Emory Report
February 6, 2006
Volume 58, Number 18


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February 6, 2006
Stephen Mitchell to bring Gilgamesh alive at symposium

BY Robyn Mohr

Best-selling author Stephen Mitchell will be the featured speaker at Emory’s Symposium on Religion and Literature, to be held Feb. 15. Mitchell, a renowned poet, translator and interpreter of [the world’s] great religious texts, will deliver the keynote address at a noon luncheon in Cox Hall Ballroom, focusing on his new translated version of Gilgamesh and its relation to Genesis.

Mitchell will also speak at a 7:30 p.m. interfaith service in Cannon Chapel. The topic of the evening will be “Enduring the Voice of Spirit,” and Mitchell will share insights gained through his scholarly work. The program also will include music by the Meridian Chorale, led by Steven Darsey, a former faculty member of the Candler School of Theology.

The Meridian Herald, of which Darsey is also president, along with Emory’s Walter Candler Lectureship is sponsoring the Symposium on Religion and Literature. This event will be the seventh in an annual series of symposia on religion in the academy.

“We chose Steven Mitchell because his work spans many traditions,” said Vice President and Deputy to the President Gary Hauk, a member of Meridian Herald’s board. “His translations are vivid, and his introductions to his various works provide rich and provocative insights into the call of the human spirit by something greater than itself.” Hauk, who also has an academic background in religion, agreed to sponsor the program at Emory.

The epic tale of Gilgamesh chronicles the adventures of literature’s first hero, the King of Uruk, in ancient Sumeria (present-day Iraq). Uruk, said to be two-thirds god and one-third man, was blessed with beauty, strength and wisdom.

Mitchell, known for his talent in making ancient masterpieces remarkably new through translation, is being praised for his version of Gilgamesh. The story dates back to early 1700 BCE—almost a thousand years before The Iliad—making it the oldest written human narrative in existence. The 12 clay tablets on which the story was inscribed were lost for nearly two millennia.

In 1853, the tablets were discovered in present-day Mosul, once the great city of Nineveh. The story is believed to have been recorded by someone named Shin-eqi-unninni, making him the oldest known human author. Written in cuneiform script, Gilgamesh was not fully deciphered until the latter part of the 19th century. The original translator chose to exclude the contents of the 12th tablet, which allegedly read as more of a sequel to the first 11.

Mitchell’s translation of Gilgamesh was published in 2004 and is due out in paperback this month. Critics and artists, including biblical scholar Elaine Pagels, literary critic Harold Bloom and this year’s Nobel Prize winner, Harold Pinter, have hailed Mitchell’s new version. Mitchell’s other best-selling titles include: The Gospel According to Jesus, Tao Te Ching, The Bhagavad Gita, Genesis and The Selected Poetry of Rainer and Maria Rilke.

Mitchell’s two events at Emory are open to the public. Admission is free, but reservations are required for the luncheon in the Cox Hall Ballroom. Afterwards, the author will be available for a book signing. For more information please call 404-727-5253 or e-mail jgrimm@emory.edu.