The Epic of Gilgamesh is an astounding story about the quest to achieve immortality at the expense of the opportunity people have to live their lives to the full while still alive. Death is unavoidable. Despite Gilgamesh being a competent individual in body, spirit, and wisdom, only the people would write the history of his heroic deeds to immortalize him but not himself. Gilgamesh, the King of the Uruk city-state, continues to baffle more than 4,000 years since its inception. Gilgamesh was dedicated to the quest to attain eternal youth and discovering the secrets of immortality. The queer and unique story arc about Gilgamesh is about immortality. Until around the 1850s, when stone tablets containing the inscriptions were rediscovered, much of Gilgamesh’s story was passed through generations in oral tradition and legend. Enkidu’s death was a crucial turning point for Gilgamesh to begin the epic journey to find immortality. Despite their initial rivalry, the two embraced each other as a band against their perceived cruelty of the gods (Sharif, Mohammad & Mohammed, 2019). Through the intriguing accounts of Gilgamesh, one can deduce that the quest for immortality is futile. Life’s immediate concerns, based on society, are our ultimate refuge and salivation because death ultimately triumphs to reverse the meaning of our lives.
In character Utnapishtim, we are introduced to a man who achieved immortality after enduring a great flood along with his family. The interaction between him and Gilgamesh reveals considerable aspects of following the gods’ will and commands that assure one of immortality. Nonetheless, Gilgamesh followed to the lake to find the unique plant, which conferred immortality. It was only upon his return that Gilgamesh realized that the great lengths of his quest when rewritten were enough to confer upon him immortality (Seudin, 2017). To a certain extent, Gilgamesh feared death, but he even dreaded more, a cheap death without praise and glory, which kept him on the quest to come to terms with the wish of the gods through great deeds. Eventually, upon returning to Uruk and content that he has achieved many important milestones and adventures and that a great story will be told about him, that Gilgamesh’s fear of death vanishes instantly.
The character Gilgamesh parodies that of other ancient legends like Heracles, but they differ because the latter embarked on the good deeds to make good his past misdeeds. Both men overcame significant setbacks and were devoted to a life course to assail their ill fate. Gilgamesh displays a vital metamorphosis in the development of his stand about luck, and at the beginning, he is a man devoted to hedonistic pleasures and vain pursuits, which he took from culture and society. However, as he developed and became a man of considerable awareness, he withdrew from youthful passions and devoted to the quest to attain immortality, which is a useful trajectory for achieving greatness. Gilgamesh maintained a balanced view of his predicament because he understood that he was just a mortal despite being King of all of Uruk. He recounts to Enkidu on their way to Humbaba that, “Only the Gods live forever, we are mortal men.” From social-psychological reasoning, the composure to acknowledge altruism was vital for his eventual triumph because this preserved him from going overboard in needless pursuits in blind faith and indolence.
Many characters contribute to the development of Gilgamesh as a ruler, and in some cases, they lead to the formation of the intrigues that grip Gilgamesh throughout his life. For instance, it was the norm, perhaps, for Uruk rulers to have sexual indulgences with younger maidens, and the King had to choose his conduct out of volition. However, the gods’ envy could have prompted stoicism in Gilgamesh, yielding to the devout resolution to follow his passions, albeit the belief of the time, that following passion would lead to destruction. In retrospect, it was the liberated spirit and mind that made Gilgamesh attain immortality because he did not succumb to vanity in the sense of virulent and vain passions. The ruler’s psychoanalytical stance was well measured in the quest for immortality, and this is captured in his careful and meticulous containment in the face of adversities that shrouded his epic journeys. The completion of his travels and the eventual return to his leadership role, thus allowing history to embrace his great works as a good ruler, welded in steel his glorious stature and immortality.
Gilgamesh’s personality exhibits transhumanism in the sense that he is capable of vain and debased acts of wild sexism but, at the same time, has the reserved capacity for good deeds as a ruler. The incidence of transhumanism enables one to possess infinite potentiality, and this force, when harnessed, leads to immortality. At the beginning of the epic journeys, Gilgamesh faces immense odds, and he only contends that it shall go well when he finally comes to terms with his immortality (Kortesoja, 2018). Defying the gods and witnessing the death of Enkidu did nothing to scare him and in some ways, could have borne in him the reality of death. The death of Enkidu might have toughened him too because they were close after laying their differences aside to involve in one mission. The whole affair is represented in many biblical stories of prophets or a deity coming to the experience of temptation, which they overcome to become immortalized.
The history of Ancient Mesopotamia, the probable birthplace of religion and organized societal life, is rich with sage and elite cadres before the time of Gilgamesh. However, they did not teach Gilgamesh to stop his wild adventures in the search for impartiality. There is no mention in their attempt to dissuade Gilgamesh, and one can only deduce that he was indeed a man of greatness. The King of Uruk abdicating crucial duties and the praise and grandeur that it came with to go into the quest to understand immortality is an epithet that resonates throughout history in underscoring the substance of extraordinary lives across all history. Outstanding achievement and immortality lie not in innocent conformity but in the impatience of adventure and the willingness to sacrifice self for something beyond the self and beyond the immediate realities of life. Moreover, in the realm of spiritual experience and encounter, very little of value can be attributable to wise counsel that is obtainable from elders and sages’ guidance in society. A great extent of what elders contribute in society is about caution and restraint meant to conserve innocent and idle harmony, which for Gilgamesh’s character would have been destructive.
The primordial society in the Kingdom of Uruk may have had very little systems of social and political organization, and so, rulers like Gilgamesh had to their disposal only the excellent harvest of the land and access to young maidens for carnal pleasures but not much of ordered systematic approach to government. This created the room for the King, during peace times, to devote to the wild adventures of trying to find immortality. The unflinching devotion and bold quest to meet destiny and to find meaning in virgin experiences are, by far, what earns Gilgamesh immortality (Benli, 2018). If he had only sought the counsel of the sages of his time to learn passively, he might altogether have amounted to just another ordinary mortal like many of the Kings of Uruk that history has not ennobled. Moreover, the metaphor and imagery in the snake stealing the plant from Gilgamesh perhaps alludes to the flimsy and sloppy terrain in which the business of meeting destiny is always depicted. If it were not for the snake, perhaps Gilgamesh could have obtained and possessed the secret substance of immortality and youthfulness.
In conclusion, the quest for immortality and the natural disposition to seek transcendence of spiritual and etiological understanding of the broader dimensions of human existence do not occur uniformly, and neither can it be cultivated through learning. Perhaps people find themselves in the historical matrix that prompts their actions to seek transcendence and thereby arrive at immortality. As depicted in Gilgamesh’s adventures, something beyond wise counsel and something remotely innate in an individual prompt them for the epic journeys into the unknown, and Gilgamesh is a monument of the unique rendezvous with immortality. Life and death bind us together with all of humanity as mortals, but to be immortalized, one must have the grain and the stuff of great deeds plus an element of the extraordinary and unique ability of personal transcendence. Gilgamesh transcended his own life and did great deeds, which led to his praise and immortalization, and without which, he would have ended up an ordinary personality like the many kings of Uruk who had gone before.
Benli, D. (2018). The Representation Of Sexual/Erotic Desire And The Desire Of Individual Accomplishment In The Aeneid And The Epic Of Gilgamesh. International Journal of Multidisciplinary Thought. 07(01):273–280
Kortesoja, H. (2018). Only the Gods Live Forever: The Importance and Themes of the Search for Immortality in the Epic of Gilgamesh. (Masters Dissertation.) University of Jyväskylä.
Seudin, A. E. (2017). Underlying motifs in the hero’s quest for immortality in The epic of Gilgamesh (Doctoral dissertation). University of Lisbon.
Sharif, A. H., Mohammad, B. A., & Mohammed, I. (2019). Nature’s Retaliation in the Sumerian Epic Gilgamesh: An Ecocritical Study. Journal of the University of Garmian, 6, 2.