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Theme Of Death In The Epic Of Gilgamesh

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The Mesopotamian understanding of death is uniquely different from modern understandings in that the Mesopotamians lacked a belief in their own free will. The Mesopotamian epic poem, The Epic of Gilgamesh, can, as a result of both the theology and cosmogony of the civilization, be viewed as the first literary meditation on death and the human condition. The hero of the epic, Gilgamesh, through a metaphorical self-death, via the death of his only equal, Enkidu, can begin to comprehend the idea of death. The Epic of Gilgamesh, above all else, is a reflection on mortality and the human place in the cosmos.
Gilgamesh is “two thirds” (Gilgamesh 61) god, and, as a result of this, lives with a sense of invincibility. The idea of death, of ceasing to exist in his temporal form, does not originally frighten him, as it does Enkidu, who is able to grasp the true nature of existence because of his bestial nature. Raised among beasts and the wilderness, death is a very real and very present threat to Enkidu. Though Gilgamesh is aware that “only the gods live forever” (71) while men’s “days are numbered” (71), his understanding of his place in the cosmos is limited. Gilgamesh is unable to comprehend that though he is part god, he is not a god, and therefore, is subject to mortal laws and constraints. This is evident by his conduct prior to the arrival of Enkidu, when he behaves monstrously. “His lust leaves no virgin to her lover” (62), and “sounds the tocsin for his amusement” (62).
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