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Gilgamesh and the Quest for Immortality

Gilgamesh and the Quest for Immortality

The stories of the hunt for immortality gathered in the Epic of Gilgamesh depict the conflict felt in ancient Sumer. As urbanization swept Mesopotamia, the social status shifted from a nomadic hunting society to that of a static agricultural gathering society. In the midst of this ancient "renaissance", man found his relationship with the sacred uncertain and precarious. The Epic portrays the strife created between ontological nostalgia for a simpler time and the dawn of civilization breaking in the Near East. In this Epic, Gilgamesh is seen trying to achieve immortality through the methods of both the old and the new. His journeys through the sacred and the profane in many ways characterize the confusion arising from the unstable social climate. Therefore, the society, by writing the story of Gilgamesh, guarantees not only his immortality, but the immortality of the new order being established.

The beginning of the Epic finds Gilgamesh hunting immortality through the ways of old. He is trying to achieve everlasting life through the fertility of young virgins promised to another. This action by Gilgamesh caused the people of Uruk to call for the gods to restore the order which the traveler from abroad had destroyed (pg.62). From the sacred order of the goddess Aruru's mind Enkidu emerges from the profane wilderness (pg. 63). It is told that a trapper came "face to face" with the chaotic ways of Enkidu and was "frozen with fear". It is only through the love of one woman that order is brought to the life of Enkidu. He is then declared wise enough to challenge Gilgamesh and restore the order to "strong walled Uruk" (pg.65). So, when Gilgamesh is headed to the bridal bed to partake...

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It is worth noting that in the last chapter, after the fate of death has hunted and killed Gilgamesh, the inhabitants themselves offer up to the gods the sustenance of life for Gilgamesh. Therefore, it is through the praise of the citizens that he is declared immortal (pg.119).

More importantly, the society insures its continued success by showing that indeed civilization had been sanctioned by the gods. This depiction, however slight, would allow the new order leverage in achieving its goals. By representing to its people that the only way to keep order, slay the profane, and gain immortality is through the tools of society, the dawn of civilization secured the support it needed to grant everlasting life to the new world order. Indeed, it is through these very tools laid down by the ancient Sumerians that they and Gilgamesh still live to this day.
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