Heroics on an epic scale;Children's books

22nd January 1999 at 00:00
Ludmila Zeman's glorious recreation of the Gilgamesh epic fires the imagination. Gilgamesh the King, The Revenge of Ishtar and The Last Quest of Gilgamesh have been re-issued by Tundra Books (pound;5.99 each, distributed by Ragged Bears). The Gilgamesh story, inscribed on clay tablets some 5,000 years ago in Mesopotamia, is one of the oldest in the world and formed the foundation of epic tales from later civilisations.

Zeman has produced powerful, atmospheric illustrations, full of narrative detail and apocalyptic in their use of light, which imaginatively extend the story's drama.

The 19th-century French artist Gustave Dore was inspired by Gilgamesh for his illustrations of Dante's Divine Comedy, and Zeman has - in turn - taken from Dore to illustrate Gilgamesh. This composition is masterfully woven together, however, with decoration and imagery which refers directly to Assyrian friezes. It is a series of retellings that is well worth having.

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