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Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East

Recent research on Gilgamesh

A new edition of the Babylonian epic

Successive scholarly editions of the cuneiform text of the Babylonian Gilgamesh epic were published in 1891 and 1930, but many more tablets came to light later in the twentieth century and a comprehensive revision soon became overdue.

In 1985 Andrew George, now Professor of Babylonian at SOAS, began work on just such a project, a new academic edition of the Gilgamesh poems from the original Akkadian. His first-hand study of cuneiform tablets in museums all over the world was completed in 2001. The results were published two years later as the Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic: Introduction, Critical Edition and Cuneiform Texts (2 vols., Oxford University Press). This definitive book includes the fullest rendering of the Babylonian epic possible to date, along with extensive introductory chapters and commentary, and a facsimile of every cuneiform source.

George's long labour also generated an authoritative new translation for the general reader, published by Penguin Books in March 1999 and now a Penguin Classic. Alongside a translation of the Babylonian epic and its fragments, this prize-winning book includes, for the first time in one place in English, the text of all the Sumerian poems about Gilgamesh. Further details are available from Amazon.co.uk.

The dramatic appeal of the wonderful and majestic poem that is the Epic of Gilgamesh has already encouraged several adaptations into plays and operas. Andrew George has also turned his translations into a dramatic text, which was staged for the first time on 23 May 1999 in the Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre at SOAS. Timothy West and Prunella Scales led a distinguished cast of readers.

As a visual counterpart to the reading SOAS arranged for the loan from the British Museum of several of the most important tablets of the epic. These were the centrepiece of a small exhibition that was situated in the lobby of the Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre from Sunday 23 May to Thursday 27 May 1999.

The reading was repeated on 6 July 2003 on the eve of the 49e Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, which met during the following week at the British Museum and SOAS under the auspices of the London Centre for the Ancient Near East.