Theodore Ziolkowski's Gilgamesh Among Us: Modern Encounters with the Ancient Epic is a meticulous accounting of the various incarnations of the Gilgamesh epic, from the “rediscovery” of the Mesopotamian clay tablets in 1872 to the present day.

The introductory chapter recaps the “discovery” of pieces of the ancient text in a “dark room” of the British Museum by George Smith, which coincidentally closely follows the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species in 1859. The assembly of the clay tablet fragments and the translations of the cuneiform text, the first of which were in German and English, often had to address the controversial issue of the biblical antecedent that the epic establishes in the story of Utnapishtim, which predates the Genesis account of the flood by one thousand years. Thus the birth of the Western fascination with Gilgamesh is fraught with uncertainty and scholarly disagreement.

The time line in...

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