The Library Project


The Rotunda of the British Museum

by cheri sabraw

Today, many of us  still maintain and adore our libraries full of  hard-bound and paperback books,  testaments to classes we have taken,  reminders of our deep and abiding interests and loves, literary tickets to those unspoken desires or journeys we have imagined.


One hundred years from now, our  libraries may  become historical curiosities– old friends that have disappeared into the annals of time, like my hot hair rollers, tiny 1963 transistor radio,  45 rpm record of Leslie Gore’s It’s My Party , or the red rotary telephone that hung like a piece of modern art on the floral wallpaper that decorated our kitchen in 1960.


I have a virtual library on my iPad, with all of my purchased books–histories, mysteries–congeries of my deepest interests and a few wild stories that no one knows I am reading.

Take heart. We are not the only people in history whose physical libraries  have changed.


King Ashurbanipal (as viewed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Last month, while visiting the British Museum, I came upon this installation, right after seeing the Rosetta Stone, Were you to have visited King Ashurbanipal’s library in ancient Nineveh (Upper Mesopotamia, today’s Iraq) in about 640 BCE, this is what you would have seen.


The Library Project (as seen in the British Museum, June, 2016)

In his library was one of the complete sets of the Epic of Gilgamesh, twelve tablets written in approximately 1800 BCE and considered by many to be the first important work of literature.


Part of the Epic of Gilgamesh (as seen in the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

I read the Epic of Gilgamesh as part of my Master’s curricula in 2009 and summarized, on this blog,  just part the strangely modern story. If you are interested in reading all of it, I recommend this translation.


“The story that is now playing in my imagination was first written sometime between 1800-1600 BCE. That’s about 3800 years ago.

That it showcases a handsome king, that this king misdirects his passions, that he suffers a deep emotional crisis which sends him on an archetypal journey in search of immortality, that he returns to his city a wise but lonely character— reinforces our humanness.

The king’s name is Gilgamesh. He was a real person who lived during the Early Dynastic II period (2700-2100 BCE) in the city of Uruk in Sumer, the earliest known civilization in human history.

The Epic of Gilgamesh is an old poem written on clay tablets in cuneiform a long time ago— before the Hebrew Bible, before the New Testament, before the Bhagavad Gita, before the Buddhist scriptures, and before Homer’s The Odyssey.

Archeologists found the twelve-tablet story in the Library of King Ashurbanipal (668-627 BCE)

First translated into English in 1885, the Epic was written in the Mesopotamian language of Akkadian, one of the languages spoken in Ancient Babylonia, now present day Iraq.

The King Gilgamesh in the poem is a mythological one, 2/3 god and 1/3 human.

As with most who enter or are born into public service or royalty (think the Windsors, the Roosevelts ), Gilgamesh has, in modern parlance, issues.

He suffers from what many of today’s teenagers and 20-somethings expect: instant gratification. But hey, he’s a studly king, admired by Ishtar, the Love and War Goddess. He erects monuments, participates in contests of strength, and regularly sleeps with virgins the night before their weddings.

He has it all. All except friendship and perspective.

Instead of inflicting him with a venereal disease or a vulnerable spot that is his undoing, as with the Greek Achilles or the biblical Samson, the Mesopotamian Gods put their heads together and with a big Marine oorah,  and came up with what might be one of the most creative solutions in all of literature: they create a complement to Gilgamesh, the Wild Man of Mesopotamia, Enkidu.

Enkidu is Rousseau’s man: a natural guy, comfortable running with gazelle and resting by cool watering holes. All eight pistons are operational but his brain power is simple and functional. How to bring a guy like this to the palace for a visit?

In the forest one day, Enkidu startles a trapper, who then returns home to ask his father what to do about this hairy beast who is 2/3 animal and 1/3 man, a hybrid that has been setting the animals free from the traps.

The trapper’s father suggests that his son travel to Uruk where  King Gilgamesh, the strong and virile, lives. Perhaps the King might have a solution.”


If you want to know what happens, you will have to read the story. Its modern implications are many.

My Library Project.

Is  to organize my library alphabetically, by author. I think I’ll start this winter, when the skies turn grey, the days shorten, and when my natural inclination to ponder serious topics occurs.

This morning, I organized the library on my iPad by pressing a button.

King Ashurbanipal? His library is being organized by young scholars (and old) at the British Museum.






About Cheri

Writer, artist, cable television host, grandmother to four!
This entry was posted in Education, Life, On fiction, Writing and Teaching and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to The Library Project

  1. Brighid says:

    Hopefully there are many who have personal libraries that will remain. And I am heartened by the current popularity of Little Free Libraries springing up across the country. Why there are even some here in the back of beyond.
    What an interesting tale. I must reread Gilgamesh.

    • Brighid says:

      The link to the translation you recommend does not appear to be working…

    • Cheri says:

      It is an interesting story, especially when you consider when it was written. Perhaps the most intriguing part of the story is that there is a flood story, exactly like the Noah flood story. It was clear to me that the Hebrew scribes in recording the Hebrew Bible in around 400 BCE, took that flood story and included in the Five Books of Moses.

  2. I still check out books, virtually ,so I feel still connected.

  3. Richard says:

    It is this sort of essay of yours that has so stimulated my curiosity over recent years with your deep knowledge and insights, serving my education and expanding my mind. You drop these gems in so modestly and casually, too, as easily readable blogposts.

    Thank you. You are in full flower.

  4. shoreacres says:

    I was a Junior Librarian at one point. I think I was in 7th and 8th grades. I got to go to the Big Library and do Important Things, like replacing pockets and re-inking stamps, and learning the Dewey Decimal Code and reshelving books. It was the most fun, and it left me with what has turned out to be a lifelong contempt for people who organize their books by color, or who go to a shop and say, “I need six feet of books, in leather bindings.”

    On the other hand, it left me with a passionate love of books as objects. You do not write in the margins of a book (although of course I do). You do not leave a book face-down. You do not break the spine of a book. You do not dog-ear pages. You certainly do not eat chocolate chip cookies while reading, and leave chocolately fingerprints on the book.

    Now, I’m wondering: what rules did King Ashurbanipal have for his library? I suppose the chocolate chip cookies weren’t around, but surely there were some parallels…

  5. Cheri says:

    You and I have something in common. I, too, helped in the library of my schools. When I opened my own school, The Mill Creek Academy, imagine my expertise in putting pockets inside each cover. I did have to write on all of my books (as I had purchased them with my hard-earned money). How to do this? Well, the year they were bought and the number of each book. For example, 98-01, 98-02…I wondered if I would be out of business by the time the new millennia arrived, 00-01, 00-02, but lo and behold, when I sold the business we were up to 12-01, 12-02.

    I want to read a new book and have a hard time with used books that have others’ marks in them. Just a little idiosyncrasy.

    Knowing the King, I’m sure he had many rules regarding his libraryand rule-breakers may have lost their hands, if not their minds.

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