The epic of Gilgamesh is one of the earliest works of literature written around 2000 BCE in Mesopotamia. The story is of Gilgamesh the king of Uruk who reined around 2700 BCE and was a historical figure. His rival who turned friend Enkidu, the gods and men, met in their pilgrimage.
The epic recounts the travels of Gilgamesh, his adventures and search for treasured immortality providing evidence of primordial Mesopotamian ideas about life and death and the importance of humanity in the universe and the general communal association.
After Enkidu’s death and the loss of the magic plan of the rejuvenation walls, Gilgamesh is reduced to a humble and introverted seeker. He sets out to a second quest which is darker in search of an immortal life (Spark Notes Editors 91). In his journey, he passes through a mountain with two peaks and finds a long passage through the caverns which he uses.
After passing through great perils without any trouble, he enters a terrible darkness. The realization of Gilgamesh’s experience is presented symbolically by his reemerging into light in the magical garden. His quest for immortality is magnified by other characters failure to recognize him in his pilgrimage.
Each of the strangers notes Gilgamesh’s untidiness and takes time to listen to Gilgamesh as he recounts his encounter with death and his fear of it reminding them of its certainty (Mitchell 12). Eventually, when Gilgamesh meets Utnapishtim, who had managed to gain immortality, he also advices Gilgamesh against making an effort to pursue immortality, which goes to suggest that Utnapishtim in his knowledge is aware that Gilgamesh has not yet acknowledged the great value attached to a mortal life.
Although Utnapishtim had managed to fool death, he is not willing to help Gilgamesh do the same. Utnapishtim reminds the king of Uruk that he has a date with death that cannot be evaded right from his birth. With this Gilgamesh must come to terms with his mortality and accept being part of a natural cycle in which death is inevitable (Mitchell 32).
Although people die, the natural cycle will ensure that humankind will always continue as is illustrated by Utnapishtim’s parable of the sleeping test. Sleep is shown to be comparable to death and an important bodily need as it is like food to the body.
Given that Gilgamesh also has a body which has its needs, passing this particular test is impossible and his human nature shows his link to the world. Gilgamesh being the king of Uruk should rule it well if at all his fame is to continue to live after him and give his name the immortality he has been after (Spark Notes Editors 121).
The Prose Poem
Prometheus’s quest was human salvation in Greek
Gilgamesh’s was self serving salvation in Mesopotamia
But Zeus is omnipresent in other shades
His servant gods are cunning, favoring Utnapishtim
Abandoning Gilgamesh to wallow in mortality
“The serpent was awake when I did slumber for six nights
Defiled my mortality
Flew with the wrecks
I Gilgamesh now know
My consistent dreams of doom
Life’s intact for self serving gods
And for me Gilgamesh: in god and in man
Uruk will stay, Gilgamesh will vanish
Only a request I Gilgamesh makes to gods
Be allowed to die honorably in the battle field
I Gilgamesh, Can’t belief not being victor in that!”
Mitchell, Stephen, ed. Gilgamesh: A New English Version. New York: Free Press, 2004. Print.
Spark Notes Editors. Spark Note on The Epic of Gilgamesh. New York, NY: Free Press, 2011. Print.