Search for Immortality Depicted in The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Odyssey

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Through the many of mankind’s tales of adventure the search for immortality is a very common theme. Many heroes have made it the objective of their travels and adventures. This is no different in The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Odyssey. The heroes in both are tempted by the offer of immortality, however each of them turns it down for their own reasons.

In The Odyssey, Odysseus rejects the offer of immortality from the goddess Calypso long after he discovers the true nature of the afterlife after travelling to Hades. In Hades he meets Achilles who tells him “I’d rather slave on earth for another man. than rule down here over all the breathless dead’ (“Odyssey”, 265). Given such strong words from someone who has experienced the afterlife
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It would not only make the trip futile but almost disrespectful to all of the crew he had lost on the journey.

In The Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh also turns down the prospect of immortality from a goddess (Ishtar, in this case), however, he does this under different circumstances. He comes into this situation in the beginning of Tablet VI (lines 1-79), when he returns to his city of Uruk, and is admired so greatly by Ishtar that she instantly proposes to him. Gilgamesh turns her down for one reason mainly, he realizes that she has had many a husband previously, and none of them had happy endings. This stands in particular contrast to the rest of the story where Gilgamesh is actively seeking immortality. In fact, one could argue that the main theme of this epic is the search for immortality. However, at this point of the story he has not yet learned the details of the afterlife, which may have affected his decision; because much like the afterlife of the Greeks, the fate that awaits Gilgamesh is not particularly appealing.

Between the two stories there are plenty of similarities, yet there are enough differences to create two distinct morals between the two. For example both of the heroes turn down the offer of immortality from a goddess who wishes to keep the heroes to themselves. The difference lies in the reasoning for the decision to reject the offer. Odysseus does it because he realizes the entire point of this return journey
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