get to one of the really big gaps and you have to concede defeat to the chipping of clay over thousands of years, which is bigger than any of us. A bit like death.

So. We finished that and returned to the US, and then I found out that Harold Bloom actually specifies that he recommends the version of Gilgamesh translated by David Ferry. So I went to the New York Public Library and got out a copy of it. Second image in there. This I read over a weekend trip to the Jersey shore. I don’t recommend it. To me it’s a case against Harold Bloom, in fact. David Ferry’s version is not a translation of the Akkadian – he doesn’t read Akkadian. He made a version based on prior word-for-word translations, with heavy poetic license. In heroic couplets. Why, you might ask, is it in heroic couplets? Because for some people, iambic pentameter is a necessary adjunct to seriousness. Why such people would want to read anything from ancient Sumer is not clear to me. The philosophy behind turning Gilgamesh into something that feels European and familiar goes entirely against the grain of everything I enjoyed in reading the story in the first place. Whatever survives of its peculiar attitude and peculiar origins have been transmogrified, here, into some kind of intentional (and thus condescending) primitivism. Furthermore, I just don’t feel like Ferry got it. There’s a big chunk of stone on the cover (condescending primitivism?) but on every level the actual text has been made more elaborate, more involved. 50% of the content has been put in the work’s mouth, as it were, by someone who thinks he’s walking in step with it but is actually riding in his own anachronistic horse and buggy. Surely Harold Bloom wanted us to read Gilgamesh and not the minor contemporary poet David Ferry. I don’t think he knew what he was talking about. Maybe he had political reasons for putting Ferry’s name in there. Or, more likely and more dismaying, maybe he’s one of these people who gets a kick out of iambic pentameter no matter what the occasion because it reminds him of Great Things like Shakespeare, with all the curlicues that that entails.

It may be worth noting that the Stephen Mitchell Gilgamesh, published in 2004 (Bloom’s Canon is from 1994) has praise from Bloom on the back cover calling it “certainly the best that I have seen in English.” So perhaps we can take that to be a revised recommendation. I haven’t read the Mitchell version but it looks fairly tasteful.

Then I was walking near a flea market here in Brooklyn and on the first table I passed there was a copy of the old Penguin edition of Gilgamesh as rendered in prose by N.K. Sandars. Third image there. I think I got it for $2. This one is still in print, with a slightly different cover and several further stages of revision, but I got a 1964 copy. I can endorse it as having a very good (and very long) introduction, offering a lot of context, and having been done intelligently. As The Times Literary Supplement is quoted on the back cover: “The work of synthesis has been accomplished, and with a remarkable degree of tact and imagination.” Exactly. This version fills gaps and makes guesses, but they’re smart guesses. We can tell that Sandars gets the big picture, so we’re willing to trust her choices. But I wouldn’t recommend this as a first read. Knowing where the gaps are and that they exist is part of what makes it acceptable to read the version where they’ve been spackled up.

Honestly, if I had to recommend a version, I’d recommend the other Penguin edition, translated by Andrew George. This one’s the most widespread these days anyway. I haven’t read it all the way through, but I’ve spent some time with it, and George’s notes are the most helpful of any of the versions I’ve found, his presentation the most inviting, and most importantly, his translation the clearest of the “faithful” translations. He also includes all the major alternate/earlier versions of the stories. Dalley’s version is actually very similar in approach and has the benefit of including several other interesting Myths from Mesopotamia, but phrase for phrase, George’s reads just a tad smoother.

This whole issue of how to deal with such an alien, broken-up text started to interest me in itself, so I’ve been collecting the same excerpt from all the versions I could find. The next post will be all of those in a row. I think it makes clear why the Ferry version is not the one to read. Let me know if you’ve got a version I should add. That post will also include links to online versions of Gilgamesh if anyone’s read this far and maintained enough interest to want to read it.

Finally, when I was at the Brooklyn Library getting out the next book in this project (10 billion points if anyone guesses it correctly! 10 billion) I saw that they had a recording of Bohuslav Martinů’s 1955 oratorio of Gilgamesh, so I got that out too. The last image up there. It’s terrific! Really. I only knew Martinů’s můsic from one quirky piano work – which I always really liked – and Gilgamesh shows a much broader expressive range. Composers responding to literary works tend to exaggerate and simplify, but I found this extremely sensitive and intelligent, retaining both the humanity and the strangeness of the text. It also is interesting in that it uses a lot of tropes from movie music in a much more engaging, satisfying way. Martinů eliminates much of the story (no quest for fame) and replaces the wise man with an invented segue to the story of the 12th tablet, which all the translators point at as a distinct and unrelated addition to the main text, wherein Enkidu dies differently and then is made to rise from the dead so that he can report eerily on what things are like in the underworld. Martinů makes it work, but again, probably not the best place to start with this story.

Word on the internet is that this isn’t the best of the three or four recordings available. Oh well. Here’s a quick sound sample for you.

November 3, 2006

Western Literature: Prologue

We were in our little room in Edinburgh, in August, and Beth was trying to take a nap but was having trouble falling asleep. I said, “I’ll read you the great books, that’ll help you fall asleep.” I went to Google, typed in “great books,” clicked on one of the top hits, and found myself at this weird, proud little site. “Okay, here we go,” I said, and launched into the first thing on the chronological list, The Code of Hammurabi. Now, the Code of Hammurabi is an odd choice for a list of “great books,” and I didn’t even make it through the opening invocation before Beth made me stop – it wasn’t helping anyone fall asleep – but still, I started thinking, “Why haven’t I ever actually read this before? I’ve heard about it for years, and all I had to do was go online and I could read it. Just like everything else on that list. I only have one life to either read these things or not read them. And look, I’m not doing anything else right now. We’re just sitting here. I really should be reading the great books.”

The peculiar list at that site, however, wouldn’t do. After not very much searching, I found myself at this satisfying page, which compiles several prominent lists of “The Great Books” or the like, and has indexed them to allow comparison. Obviously, I had to pick one of these lists. In the end, much though I hate Harold Bloom, I ended up choosing his “Western Canon” list, as copied out on this page. For one thing, it had more recent works and more ancient works than most of the other lists. For another thing, it simply had more works. Somehow, since actually completing any of these reading lists is of course absolutely impossible, this seemed to at least promise greater variety. Bloom also prefaces his list with: “Since the literary canon is at issue here, I include only those religious, philosophical, historical, and scientific writings that are themselves of great aesthetic interest,” which seemed reassuring.

The idea of starting from, say, Hammurabi’s Code and then reading forward through time was part of what had excited me, but after a moment’s thought I realized that this would kill the project – by measuring my progress, making me resent my infinite task rather than savor it. Plus it would just mean that for the forseeable future, I’d be reading ancient works only. No thanks. Still, the idea of starting at the beginning appealed to me. So the first work would be, according to Bloom’s list (and several others): Gilgamesh.

I copied the list from that webpage into a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet is 2535 rows long. There are not nearly this many works on the list – each author’s name appears on its own row prior to his/her works, and there are several headings and subheadings too. Not that it matters. The plan is this: after finishing each work, I go to and generate a random integer from 1 to 2535. If I land on a heading, I roll again. If I land on any work by an author with several works listed, I read the first unread work by that author – this it to prevent my reading minor or supplementary works prior to the more important ones, which generally seem to be listed first. Same goes if I land on the author’s name itself. Obviously, if I land on a work I’ve already read, I roll again. Though we’ll have to see what happens if I land on something I only read in high school and don’t really remember or feel that I understood. Probably I’ll just read it.

Bloom’s list forms an extended appendix to his book The Western Canon, and there is slightly more detail given there than on the web page where I found it. For one thing, he frequently names editions and translations. As I do not own and have no desire to buy Bloom’s book, I have been conferring with the Amazon “search inside this book” feature to get what I need in this respect.

So those are the rules. At this point, a couple busy months later, I’ve rolled three times. The process has been great. I’m not sure this is going to make me a well-read person, but it’s certainly intellectually rewarding. If the purpose of reading is to widen your range of experience, truly random great works are a pretty good way of ensuring that you choose independent of any prior inclination or bias. If the purpose of reading is entertainment, I’ve also been thoroughly entertained. So that’s win/win so far.

What I’m going to do when I hit things like “Complete Works,” which appears for several authors, is not so clear. We’ll cross that when we come to it.

This is all as prologue to my talking about the works I’ve read thus far. First up: Gilgamesh! Which I finished more than a month ago. But you’ll still have to gimme a day or two to throw something together. Or more maybe.