Literary Analysis Essay on Mortality and Immortality in the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Odyssey

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George Washington University
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Gilgamesh and Odysseus portray a lot concerning the issues of mortality and immortality. Man has been given life to enjoy because he is mortal. However, there is mans fate that he cannot escape. This fate is death where it is pointed out that man is mortal will immortality was reserved for the gods alone. The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Odyssey are two examples of stories that form epic literature from ancient history. It is quite evident that in the old days, people used to pay more emphasis on magic or eternal life grants from the gods. This implies that the gods have authority over a man since as Gilgamesh and Odysseus point out, the gods are immortal while man is mortal. Therefore, both have managed to help the readers to have the impression that life is what the gods have given to man and it should be enjoyed to the fullest before he dies (Heidel, 1949).

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The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Odyssey are stories that contain some similarities. One of the similarities includes the underlying theme in both about the mortality of man and also the meaning of death. Hence, both stories point out that man is much different from the gods. This simply implies that men are mortal while the gods are immortal (Heidel, 1949). Gilgamesh appreciates the ideology that mans days on Earth are numbered. This means that every man has a life that will eventually come to an end when death dawns on him. Therefore, man has a limited span of life since he is mortal while the gods are the only ones that possess immortality and are believed to have the complete power over immortality. Penelope clearly echoes this statement in the Odyssey when he points out to Odysseus that, Mens lives are short.

Moreover, in both the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Odyssey, the heroes accept the fact that immortality is for the gods only. However, in both stories, there seem to be good an example of opportunities to extend immortality. This is simply not true immortality at all because mans fate cannot be evaded. This fate is to eventually die. Only the gods have the ability to live forever because immortality is reserved for them. Gilgamesh tries to become immortal, but after his encounter with the Bull of Heaven, he is able to point out that the end of life is sorrow. Gilgamesh understands that he will eventually die, but he does not wish to die at all. This is because he understands that death will only prevent him from being more heroic. Therefore, Gilgamesh is more concerned about the glory than life itself (Heidel, 1949).

Also, Gilgamesh and Odysseus also have another similarity in their stories, the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Odyssey respectively. Both stories remind man that glory means nothing and that the most important thing of living is being alive. Therefore, no matter how man seeks to be glorious, he should understand that glory counts for nothing after death. The Epic of Gilgamesh emphasizes more on the importance of aspiring glory or heroism for ones name (Heidel, 1949). However, on the other hand, the Odyssey takes another approach which is much different from that of the Epic of Gilgamesh. This approach argues that glory-seeking is what leads man to death. Therefore, it is true to point out that Odysseus believes that glory alone is not sufficient for a man. It is according to him that man can realize that life is not all about glory, but living life to the fullest and enjoying what life has to offer before he dies.

Moreover, people live in fear of being forgotten after they die. Therefore, since man fears this, he goes ahead in search of glory so as to ensure that he dies in a way that his name will be remembered. Glory-seeking as said much earlier is what leads man to death. Therefore, man should understand that glory means nothing since mans fate cannot be escaped or changed. Even the gods do not have the ability to change the fate of man. As per the Epic of Gilgamesh, true immortality is the realm of the gods only, and as far as man seeks to live forever, he cannot evade his mortality. Man should understand that death is death (Heidel, 1949). This implies that even a glorious death is still death. Hence, every man, small or great, will eventually die because death is final.

I do believe that the best choice is accepting the good things in this life rather than running after eternal life. According to me, since mans fate is to eventually die, we should feel comfortable with the life we are living and accept the good things that this life has to offer. Life has a lot of opportunities and good things, therefore, we should enjoy being alive because at the end, we will die since that is our fate. Enjoying life as Odysseus points out is the only thing left because no amount of glory is enough for man and death is inevitable. Moreover, since death is final, man has to understand that being alive is more important than seeking glory. In short, it is good to point out that the best choice is accepting the good things in life and enjoying life before we die.


Heidel, A. (1949). Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels. Vol. 136. University of Chicago Press.

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