The Role Of Death In The Epic Of Gilgamesh

Poems take many forms, one being Epic poetry. Epic poems are some of the oldest poems in human history. Despite their highly elevated language, epic poems are widely read by individuals to this day. Originating from the oral-storytelling tradition of pre-literature, these poems tell us stories of unrealistic humans who embark on a heroic journey to achieve a greater title in their society. In most cases the hero, dwelling with internal human problems, often performs a course of action that has many difficult deeds. Epics will often include abnormal or divine aspects such as supernatural powers. Like the oldest and most important epic to ever be discover, Gilgamesh. A Mesopotamian tale written in the 18th century. Though these poems are largely popular their origins and true forms will forever be lost in time. It was not until humans invented writing that these poems were finally inscribed, but even then their forms were still impacted by multiple things such as translation and religion. Even though, we will never truly know an epic’s true origins, their great popularity subsequently gave the characters what they strived for the most, immortality.

Death is an unavoidable destination that every, prestigious or minor, human will eventually encounter. Despite being our ultimate destiny many people fear death. Gilgamesh’s fear of death, marked by Enkidu’s, his brother, death enacted him to fear his own mortality. Originally introduced as “strong” Gilgamesh is unable to accept the inevitability of death forcing him to foolishly embark on a journey of a lifetime with the intent to achieve everlasting life. In the pursuit of immortality he encounters various Gods that try to persuade him that his journey is foolish and that “When the gods created man they allotted him to death. ” The Epic of Gilgamesh endured time and its popularity – originating from the valuable life answers to conflicts that many humans have encountered throughout their lifetime – has molded it into one of the most important epics to ever be discovered. His irrational fear of death led him to undertake a journey that “No man born out of a woman” has ever attempted. Had he never feared death, his journey would have fallen short making his life unknown.

Gilgamesh, two-thirds god, was notorious amongst all villagers. His inhuman strength made him an undefeatable challenger to an ordinary human. Gilgamesh’s abuse of power left the villagers crying to higher forces, praying that one day things would change. When the “gods heard their lament,” Aruru, goddess of creation, was asked to create an equal for Gilgamesh. With the intent of helping Uruk, Aruru “dipped her hands in water and pinched off clay” creating an untamed beast, named Enkidu. Tall, beautiful, and strong, Enkidu, unfamiliar with mankind, “Lurked with the wild beasts,” until a group of beautiful women tamed the wild beast in him.

Enkidu’s arrival to Uruk was communicated to Gilgamesh through a dream sent from heaven. When Gilgamesh discloses the dreams to his mother she tells him that “The dreams mean they will love one another”. When Gilgamesh and Enkidu first encountered each other they did not have a favorable opinion on one another. Intimidated by each other, they both competed to show which one of them is truly the strongest by “Holding each other like bulls”. However, their feud ended one Gilgamesh overpowered Enkidu. Immediately after realizing Gilgamesh’s true potential, Enkidu said, “There is not another like you in the world. . . your strength surpasses the strength of men”. Despite not liking each other at first both men made up and “embraced and their friendship was sealed”.

As Gilgamesh and Enkidu’s relationship began to flourish, both men began to tackle multiple dangerous obstacles that threatened their village, the first being the assassination of the guardian of the Cedar forest, Humbaba. When the two courageous men first encounter Humbaba they are deeply disgusted with his unnatural physic. His unattractiveness and superior size left the men shocked. When Gilgamesh realised that he was far inferior to Humbaba he ran in attempts to escape the fight. Enkidu, desperate to calm Gilgamesh down, ran behind him. When Enkidu caught up to Gilgamesh, he reassured him by telling him that their weapons were far superior, ultimately calming Gilgamesh down. After calming Gilgamesh down the two brave men ran back to where Humbaba rested to finish what they had started. In the heart of the fight Shamash, god of the sun, in response to Gilgamesh’s prayers let out 13 powerful winds. The first 8 winds “Rose up against Humbaba” making it easier for Gilgamesh and Enkidu to attack the monster. Gilgamesh contemplates about having pity on the monster when Humbaba reveals that he is a servant to Enlil, god of the Earth. However, his pity is cut short when enkidu sugest that they kill the monster before Enlil find out. When the two men successfully killed the mighty Cedar Forest guardian, Humbaba, they return home and their relationship began to grow.

Gilgamesh, known of his superior strength and beauty, attracted the attention of everyone he encountered. When Ishtar “lifted her eyes” she noticed how beautiful Gilgamesh was and how much she desired him. Ishtar asks Gilgamesh to be her “bridegroom,” but Gilgamesh declined because of her reputation with men. Ishtar, angered by Gilgamesh’s choice, asks her father, Anu, to give her the bull of heaven to destroy Uruk. When Anu finally gives in to his daughters wishes he unleashes the bull of heaven to destroy Uruk. However, Gilgamesh and Enkidu wrestle the bull and killed it. Angered by their actions the gods assemble and decide that one of the two men should die. Enkidu, chosen by the gods, suffers a devastating death that leaves Gilgamesh heart broken.

After Enkidu's death, Gilgamesh, who refuses to stop grieving for his brother's death, was impacted by the sudden realization that he too is a mortal and he too will eventually die. Like every other culture Mesopotamian civilians were troubled by death. This may seem like a quite peculiar thing however, millions of individuals have feared death throughout time. In fact necrophobia, the fear of death, is the second most common fear in the U. S. (at 68%) beating arachnophobia by more than 30%. Despite being the most natural thing, death is also one of the most feared things on Earth. Millions if not Billions of individuals have watched their life slowly disappear because of their irrational yet justifiable fear of death. When Gilgamesh realised that his life was slowly fading away he became determined to achieve everlasting life.

Several days later after when Gilgamesh finally decided to bury his brother, he embarked on a life long journey with the hopes of achieving Immortality. When Gilgamesh encountered the first god, Siduri, he frankly said, “I am afraid of death”. Attempting to shine some wisdom upon Gilgamesh Siduri wisely said, “ You will never find that life for which you are looking. When the gods created man they allotted to him death”. However, he was not content with her wise words, his fear of death was far superior and eventually made him foolish and blind. Gilgamesh continued his journey in search of immortality. Too occupied by his journey to see his aging, Gilgamesh foolishly ignored multiple immortals advice on immortality. When Utnapishtim found out about Gilgamesh’s journey, he offered “to assemble the gods” for his sake, so that he “may find that life for which” he is searching, only if he could pass a simple test. Blinded by his greediness, Gilgamesh accepted and largely failed. When Gilgamesh finally saw that he was not destined for immortality his life had gone by and he had reached his final stage of life. Death has impacted billions of individuals throughout history. Despite being natural it is still one of the most feared things on Earth. Gilgamesh, unable to accept the fact that he too will be consumed by death, embarked on a life long journey that ultimately took his life, though the journey did not kill him, it did take all his valuable time. The fact that Gilgamesh embarked on a journey that no human has ever attempted, simply out of the fear of death, showed us the true magnitude of leverage that death can have on an individual. Death was the ultimate factor that pushed Gilgamesh to insanity and made him crave the unreachable that is immortality.

10 October 2020
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