Review: Myths from Mesopotamia tr. by Stephanie Dalley

Contained in this book are more than mere “myths from Mesopotamia,” quaint, superstitious tales about gods no longer believed in doing things we all know are impossible. On the contrary, what this book contains is a mass of insight into the human experience, an experience whose details have changed significantly in the past 4000 years but in which we nonetheless share with our ancestors of any age. Long before books of academic philosophy, there was storytelling. The telling stories was (and is) how humans understood their place in the universe and shared their insights into that experience with others.

In this book are stories that deal with the same subjects still relevant to each human life today, subjects like justice, friendship, truth, virtue, and the inevitability of death. Gilgamesh struggles with his own instincts, sorrows at the loss of a friend, and comes to terms with his own mortality. The Enuma Elish (Epic of Creation) explores themes of the meaning, value, and purpose of human life, the tension between the creative impulse and the toil and drudgery of labor. Each story presents us with another perspective, another insight into what it means to be a human being.

These stories are not relics of remote antiquity. Though some of the particulars may be foreign, the substance is alive to all of us.

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