This is a reprint of the 1993 edition of Ancient Epic Poetry published by Cornell University Press.
My publishers, Bolchazy-Carducci, have given me the opportunity to add a chapter on the Sumerian-Akkadian story known most commonly as "The Epic of Gilgamesh." The logistics of reprinting have dictated that it be placed at the end after the other chapters. This seems to violate the chronological arrangement of the discussion of the other four epic poems, since the Gilgamesh story dates to the third millenium B.C.E. and the surviving texts of the story to the second. Readers, therefore, may wish to start with the Gilgamesh chapter. But its isolation makes sense from another perspective; it has not yet been assimilated into a history of western literature. While its obvious similarities to the Iliad and Odysseymake a connection of influence and continuity seem likely, even if not provable, its brevity (3,000 lines to the Iliad's 16,000), its minimalist style, in contrast to the Homeric elaboration of character, among other things, inhibit the critic. Ten years ago I brought it into my discussion of Homeric epic ever so briefly (see pp. 34–36). More recently when I wrote the fictional Odysseus: a Life (Hyperion 2004), I used an idea I had once heard from Albert Bates Lord as speculation, namely that details of the stories Odysseus tells the Phaiacians which curiously parallel bits of the Gilgamesh story (cf. p. 36) were the narrator's way of emphasizing