One of the oldest books ever found dating back to 2100–1200 BC “The Epic of Gilgamesh” tells a story of a man in search of immortality. It proves that people have been looking for ways to escape death forever. And no one yet has succeeded. Let’s review the legendary epic and its relevance nowadays.
The Epic of Gilgamesh
The main character of the epic, Gilgamesh, is the king of Uruk, who is two-thirds god and one-third human. The story opens with the people of Uruk complaining about Gilgamesh's oppressive rule. The gods then create a wild man named Enkidu to challenge Gilgamesh.
The two fight fiercely but ultimately become friends and embark on various adventures together. They journey to the Cedar Forest to slay the monstrous Humbaba and defeat the Bull of Heaven, which the goddess Ishtar sends to punish Gilgamesh for rejecting her advances.
However, their friendship is shattered when Enkidu falls ill and dies. Gilgamesh is consumed with grief and becomes obsessed with finding a way to escape death. He sets out on a journey to the edge of the world to find Utnapishtim, who was granted immortality by the gods after surviving a great flood. Gilgamesh passes through many trials on his journey and ultimately finds Utnapishtim, who tells him the secret of immortality but reveals that it is impossible to achieve.
Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh the story of the great flood and how he was granted immortality by the gods. He challenges Gilgamesh to stay awake for six days and seven nights, but Gilgamesh falls asleep. Utnapishtim's wife convinces him to show Gilgamesh a plant that can restore youth, but while Gilgamesh is bathing, a serpent steals the plant.
The Epic of Gilgamesh ends with Gilgamesh returning to Uruk, having failed to achieve immortality. However, he has gained wisdom and finally accepted his mortality. The final tablet describes the walls of Uruk, which Gilgamesh had built to protect his people, and his legacy as a great king and hero.
The last lines of the epic speak of Gilgamesh's enduring legacy and the lasting impact he had on the world:
See how he has made an enduring name for himself,
Even the gods will bow down before him,
And so it will be for all time to come.
These lines suggest that even though Gilgamesh was unable to achieve immortality, his deeds and legacy would live on forever.
Quest for Immortality Nowadays
Gilgamesh is one of the many people (fictional characters) who has tried to find a source of immortality and failed. There’re so many other legends, books, and movies discussing the same question. The truth is that nowadays, people are still no less scared of death. They just try to defeat it by other means, with the help of medication and technology.
Some hope that if we can find treatment for all diseases and infections, people can live much longer (and they already do). But the human body is still destined to wear out and die, if not from a disease, then due to natural causes.
Then, technology is believed to have lots of potential. Some assume that if the human consciousness is transferred to a computer, it won’t need a body to survive anymore. But will life still make sense to us without the human bodies we’re used to?
All of these stories about the quest for immortality have taught us so far that all mortals are really meant to die, and death is inevitable. However, we should understand what we mean by death when we talk about immortality. Is the death of the body really the end of everything for a person?
The human body might be mortal, but the soul is probably not. At least, that’s what all religions teach us. We all have the divine energy inside of us, and the divine is immortal. So, who knows, maybe death is actually liberation for the soul? While we have to accept the mortality of our bodies, we can still explore the limitless potential of the soul.