Epic of Gilgamesh: Gilgamesh’s greatest realization of mortality

Throughout his adventures, Gilgamesh embarks on a quest for immortality, driven by his fear of death and desire for eternal life. But there's a heroic yet tragic story behind his quest.

One of the fascinating stories from Assyrian mythology is the epic of Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh was a powerful and arrogant king who ruled the city of Uruk. He was two-thirds god and one-third human, possessing immense strength and wisdom.

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Gilgamesh was a major hero in ancient Mesopotamian mythology and the protagonist of the Epic of Gilgamesh, an epic poem written in Akkadian during the late 2nd millennium BC. Wikimedia Commons

Despite his extraordinary abilities, Gilgamesh was oppressive, and the people of Uruk cried out to the gods for relief. In response, the gods created Enkidu, a wild and war-like man, to challenge Gilgamesh’s authority and teach him humility.

Enkidu was not like other men, for he was born and raised by wild beasts in the wilderness. He possessed immense strength and agility, making him a fearsome opponent in battle.

News of Enkidu’s incredible strength reached Gilgamesh, and the king grew curious about this wild man. He believed that Enkidu could prove a worthy companion and ally. So, Gilgamesh sent a messenger to bring Enkidu to Uruk.

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Ruins of Uruk in 2008. Wikimedia Commons

When Enkidu arrived in the city, he was taught the ways of civilization by a wise woman named Shamhat. She told him of Gilgamesh’s great power and renowned deeds, and that they were destined to meet. Enkidu listened intently, and a spark of curiosity ignited within him.

Upon their first encounter, Gilgamesh and Enkidu engaged in a fierce battle. Their strength was equal, and the walls of Uruk trembled with the force of their blows. But instead of continuing to fight, they recognized each other as kindred spirits, and their contest transformed into a deep and unbreakable friendship.

Epic of Gilgamesh
Representation of Enkidu and Gilgamesh. Flickr

Together, Gilgamesh and Enkidu embarked on numerous heroic adventures. The most well-known adventure was their journey to the Cedar Forest, ruled by the mighty guardian Humbaba, a fearsome monster with a terrifying appearance. However, driven by their courage, strength and brotherhood, they faced the wrath of Humbaba, emerged victorious and claimed his forest, bringing back fame and glory to Uruk.

Their fame caught the attention of the goddess Inanna, who plotted to test their resolve by seducing either Gilgamesh or Enkidu. She sent the Bull of Heaven to ravage the lands, and the two heroes fought valiantly to protect their city. With the aid of the gods, they slew the Bull, but this act angered the divine council.

To avenge the Bull’s death, the gods decided Enkidu must suffer. They brought upon him a wasting illness, and despite Gilgamesh’s desperate attempts to save his friend, Enkidu succumbed to a tragic fate.

Devastated by Enkidu’s demise, Gilgamesh found himself consumed by grief, the once-bold king became obsessed with the fear of his own death. Determined to find the secret to eternal life, he embarked on another perilous journey, crossing treacherous lands and encountering terrifying creatures.

He sought out Utnapishtim, the only mortal who had obtained eternal life, hoping that he could reveal the secret to him. After surviving countless trials and challenges, Gilgamesh eventually meets Utnapishtim, who tells him that immortality is not for mortals and advises him to embrace his humanity.

Disappointed but enlightened, Gilgamesh returned to Uruk, where he learned to accept the transient nature of life and the inevitability of death. Now Uruk witnessed a completely changed man ruling their land with wisdom. Gilgamesh realized the importance of embracing the present and left behind a great legacy through his actions and deeds that would inspire generations to come.

Thus, the story of Enkidu and Gilgamesh is not only a tale of heroism and adventure but also a lesson in the fragility of life and the necessity of embracing our mortality. Their legendary exploits echo throughout time, forever etched in the annals of Sumerian mythology.

After reading about the Epic of Gilgamesh, read about Uruk: The initial city of human civilization that changed the world with its advanced knowledge.