The Epic of Gilgamesh is some of the oldest literature we have access to, so you’d be forgiven for imagining it must have had a huge influence on subsequent mythology. The truth is, it was only rediscovered relatively recently, via archaeology, decipherment and a fair amount of politics. And of course, money. David Damrosch’s book discusses both the epic itself, its themes and context, and the archaeological and political process of bringing it back to light.
Despite the fact that it’s talking about archaeology, political manoeuvring and the long process of decipherment, The Buried Book manages to be entertaining and even gripping. I was certainly hooked, anyway. Damrosch does a great job of making it accessible and interesting, and pulling out facts that are both pertinent and interesting. You’ll learn a fair amount about Mesopotamia from this, not a little about British archaeology and the process of deciphering an ancient language, some interesting titbits about various personalities you’d never heard of before… and of course, about the epic itself — which is well worth reading.
In fact, if you’re thinking about reading The Epic of Gilgamesh, I’d recommend reading something like this first. Get some context on where it came from, where its been, and how people are still using and relating to the story told now. Then grab a translation and settle in.