Monday, March 4, 2013

Gilgamesh’s Search for Immortality

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In The Epic of Gilgamesh there are many themes but the most important ones are that death is inevitable, immortality is unachievable and friendship is essential. As in this epic tale, people of the 1st century are looking for this as well but for reasons very different than Gilgamesh. “Mankind will postpone human aging substantially in the future, doubling the human lifespan at least, when we have accomplished this we will be ashamed that we did not work on it much sooner.” This was a statement made by Michael Rose an evolutionary biogenerontologist in Future Fantastic episode titled IMMORTALS.

The main character, Gilgamesh, is searching for immortality. He wants this because of his deep feelings for his dead friend Enkidu. As a result of this, Gilgamesh finds himself being scared of

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dying. This fear pushes Gilgamesh to search for the power of immortal life, which is believed to be achievable by only women because they can reproduce. This belief takes him on a long and tiring journey in search of Uta-napishti and brought about by the desire to play a part in reproduction. His journey takes him to the twin mountains of Mount Mashu that support the heavens. Before he can enter the mountain, he meets two half female, half dragon figures who guard the entrance. They begin asking why he has come; No man/ born of woman has done what you have/ asked, no mortal man has ever gone into the/mountain. (Tablet X) This mountain is off limits to mortal beings but Gilgamesh is allowed in. He must get through many trials before he reaches the golden garden of the goddesses.

When he arrives there, he is greeted by Shamash, the Sun God, who tells him, You will never find the/ life for which you are searching. (Tablet IX) Gilgamesh is upset by what she has said because he traveled so far to now just sleep and let the earth cover my head forever? (Tablet IX) After leaving Shamash, Gilgamesh is sent to see Siduri, a wise goddess who lives beside the sea and is

the woman of the vine, a maker of wine. She doesn’t want to let Gilgamesh pass. Gilgamesh begs her not to let him die because he has been through so much. Siduri asks him why his is in such a hurry because the life he is looking for, immortality, will never be found. “You will never find that life for which you are looking. (Tablet IX). Again Gilgamesh hears that what he is looking for does

not exist. She tells him to live his life to its fullest because that is what life is all about. Gilgamesh is not satisfied with that answer and wants to know where he can find Utnapishtim, the only man

with eternal life. To find him, Gilgamesh must first locate Urshanabi, the ferry woman. She takes him over the Ocean and over the waters of death. Gilgamesh gets to Dilmun, the place where Utnapishtim lives. Utnapishtim asks why he has come. Gilgamesh tells Utnapishtim the whole story about Enkidu dying, how far he has traveled, whom he has met, and finally that he wants to know how to become immortal like him. There is no permanence, (Tablet X) Utnapishtim statements that only woman live forever through reproduction. Utnapishtim continues to tell Gilgamesh how he got here and of his good fortune his is a king and should not

act like a fool by abandoning his duties to travel the world looking for something that doesn’t exist. Utnapishtim offers him a test and all he has to do is stay up for six days and seven nights. Gilgamesh cannot do it, and he immediately falls asleep.

Utnapishtim wakes him after seven days and tells Urshanabi to take Gilgamesh to be cleaned, and then send him back to where he came from. Before Gilgamesh leaves, Utnapishtim tells him about a plant underwater that would restore a man’s youth. Gilgamesh leaves in search of this wonderful plant before he heads

home. He finds it and brings it with him. Urshanabi and Gilgamesh travel a long ways before stopping for the night. Gilgamesh goes to take a bath in a well, not knowing there is a serpent in it. The serpent takes the plant, sheds its skin and returns to the well.” It rose out of Gilgamesh is left with nothing. The serpent was a symbol of a woman, and now Gilgamesh sees that he can’t have the power of immortality

In contrast to this exciting epic, man of the 1st century is also afraid of aging and dying is looking for immortality but through science. This science is cloning, cryonics, and nanotechnology. Cloning has been a hot topic for years but most

recently when the Raelian leader, Claude Vorilhon claimed to have created the first human clone � a 7-pound baby girl. Reproductive cloning is the generation of an animal/human that has the same nuclear DNA as the donor/parent. Concern and doubt was raised because serious birth defects or serious health issues developed in cloned animals.

Cryonics, another attempt at immortality, is a branch of science that aims to develop reversible suspended animation. Believers in this process feel that this is a way of suspending life until a cure is found for whatever disease/illness the person may have. Is this not a way of playing God?

Nanotechnology is the science of microbiology and chemistry that deals with the molecular structure of atoms. This science may help develop cures for cancers, AIDS and other illnesses. Many of these developments must be tested on animals and other living organisms/humans.

In the end, Gilgamesh dies, as all men must do. Through his long and difficult journey, he learns that there is no immortal life for men and that women are still the only immortals because of

reproduction. Science and its research of the 1st century has definitely found ways of extending life and improving the quality of life for people with certain diseases but these sciences have not eliminated the inevitable, death.


Prentice Hall Literature, World Masterpieces, Englewood, NJ Prentice

Hall, 11.









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