By Tina Jordan
Updated March 02, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST

These days, the phrase ”near Mosul, Iraq” conjures many images — but few from The Epic of Gilgamesh, the 3,000-year-old Babylonian tale that probably influenced everything from the Bible to Homer’s Odyssey. Yet it was near Mosul that Gilgamesh was discovered, in the ruins of the library at Nineveh, more than a century and a half ago — although it took years before a British linguist could decipher the clay tablets’ intricate cuneiform writing. In crisp, undusty prose, literature prof David Damrosch excavates the entire adventure story in The Buried Book, from beginning to — well, not the end, perhaps to the middle. For as he shows, Gilgamesh has influenced everyone from Saddam Hussein to Philip Roth. A-