I read Herbert Mason’s 1970 free verse version of the ancient Babylonian epic Gilgamesh last year as part of the Lost Book Club. It’s one of my favorites from the Lost project, so I decided to read a different version this summer. (Here’s the link to my post on Mason’s version).
I chose David Ferry’s 1992 version, written in unrhymed couplets in iambic pentameter. The basic story is, of course the same, but where Mason’s feels personal and cuts close to the heart, Ferry’s feels a bit more scholarly. Fine if you’re studying the poem, but not as moving.
Other than the poetic form, the biggest difference lies in what motivates Gilgamesh to go on his great quest. In Mason’s version he is motivated by the pain of losing his friend Enkidu, and he wants the secret of immortality in order to bring Enkidu back to life.
In Ferry’s version, Gilgamesh seems more motivated by fear of his own mortality and his wish to extend his own life.
Interestingly, this version seems more in line with issues on Lost, particularly since we’ve learned that the island appears to grant exceptionaly long life or slower aging or possibly immortality.
Gilgamesh was referenced in Season 2 as a clue in a crossword that John Locke was working on prior to meeting Mr Eko. Now that we have the perspective of Season 3 and Eko’s death (killed for angering the “gods” much like Enkidu), things seem a bit clearer as Locke is on a quest to know the island’s secrets including the one about longevity, though he doesn’t know that yet. I’m guessing Locke’s motivation isn’t as selfless as Mason’s Gilgamesh, though.
I’ll probably have to read another Gilgamesh or two to see which of these versions hews closer to convention. Maybe this will be an annual event.