The Epic of Gilgamesh is an ancient poem/literature from Mesopotamia (present day Iraq). The Epic of Gilgamesh is amongst the earliest work of literature known to man. This Literature was originally inscribed on 12 clay tablets in cuneiform script. This literature explores the adventures of Gilgamesh, the historical part-god and part-human King of Uruk (one of the many cities in ancient Mesopotamia). This literature also explores the boundaries of love, friendship, death, immortality, and life as we might relate to it today.
Gilgamesh was two-thirds god and one-third human/mortal. He was portrayed in the literature a human king of his people of Uruk and also a supernatural god. Gilgamesh was the strongest of all men, the bravest of the bravest, and a magnificent builder. One of Gilgamesh’s greatest accomplishments was that he was able to build temple towers (ziggurats) and walls that protected his Uruk people from invasions. The Epic of Gilgamesh described a catastrophic flood similar to that experienced by Noah in the Christian bible.
This Noah like character was known as Utnapishtim in this literature. He was a king and priest who was granted immortality from the gods after his great boat carried him, his wife, and every living creature to safety after the flood. Utnapishtim was the keeper of the secrets of immortality. Despite some of Gilgamesh’s great accomplishments he was very arrogant as a king and as a mortal who had some godlike features. The people of Uruk were fearful of Gilgamesh, and they prayed to their gods to liberate them from Gilgamesh’s arrogance.
Relief came in the form of Enkidu, the beastly man who sought to be Gilgamesh’s rival but instead became his good companion, after being seduced by Shamhat (the temple prostitute). Gilgamesh lived a life of supremacy and adventures. Gilgamesh and his companion Enkidu achieved numerous victories over their adversaries, one of which was the demon Humbada. The gods had later punished Gilgamesh and Enkidu for their forms of tyranny by giving Enkidu a slow and painful death. After the death of companion and friend Enkidu, a grief-stricken Gilgamesh became fearful of his own mortality and went in pursuit of Utnapishtim’s secrets of immortality.
Gilgamesh traveled the ends of the earth searching for Utnapishtim, the one man whom the Gods saved from the flood, and who was supposed to be able to give Gilgamesh immortality. Gilgamesh’s pursuit for immortality was futile, despite that fact that he was giving an alternative for attaining immortality in the form of a plant which was located at the bottom of the ocean. Gilgamesh went back to Uruk not only tired and weary but, as a changed man with a more approving attitude about life. Gilgamesh seemingly became more appreciative of mortality and optimistic about still achieving greatness and a legacy as a mortal versus an immortal.