One of the greatest stories of friendship and loss (in fact the world’s oldest story, period) has just been translated for children: Gilgamesh the Hero written by Carnegie Medal-winning Geraldine McCaughrean, illustrated by David Parkins (Eerdmans, 95 pp., $18, ages 9 and up). Gilgamesh is a millennium and a half older than the Iliad, and tells the story of the Sumerian King of Uruk (who lived circa 3000 BC in what is now Iraq) as he comes to terms with the hard fact of mortality. It is an affecting, vivid, and multilayered story. At its center is the friendship between a king who drives his people hard to build a city of timber and a savage man named Enkidu who lives with animals until civilized by a city harlot. Archetypally inclined readers see this as the story of culture and nature in tension and in league. Gilgamesh and Enkidu fight each other and then in turn slay the Guardian of the Forest and the Bull of Heaven. These outrages to the gods cannot go unpunished. Enkidu dies and Gilgamesh mourns, with all the intensity and consequence of Achilles, Electra, and other tragic figures. Gilgamesh goes to the edge of the known world to meet a man granted immortality by the gods, seeking the same for himself. That man, Utnapishtim, tells him the story of the flood, which children will be interested to learn morphed over time into the Bible’s Noah story. And he gives Gilgamesh a chance at immortality that Utnapishtim,...
To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.
About the Author
Daria Donnelly (1959-2004) was an associate editor of Commonweal from 2000 to 2004. In 2002, after having been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow, she became associate editor (at large) and co-editor of the poetry section.