In the epic poem Gilgamesh, the main theme is Gilgamesh’s quest to defeat the demon that is in the back of every human’s mind at all times: death. His quest to defeat mankind’s penultimate battle proves futile in the end, yet could Gilgamesh be considered to be immortal in a different sense? Immortality can exist on two planes: both a physical and metaphorical world. Gilgamesh did fail is his quest to live tangibly forever, and therefore seeks everlasting life in an allegorical sense. If he could create something, an idea or an action that will be remembered forever, such as killing Humbaba, he too can live forever via this accomplishment. So, in a sense, Gilgamesh did actually succeed in his quest for eternal life.
Gilgamesh has everything he could possibly ask for: riches, fame, power, yet he still wants more. He wants to live forever. Since he is used to being instantaneously gratified of everything he wants, he expects the same to occur in his quest for eternal life. After the death of Enkidu, his desire to live forever grows even stronger. Having a sheltered, privileged life, the death of Gilgamesh’s closed friend, essentially his other half, was most likely his first experience with death, and it terrified him. In Book IX, he asks, “Must I die too? Must I be as lifeless as Enkidu? How can I bear this sorrow that gnaws at my belly, this fear of death that drives me onward?” This does indeed drive him onward and leads him straight to the gods.
Gilgamesh is not pleased with what the gods have to tell him, though. After his long journey and the retelling of his story, Shiduri tells him “You will never find the eternal life that you seek. When the gods created makind, they also created death, and they held back eternal life for themselves alone. Humans are born, the live, then they die, this is the order the gods have decreed.” Yet, instead of accepting his fate (which is the common fate of all mankind), he becomes enraged, demanding knowledge of how to...
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