Death and the Afterlife in the Epic of Gilgamesh Essay

August 7, 2021 by Essay Writer

The main purpose of the Gilgamesh myth is to illustrate the weakness of man in the face of destiny. This is particularly presented by the vision of the underworld as presented by Enkidu from one of his dreams. Enkidu describes the underworld as a very dark place where the people are clad in feathers and feed on clay (Cunningham and Reich 7).

By the time this dream appears in the story, the reader is already aware Enkidu is bound to die, but one reads on hoping that Enkidu would somehow find a loophole that would take him away from going to the underworld as predicted by the dream.

The epic of Gilgamesh does not make death less frightening in comparison to the overwhelming nature of life. The afterlife as described by Enkidu is just an unsettling existence that no human being would like to live. In actual sense, it makes death even scarier especially drawing from the words of Enkidu while on his demise bed. Enkidu tries to find a scapegoat by blaming the lady Shamhat for his own shortcomings in his pre-death premonition.

He is basically trying to make amends with his creator so that he does not have to go to the underworld he had seen in an earlier vision. His disappointment at dying a weak man’s death is evident from the story and one would be tempted to blame him for not responding to earlier challenges adequately. As a reader, it is easy to picture one’s self in Enkidu’s shoes and suffer the same anguish he does of having to die young without accomplishing much.

Having hitherto lived a very active life, it is easy to understand why Enkidu does not anticipate having to die such a slow death and then have to go to a harrowing afterlife. It makes it harder for the readers to appreciate the fact that they have to die someday and it is even frightening to think of how one would lose his life.

The death dream definitely makes the journey tougher for Gilgamesh. As a young man, Gilgamesh is one individual who has become acquainted with using his own might to get out of challenging situations. He cannot help feel some deep anguish over the fate that is going to befall his friend over a mistake that they both took part in. Gilgamesh’s sorrow continues even after Enkidu’s death and seeing how terrifying it is to lose one’s life, he goes on a journey to find a way of acquiring immortality for him and the rest of the human race.

The test by Utnapishtim is supposed to illustrate the desire by mankind to have all the good things in life even though they lack the personal willpower to obtain some favors.

Gilgamesh wants to live forever so much that he agrees to partake in the test without as much as a second thought and only realizes the impact of human weakness when he fails it almost immediately. Even when he gets a second chance at immortality, Gilgamesh once again exhibits the lack of focus by man when he decides to go for a bath leaving the flower of life for the serpent to take.

It would have been appropriate for Gilgamesh to complete search for eternal life and then go for the simple pleasure offered by a bath but the inherent manly greed in him makes him want to have it all. He consequently loses the opportunity to live forever both for him and the rest of people in the world.

Works Cited

Cunningham, Lawrence & John Reich. Culture and Values: A Survey of the Humanities. Connecticut: Cengage Learning, 2009. Print

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