The Desire for Immortality in the Epic of Gilgamesh

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The idea of escaping human tribulations can be found in multiple cultures as a desirable element of the soul's life after death and in the poem “Epic of Gilgamesh,” we learn of the human need to understand this through immortality. The poem is written about the warrior king of Uruk Gilgamesh, a man who is half-god and human. Under his reign, the people in the village became afraid for their children's life, purity, and community prosperity.

For instance, he began to take the boys as warriors before they were ready and stole all the daughter's virginity no matter their social status. In fact, he is oppressing the people's will and being a sexual deviant, causing the city too long for his death. I feel the theme of life and death is a reference to the hardships of life and longing for a more pleasurable afterlife. One free of human pain, love and fear. They want light and order in their society and Gilgamesh represents the strong dark nature of mankind.

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Again, the village people are not comfortable with his show of strength and so they ask the gods to create another named Enkidu. However, the two creations of the gods became friends showing the significance of Gilgamesh's desire to be needed and human. The theme of the poem is mortality and search for the meaning of existence in an afterlife. This leads to the philosophical question of what is death and life. For instance, to choose to live forever through deals and bartering made Gilgamesh an insensitive human outside his own desires. I feel the concept of dying means you are held to these lifes deeds. Death, in other words, makes us responsible for our actions, which is something Gilgamesh lacks.

Later in the story, we see a vulnerable humanistic side of Gilgamesh when he is traveling in the garden of the gods to seek out immortality. While trying to avoid death Gilgamesh searches out Utnapishtim a human being who the gods gave immortality. He comes across Siduri a tavern owner who says he is too dirty to enter and look tired from his long journey. I feel this is a metaphor for the journey of life which is long and arduous. The idea is we are all tired from life and seek relief with immortality. Furthermore, Gilgamesh doesn't want to die showing his human free will is stronger than the powers of a god. Siduri says, “...all humans must die” implying the natural state of life is to end. (gilgameshp17)

Furthermore when he finds Urshanabi Gilgamesh has to dig holes to cross the “Waters of Death” but when he runs out of poles to cross he uses the sail cloak. Ibid It is clear that humans find death to be something you fight and survival is the promise of the afterlife. For instance, Gilgamesh says to Shamash, ‘Now that I have toiled and strayed so far over the wilderness, am I to sleep, and let the earth cover my head forever? (Gilgamesh p 17) This infers the human spirit is created to survive great pain and the idea of immortality is a way to save oneself from the pain of loss and human needs.

Also, the thought of immortality is present is Gilgameshes' head after his friend died I believe he is afraid of being only half a god and vulnerable to dying. This sparks the idea of immortality in order to escape the same fate as Enkidu. The possibility of immortality is presented by Enkidu who interprets Gilgamesh's dreams from Enlil the father of the gods. He says, “The meaning of the dream is this. The father of the gods has given you kingship, such is your destiny, everlasting life is not your destiny…” (Gilgamesh,p2) This did not detour Gilgamesh after the death of his friend he went to find an immortal relative named Utanapishtim.

Again, the desirability of immortality comes from the pain of missing a loved one. Once Gilgamesh reaches Mount Mashu he faces the scorpions who say it is impossible for a human to journey to his relative. For instance, the desire to be immortal comes to form the need to overcome man's weakness of death. He says of his relationship with Enkidu, “For Enkidu; I loved him dearly,...I have wept for him day and night, I would not give up his body for burial, I thought my friend would come back because of my weeping. Since he went, my life is nothing.” (Gilgamesh,p16) I feel he is looking to avoid being a human being and therefore longs to be more godlike through immortality.

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