The Epic of Gilgamesh

The search for everlasting life

Gilgamesh is looking for immortality

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The major theme of the poem is that of mortality. Gilgamesh must learn the difficult lesson that, even as a king, he too must face the reality of his own death. On their way to the Cedar Forst to face Humbaba, Enkidu expresses his concerns about death, which Gilgamesh laughs off, telling Enkidu that no one lives forever and that life is short. However, when Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh is so distraught that he seeks out Utnapishtim to learn the secret of immortality. Despite his hopes, Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh the story of the flood. He explains to Gilgamesh that the quest for immortality is a futile one, as creation itself also contains the seed of death, making it inescapable. The Gods, he explains, intentionally did this. Gilgamesh returns to Uruk having learned that the quality of one’s life is measured not by wealth or fame, but by the quality of the time he spent while alive and the people with which he surrounded himself.