The Afterlife in Gilgamesh

And more, poor put-upon readers.

The ques­tion was:
The tragedy of mor­tal­i­ty — the tragedy gains poignance by the absence ?? of a well devel­oped sys­tem of belief in after­life.

There is an absence of expo­si­tion regard­ing the after­life in the selec­tions we read from the epic of Gil­gamesh. That does not mean, how­ev­er, that there was no “well devel­oped sys­tem of belief in after­life.” If that were the case, why would we read “and there was Erishki­gal, Queen of the Under­world; and Belit-Sheri squat­ted in front of her, she who is recorder of the gods and keeps the book of death.”

In oth­er ver­sions, Enkidu had pre­vi­ous­ly trav­eled to the under­world to retrieve some of Gil­gamesh’s belong­ings. Oth­er sources also state that Gil­gamesh became a judge of the dead.

Gil­gamesh does seem to have been struck by his own mor­tal­i­ty after los­ing Enkidu, who was his match in all ways, his broth­er, lover, and com­rade at arms. As he was two-thirds god and one-third man, to para­phrase the text, he may have thought he was immor­tal. Enkidu, hav­ing been made by a god­dess rather than born, might have been expect­ed to be immor­tal as well. The gods of the time aren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly immor­tal, though. They do not seem to die of ill­ness, but they can be slain, as Enkidu and Gil­gamesh killed Hum­ba­ba (who was a minor deity).

His griev­ing, like every­thing else he did, is car­ried out in an epic fash­ion. His reac­tion to every­thing has been to fight it, so his jour­ney to find the only human he knows to have achieved immor­tal­i­ty makes sense. First, though, he car­ried out rit­u­als that, in that soci­ety, were intend­ed to ensure the per­son in ques­tion a bet­ter life in the nether­world. Hav­ing a stat­ue of Enkidu made served the same pur­pose. If Gil­gamesh did not believe in an after­life and have a fair­ly well-defined notion of what that after­life entailed, the rit­u­als and stat­ue would not have been important.

As I not­ed in anoth­er post, any men­tion of a ser­pent in that soci­ety would be under­stood as a ref­er­ence to the eter­nal fem­i­nine, the divine moth­er god­dess. Gil­gamesh’s loss of the plant that grants immor­tal­i­ty to the ser­pent is like­ly a con­se­quence of his ear­li­er refusal to enter into the divine mar­riage with Ishtar, as was expect­ed of any king.

Cyn is Rick's wife, Katie's Mom, and Esther & Oliver's Mémé. She's also a professional geek, avid reader, fledgling coder, enthusiastic gamer (TTRPGs), occasional singer, and devoted stitcher.
Posts created 4259

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related Posts

Begin typing your search term above and press enter to search. Press ESC to cancel.

Back To Top