Ancient Epic Poetry: Homer, Apollonius, Virgil: With a Chapter on the Gilgamesh Poems

By Charles Rowan Beye | Go to book overview

8
Gilgamesh

For centuries the beginnings of the literary history of the West were defined by the Hebrew Bible—what most people call the Old Testament— and Homer's epic poems, the Iliad and Odyssey. These texts were once naively imagined to have come about in splendid isolation either as a miracle of divine creation or the spontaneous combustion of the "Greek genius." The mighty stream of words down over the millennia to our own time are so many generations of offspring still somehow beholden to their initial begetters. Thus do we construe Western Literature.

In the middle of the nineteenth century, however, extraordinary discoveries profoundly altered this literary genealogy. The British Museum had mounted archeological excavations in what is present-day Iraq, and in 1850 and 1853 the first great collection of cuneiform tablets from the royal libraries of Nineveh came to light. Decades of decipherment ensued when, in 1872, the Englishman George Smith made a remarkable discovery while working through the tablets in the Museum; he found a well preserved full account of the Deluge story that paralleled remarkably closely the trials of Noah as presented in the Book of Genesis. Following this assault upon the once unique Hebrew biblical narrative came the discovery of certain tablets that told the story of an ancient king whose adventures, concerns, and life story bore uncanny resemblances to so many themes and details in the narratives of the

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Ancient Epic Poetry: Homer, Apollonius, Virgil: With a Chapter on the Gilgamesh Poems
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Contents v
  • Preface to the Second Edition vii
  • 1: Oral Poetry 1
  • 2: The Poet's World 43
  • 3: Poetic Technique 74
  • 4: The Iliad 113
  • 5: The Odyssey 144
  • 6: The Argonautica 187
  • 7: The Aeneid 219
  • Further Reading 257
  • 8: Gilgamesh 279
  • Further Reading Revisited 303
  • Index 311
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