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Search for Immortality in the Epic of Gilgamesh

The Search for Immortality

In The Epic of Gilgamesh the main character, Gilgamesh, is searching for immortality. This want is brought about by deep feelings held by Gilgamesh for his dead friend Enkidu. From this, Gilgamesh finds himself being scared of dying. This fear pushes Gilgamesh to search for the power of immortal life, which is believed to be held only by women because of the fact that they can reproduce. This takes him on a long and tiresome journey to a land where no mortal has gone before. The search by Gligamesh is fueled by the desire to play a part in reproduction. His journey begins at Mount Mashu, the mountain which describes a woman in the part that her “paps reach down to the underworld.” Referring to two women’s breast’s hanging down. Before he may enter the mountain, he meets two half female, half dragon figures guarding the entrance. They begin asking why he has come; “No man/ born of woman has done what you have/ asked, no mortal man has ever gone into the/ mountain.” This mountain is off limits to mortal beings, he should not be there Gilgamesh is alloud in and goes through twelve leagues of darkness before he reaches the golden garden of the goddesses.

Upon arriving there he is greeted by Shamash, the Sun God, who tells him, “You will never find the/ life for which you are searching.” This upsets Gilgamesh because he has traveled so far to now just “sleep and let the earth cover my head forever?” From leaving Shamash, Gilgamesh is sent to see Siduri. “Beside the sea she lives, the woman of/ the vine, the maker of wine…” and she does not want to allow Gilgamesh pass. Gilgamesh pleads with her that since he has seen her do not let him see death. She answers, “Gilgamesh, where/ are you hurrying to? You will never find that life for which you are looking.” Once again Gilgamesh hears that what he is looking for does not exist. She tells him to enjoy life to its fullest because that is what a man is there for. That does not satisfy Gilgamesh and he wishes to know where to find Utnapishtim, the only man with eternal life. To find him, Gilgamesh must locate Urshanabi, the ferry woman. She then proceeds to take him over the Ocean and over the waters of death.

Free Epic of Gilgamesh Essays: Underlying Meaning

The Epic of Gilgamesh: Underlying Meaning

Last time, we introduced the ancient mythical tale, The Epic of Gilgamesh. You read a brief account of the tale and learned a little of its origins and discovery. Now we are going to get into the tale itself and have a deeper look in an effort to decode some of its hidden or underlying meaning. We will explore the notion of “The Double” and the quest for immortality in our search for the meaning of life.

We remember from the epic tale that Enkidu, the wildman, was Gilgamesh’s beloved friend. So what can Enkidu’s injection into the story reveal to us then? Let’s look more closely at this figure.

Enkidu is an innocent savage, a wildman, content to live among the beasts. After an encounter with a trapper he undergoes a kind of culture shock and is tamed by a harlot or sacred prostitute. Here, sex is sacred; it is a civilizing force that separates humans from Nature for the animals now reject Enkidu.

Paired with Gilgamesh, the two figures represent the Double. Enkidu embodies the instincts while Gilgamesh represents the intellect. Both of these aspects make up humankind. Through his friendship with Enkidu, Gilgamesh learns much about what it is to be human. He learns love and compassion, as well as death and loss as Enkidu dies. But Enkidu rages against his death! It is human instinct to fight death, to fight to live! Enkidu is soon appeased though by the sun god Shamash who gives death meaning in remembrance of those who have passed on, of Enkidu who will pass on. So we find in this story a meaning for death – meaning in being remembered.

Gilgamesh, however, is not so easily appeased in Enkidu’s death. He grieves heavily over the loss of his dear friend and vows to find the key to everlasting life. So he sets out on his journey, his journey through the underworld, through the otherworld. Is Gilgamesh now just intellectual man without instinct, without Enkidu?

Death, loss, mortality are too much for Gilgamesh to bear. Why toil on earth to end up in a terrible afterlife? Gilgamesh will have none of it. He seeks to become immortal like the gods, after all, he himself is 2/3 god.

He does find answers to the questions of life and death on his journey.

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