The Epic of Gilgamesh
Life isn't just the opposite of death. For Gilgamesh, who starts off a pretty knuckle-headed king, friendship with Enkidu and the trials he endures seem to breathe some life into his consciousness. No more act first, think later for this king. Sure, the answers he comes up with in The Epic of Gilgamesh may not always be the best, but we do see him struggle with the meaning of existence—especially when he gets so much advice from other characters about what he should be focusing on as he goes through life.
Questions About Life, Consciousness, and Existence
- In The Epic of Gilgamesh, how are characters' ways of life related to their beliefs about death?
- In Tablet 1 of the poem, Gilgamesh is described as being 2/3 god and 1/3 human. What do these fractions mean, in your opinion?
- When Gilgamesh returns home to Uruk at the end of the epic, how are his beliefs about life and death different from when he left? How are they the same?
- Various characters in the poem, including Shamhat, Siduri, and Gilgamesh himself, provide interpretations of what they think is the good life, the right way to live. Based on your reading the poem as a whole, what do you think its message is about the good life?
Chew on This
Gilgamesh is 2/3 god because of his superhuman strength and endurance; he is 1/3 human because of his mortality.
When Gilgamesh returns home to Uruk, he still believes that death is inevitable for all humans; the difference is that he has a new understanding of the meaning of life.