The Epic of Gilgamesh

This is the third time I have read this story, and it never fails to amaze me with its power and its timelessness. Gilgamesh is the first legendary hero known to history, and like a true legendary hero his story is tragic. He achieves great things, but loses his best friend, and is haunted by the knowledge that he and all other men will come to the same fate. He goes on a quest to discover the secret of immortality, and when he finds it he resolves to bring it back to his people and share it with them, but at the last moment he is cheated of his prize, and in the end he perishes as all men must. The universality of a story like this cannot be overstated. Man constantly struggles to overcome obstacles and create lasting works, but in the end the dust claims him and all his achievements. The gods are portrayed as they always are, rulers of man’s fate who are indifferent when they are not downright cruel, and hardly worthy of the devotion they demand of their human subjects. There is religion in this myth, but not any kind of religion that inspires hope. I am reminded upon reading this story that of all the heroes of history, only one has successfully triumphed over death.

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