The “Epic of Gilgamesh” gives a succinct account of the relationship that exists between a leader and his subjects, his friends and god. It is through this relationship that Gilgamesh set-out on wild-goose chase of immortality. In the “Epic of Gilgamesh”, the main theme is his desire to defeat death and all its manifestations. Although, his desire to defeat this demon that every person has to contend with falls flat at the end of a long struggle, looked from a different perspective Gilgamesh could be said to have succeeded in his bid. Generally, immortality can be looked from two different perspectives namely; physically and metaphorically.
Despite all his fame, riches, and power, Gilgamesh still wants more in this life. In this case I am referring to his quest for everlasting life. Because he is used to being gratified of anything that he requires, he would also like the same to happen with his quest for eternal life. In fact his desire for immortality is reinforced by the demise of his friend and half, Enkidu (Jackson, 56). Enkidu, who is the first to succumb to the truly humbling reality of death, ironically has no problem with the reality and certainty of death like his friend Gilgamesh. The story of Utnapishtim’s immortality is one that emboldens Gilgamesh in his quest for immortality. He seems dumbfounded by the immortality of some creatures, Utnapishtim in this case, which prompts him challenge the reality of death, and in extension mortality.
His privileged and sheltered life most probably had not accorded him a previous experience with death which therefore means that he must have been shaken by the death of Enkindu, something that in one way or the other reinforced his desire to live eternally. This can be found in the statement “must I die too? must I be as lifeless as Enkidu? How can I bear this sorrow that gnaws at my belly, this fear of death that drives me onward? (Kovacs, 25)”
Gilgamesh is seriously disappointed with the answer that he gets from the god concerning his quest for immortality. After walking long distances and telling and retelling his life story, Shuduri ultimately informs him of the futility of seeking eternal life (Kovacs, 36). He goes on to narrate to him how gods created both life and death leaving eternal life for themselves, Which therefore means by being a mere mortal he has no chance of living forever (Tigay, 36). Instead of Gilgamesh accepting his fate just like other mortals he becomes angry, demanding to know how he can find Utnapishtin. He is lucky to learn that the key to living forever rest in a certain herb, however his luck is short-lived as he comes to realize after accessing this herb. In this regard I am referring to the eating of this wonder herb by a snake just after laying his hands on it, which marks the end of his options in his quest for immortality (Kovacs, 42). It is at this point that the story end which means that his quest for eternal life is a nonstarter, so to speak.
It is therefore obvious that Gilgamesh attempts to seek physical eternity falls flat, something that has now diverts his quest for immortality from the physical sense to the allegorical sense. Gilgamesh obsession with creating ideas and things that will not only outlive him but also last forever is testimony of his quest for metaphorical immortality. In this regard I am referring to his desire to kill Humbaba, which according to him and his subject is a feat enough that can leave a firm imprint that is not likely to be erased in his subjects’ psyche. By managing to kill Humbaba we can say that Gilgamesh actually succeeds in his quest for immortality, though in the allegorical sense. It is a well known fact that when a person creates something that has the potential of not being replaced, that person manages to live eternally. It is from that perspective that we are looking at Gilgamesh’s success in killing Humbaba as a real satisfaction of his desire.
There is no doubt that Gilgamesh is more interested in living forever despite the mortality of human being according to god order of things. This is better demonstrated by the effort that he expends in his quest for immortality. It is unfortunate that after all the efforts that he expends in his quest for immortality he has nothing to show for it, which therefore puts him at par with his subjects as far certainty of death is concerned. This is a truly humbling experiencing because after years of mistreating his subject and treating like they are not his equal in the eyes of the creators, he is left to eat humble pie, as can be found in his realization of the futility of seeking immortality. After that desperate attempt he is left wiser and enlightened to the fact that despite the powerfulness and godlike nature of some people, death is as sure as day and night, while mankind is the only everlasting thing. Through that enlightenment we can assume that Gilgamesh gain a better appreciation of his subjects that was lacking before then. Therefore in a way he has emerged wiser and a changed person.
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