GILGAMESH THE KING by Robert Silverberg

GILGAMESH THE KING

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Drawing ""freely"" on both Mesopotamian history and the ancient Gilgamesh epic (see p. 672 for the most recent translation), science-fiction veteran Silverberg offers an earnest, fairly colorful, but rather plodding folkloric/picaresque narrative--with Gilgamesh himself telling his story of kingly triumphs, god/demon struggles, and existential angst. The saga begins with the ritual funeral (complete with human sacrifices) of Gilgamesh's father, king of Uruk (circa 2500 B.C.); while the hateful Dumuzi takes over as king, the young narrator goes to school, is disturbed by the ""monstrous"" ways of the gods, has precocious sexual initiations and a spiritual awakening (embodying the spirit of his dead god/father), and then flees to the neighboring state of Kish for four years--to escape Dumuzi's rivalrous wrath. (Both men love the latest high-priestess incarnation of super-goddess Inanna.) Then, after acquiring military savvy in Kish, Gilgamesh returns to claim his throne in Uruk--now that Dumuzi has died, perhaps the murder victim of goddess/mate Inanna. He performs offerings and sacrifices; he builds canals; he leads his people in triumphant battle; he has the ""night of the Sacred Marriage"" with irresistible/scary Inanna. But Gilgamesh's life doesn't seem full until he acquires a beloved soulmate--Endiku, ""my double, my second self, matching me stormy heart for stormy heart,"" whom he adores (platonically, we're assured) with ""a sudden love so deep that it swept upon me like the fullest torrents of springtime."" Together Gilgamesh and Endiku journey to the Land of Cedars, there to battle the demon Huwawa (who appears in smoke/flame form). Gilgamesh improves as a king, becoming less oppressive. The good times soon end, however, when jealous Inanna vainly tries to become Gilgamesh's earthly (not just priestly) wife--and then takes scorned-woman revenge. (""She meant to bring me down."") There's famine; Endiku, victim of the vengeful gods, falls ill and dies. Gilgamesh, overwhelmed by grief and fear-of-death, wanders in misery and madness--seeking eternal life. But finally, after receiving sage advice from assorted gurus, he returns with spiritual ease (""There is no death""), escapes murder, slays Inanna, and resumes worthy kingship. Too earthbound to provide enchantment, too flatly fable-like to deliver rich historical fiction: a somber, conscientious exercise--but less effective than such other recent recastings of folklore as Steven Goldsberry's Maui the Demigod (p. 244).

Pub Date: Nov. 8th, 1984
ISBN: 1596874139
Publisher: Arbor House