Translating Epic from an Unfamiliar Language: Gilgamesh Retold

Lewis, Jenny. 2021. Translating Epic from an Unfamiliar Language: Gilgamesh Retold. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This submission seeks to address my own relationship to translating epic from an unfamiliar language (‘creative’ translation) and to present an up-to-date assessment of the place of ‘creative’ translation’ in twenty-first-century literary discourse. As I am unable to decipher cuneiform, I based my creative submission, Gilgamesh Retold, mainly on the scholarly translation by Assyriologist Andrew George (The Epic ofGilgamesh, 2003) and describe it as ‘a response’ to the ancient epic. My view was that any retelling of Gilgamesh should primarily honour its original purpose as a story and have widespread public appeal. It was the momentum of the story combined with the vitality and freshness of the storytelling (prosody) that were my main concerns. My engagement with Arabic, another script fundamentally different from our own Roman alphabet, came about through my work with the exiled Iraqi poet Adnan Al-Sayegh, working from word-for-word translations in Arabic. In this case, my approach followed Ezra Pound’s advice to stay true to the poet’s ‘meaning’ through using plain language and translucent imagery. My first chapter addresses the evolution and continuing impact of the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh and includes close readings and comparisons of Andrew George’s translation with ‘creative’ versions by David Ferry and Edwin Morgan. My second chapter compares Homer’s Iliad with ‘creative’ versions by George Chapman, Alexander Pope, and Christopher Logue (who dismissed‘scholarly’ translations as ‘unpoetic’). My third chapter explores how both these approaches have fed into my own practice as a poet and translator, and gives a detailed analysis of my retelling of Gilgamesh.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


'Creative translation', translation, epic, Gilgamesh Retold, Uruk's Anthem, Al-Sayegh

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature


30 June 2021

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

16 Aug 2021 14:21

Last Modified:

07 Sep 2022 17:19


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