The Quest for Immortality essay

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The Epic of Gilgamesh is an ancient story that talks about a king in the land of Uruk who exercised unjust rule over the people of Uruk. The story chronicles the mysterious happenings that take the land of Uruk by storm and centers the unfolded events on two protagonists –Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Gilgamesh is portrayed as a cruel and tyrant king who was two-thirds god and one-third man. His cruelty and harsh reign pricks the conscience of the subjects and they lament on the treatments they receive from their king. Consequently, the gods of Uruk hearken to the pleas of the people of the Uruk and decide to create a wild creature called Enkidu who is to punish Gilgamesh for his evil deeds. On the contrary, Enkidu becomes the best friend of Gilgamesh, an act that irks the gods of Uruk, especially Enli, the god of earth, wind, and air. Accordingly, Enli sets his wrath on Enkidu and strikes him to death. Gilgamesh is grieved by the loss of his friend-cum-brother and sets on what could be considered a death-defying journey to quench his thirst for immortality. Gilgamesh’s long journey ends successfully when he meets Utnapishtim – an immortal creature who gives him a magic plant that is perceived to bring the old and aged back to their youth. Unfortunately, he loses the plant and his quest for immortality is short-lived by the disappearance of the magic plant. Disappointed at his futile efforts, he realizes that he will never be immortal and that he is better off being mortal than immortal.

This paper explicates the unfolding events in the epic as far as the life of Gilgamesh, his encounter with his friend Enkidu, and his pursuit of immortality after his friend’s demise, clearly unveiling the fundamental examples that tie the epic with some of the remarkable events in the Bible.

In tablet one, after the people of Uruk cry to the gods for the delivery from the tyranny and oppression of their unjust and cruel king Gilgamesh, the gods of Uruk decide to create an equal of Gilgamesh, so that he could combat his cruel treatment of the people of Uruk.  Gilgamesh is depicted as a monster, a selfish and destructive person who chases after the newly wedded couples with the aim of copulating with the newly wedded brides (Foster, Frayne, and Beckman 46). The gods’ response to create Enkidu who will be as magnificent as Gilgamesh is a sign of care that the gods have for the people of Uruk.

 Enkidu is created through the use of clay, soil, and water. This act is a direct derivation from the Biblical book of Genesis where Adam is created by God through the same procedure. In addition, the civilization of Enkidu is also likened to that of Adam whereby a trapper hints Gilgamesh at the impending danger of being upshot by Enkidu. They skillfully use a temple prostitute named Shamhat to tame him; she seduces him into making love and successfully entices Enkidu to accompany her to the land of Uruk. She teaches Enkidu about the human ways, covers his nakedness, and begins the journey to Uruk where Enkidu meets with Gilgamesh and becomes great friends thereafter.

Similar to the book of Genesis, Adam is enticed by Eve to eating the forbidden fruit, which makes them realize they are naked and begin to cover themselves with leaves. They both become civilized and since then, God casts them out of the Garden of Eden. The story of Enkidu and Shamhat shows some relationship existing between the distinct events. However, there are marked differences that distinguish the two stories as being totally difference. Unlike in the Biblical story of the origin of man where there are no other immortal creatures, the creation of Enkidu is extremely different because he is not the first man to be created; there are other men and women already living before his existence. Besides, the woman who introduces him into the world of civilization does not come out of his rib as is in the Biblical story of Adam and Eve. The woman has not been given to him by the gods who created him.

In the Biblical story of Adam and Eve, the creation story does not unveil the gender of the God who creates Adam unlike in the case of Enkidu who is created by a goddess named Aruru. In addition, Enkidu is depicted as a destructive creature that angers the gods after killing Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven and they decide to kill him. His death is grieved by Gilgamesh and sends him to wander in the wilderness, dressed in animal skin without his kingly garments. The story in the Bible about Adam and Eve does not explain the cause of Adam’s death as being destructive, but rather disobedient to the instructions given by God (Rollins and Kille 71).

Elsewhere in the epic story, Gilgamesh sets on a perilous journey to meet Utnapishtim who he believes would help him become immortal. After days of walking, he meets with Utnapishtim who narrates the story about the floods and how he has become immortal. Utnapishtim explains to Gilgamesh that long before Gilgamesh lived, the gods became angry and decided to wipe the existence of humankind through a destructing force of floods. He explains that one of the gods who met in council and decided to pour their wrath on humankind named Ea, the god of wisdom, tipped him on the impending unremorseful destruction through the unleashing of floods. Ea warned Utnapishtim about the floods and advised him to build an enormous boat and bring his family together with other species, so that they could escape the wrath of the gods; Ea gave Utnapishtim the dimensions of the boat and left.

Utnapishtim responded by asking the people of Shurruppak to help him build the boat, which they successfully completed after some few days. Utnapishtim then sheltered himself in the boat and soon there were storms outside and heavy floods came and destroyed the people of Shurruppak. After the storms were over and there were no life left, the gods descended and cursed their selfish action and vowed never again to destroy humankind (Jackson 51). However, they learnt of the presence of one – Utnapishtim who had survived the floods. Wondering of the mysterious escape of Utnapishtim, the gods decided to award him and his wife with eternal life.

The story of floods is also witnessed in the book of Genesis when God decides to destroy the unrighteous through floods. God instructs Noah who is considered as righteous to build the ark and invite his family and those who will hearken to his voice and other creatures to enter the ark, so they could avoid the wrath of God. God gives Noah the dimensions of the ark and leaves him to build the ark. The similarities drawn in the two distinct stories are remarkable, but still there are various differences that make both stories separate and distinct.

Unlike the Biblical story of Noah and the ark where God gives the reason for destroying the sinners, Ea who warns Utnapishtim of the floods does not give the reason for the floods. Besides, it is not clear why Ea chose Utnapishtim to survive the floods unlike in the story of Noah who was chosen because of his righteousness and veneration to God (Vang and Carter 44). In addition, the story of Noah unveils that God instructed Noah to invite his family and other people in the neighborhood to help him build the ark and shelter them after the completion to avoid the floods. However, in the story of Utnapishtim, he only invites the people of Shurruppak to help build the boat, but does not tell them what is to happen nor does he invite them in for shelter.

Meanwhile, Gilgamesh’s quest to eternity is still burning in his heart, but Utnapishtim gives him a test to ascertain how direly he needs to become immortal. He fails to pass the test. Consequently, the wife of Utnapishtim advises him to send Gilgamesh away as he has failed the simple test, which is a symbol that he is not ready to become immortal. On the contrary, Utnapishtim decides to send Gilgamesh down the sea where he is to pick the magic plant that would transform him back to his youth. Happy about his achievement, he sets on his journey back together with Utnapishtim. On their way back to Uruk, Gilgamesh is disappointed that he would no longer become a youth again after a serpent shed its skin over the plan, symbolizing its renewed life and rendering the plant useless and unreliable (Mitchell 67). Angry of his futile efforts to seek eternity only to lose it to the serpent, Gilgamesh continues his journey back to Uruk, his home. In this story of Gilgamesh’s quest for eternity, it can be said that the man loses his chance of eternity to the serpent.

A similar case is witnessed in the Biblical context where God curses humankind because of their disobedience that sees them eat the forbidden fruit after being enticed by the serpent. It is true that indeed it is the result of the serpent’s intervention that the man has lost his gift of eternity similar to the case of Gilgamesh who is likened with Adam in this context. Despite the similarities unveiled above, there are noted contrasts in these two encounters. The story about Adam involves deceit, which starts from Eve who is the first person to eat the forbidden fruit. Contrary to this, Gilgamesh is not deceived by the serpent, instead the serpent takes away his gift without his knowledge. Accordingly, Adam consumes the forbidden fruit, which he has been earlier warned about, unlike in the case of Gilgamesh where the magic plant is not forbidden nor does he consume the plant.

In conclusion, the essay is focused on the explication of the similarities and differences in the events that unfold in the book of The Epic of Gilgamesh and those in the Bible, showing the extent to which the events are related, though with different characters as well as differences that demarcate similar events perceived to be related. The story about Gilgamesh is very relevant in the contemporary human life. The fact that we can never separate ourselves from the mortal body is an imperative part that introduces the reality of life. It becomes important that human beings ought to appreciate the fact that they are mortal and any effort to run away from mortality to being immortal shall be deemed vain with time. Just like Gilgamesh ends up a discouraged man after a hazardous journey that would have cost his life, he learns it the hard way that mortality is indeed a part of him and all efforts to detach from it will be vain. He appreciates everything that the nature has provided him with, acknowledges his mortal body, and decides to live a normal life with no more grief after the dead, but always to endeavor to live his life as it comes.

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