Quest for Immortality of Gilgamesh Essay Example
The ancient Mesopotamia epic, “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” is a tale of adventure that transforms a character from the beginning of the epic to the end. Gilgamesh is described as, “Like the force of heaven, so mighty is his strength,” showing how valiant and heroic he is (61). Later in the epic, Gilgamesh is devastated with the death of his dearest friend Enkidu. The quest for immortality began with the death of Enkidu, because it caused Gilgamesh to be fearful of death. However, the quest for immortality changes whenever he realizes the legacy he will leave behind. Although Gilgamesh was searching for immortality, there are events along the way that influence him to forget about immortality.
First of all, Gilgamesh’s quest for immortality began with the devastating death of his friend Enkidu. Gilgamesh grieves after Enkidu’s death and becomes afraid of death after seeing his friend die. Gilgamesh says, “I have grown afraid of death…” this is when Gilgamesh began the search for immortality by traveling to the sun’s passage (93). On the way to Utanapishtim, Gilgamesh meets a tavern keeper named Siduri and they talk about the journey Gilgamesh is on. After Gilgamesh explains the death of his friend, Siduri gives him advice. Siduri tells Gilgamesh, “You strive ceaselessly, what do you gain (101)?” Siduri is telling Gilgamesh that everything comes to an end. She is trying to tell Gilgamesh that he needs to focus on the life he has right now and enjoy it. Gilgamesh then continues his journey to find Utanapishtim to possess immortality.
In addition, Gilgamesh meets Utanapishtim after he leaves the tavern keeper Siduri. Gilgamesh says to Utanapishtim, that he looks no different than him and asks how he acquired eternal life (102). Utanapishtim tells Gilgamesh, “Come, come try not to sleep for six days and seven nights (107). This is how Utanapishtim tells Gilgamesh he will receive eternal life. Gilgamesh falls asleep quickly, and Utanapishtim’s wife bakes loaves of bread each day that Gilgamesh is asleep (107). She did this so Gilgamesh would know that he fell asleep and wouldn’t argue that he didn’t sleep to Utanapishtim. Gilgamesh was asleep for all seven of the days and was upset when he woke up (107). Gilgamesh asks Utanapishtim, “What then should I do, Utanapishtim, whither should I go (108)…” Utanpishtim tells Gilgamesh to go with Ur-Shanabi and get cleaned up (108). Gilgamesh is still searching for immortality despite Siduri telling him to enjoy life and failing Utanapishtim’s challenge for immortality. As the epic continues Gilgamesh becomes even more desperate to achieve eternal life with the difficulties he has faced thus far.
Lastly, after Ur-Shanabi washed Gilgamesh they boarded a boat to take Gilgamesh home. Ur-Shanabi tells Gilgamesh, “I will reveal to you, O Gilgamesh, a secret matter, And a mystery of the Gods I will tell you (109). Ur-Shanabi is referring to a plant that gives immortality if consumed. Gilgamesh immediately tied stones to his feet and went into the water to obtain the plant (109). Gilgamesh if overwhelmed with joy after he obtains the plant and says, “I myself will eat it and so return to my carefree youth (109). However, while Gilgamesh is bathing in a pond a snake came and consumed the plant (109). Gilgamesh is heartbroken by this event, and it is the second time he has fallen short of receiving immortality. Gilgamesh later arrives in Uruk and tells Ur-Shanabi,
Go up, Ur-Shanabi, pace out the walls of Uruk.
Study the foundation terrace and examine the brickwork.
Is not its masonry of kiln-fired brick?
And did not seven masters lay its foundations?
One square mile of city, one square mile of gardens,
One square mile of clay pits, a half square mile of Ishtar’s dwelling,
Three and a half square miles is the measure of Uruk. (110)
Gilgamesh had said the same lines at the beginning of the epic because of the pride he had for his work. At the end of the epic, Gilgamesh finally realized that the legacy he leaves behind is immortal. Gilgamesh’s name will be spread through stories and what was accomplished while he’s alive.
Although Gilgamesh didn’t achieve eternal life, he learned a valuable lesson. Gilgamesh was prideful throughout the epic, but after Enkidu died, he wasn’t as prideful. After failing twice on the journey for immortality Gilgamesh realized the legacy that he would leave behind. Gilgamesh’s quest for immortality changed when he realized his name would live forever.
“The Epic of Gilgamesh.” The Norton Anthology of Western Literature, by Martin Puchner et al., W.W. Norton & Company, 2014, pp. 58–110.