Perhaps one of the main reasons the Epic of Gilgamesh is so popular and has lasted such a long time, is because it offers insight into the human concerns of people four thousand years ago, many of which are still relevant today. Some of these human concerns found in the book that are still applicable today include: the fear and concerns people have in relation to death, overwhelming desires to be immortal, and the impact a friendship has on a person’s life. It does not take a great deal of insight into The Epic of Gilgamesh for a person to locate these themes in the story, and even less introspection to relate to them.
While many people today seem to be scared to die, and make great strides to avoid an early death, this is not a new human concern. In fact, Dr. Peter J. Brand did some extensive research on how people in Ancient Mesopotamia viewed death and the afterlife. He believes death was extremely scary to people of this region. In his article titled: Dying: Death and the Afterlife, Brand states, “Like all human cultures, the people of Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia were greatly troubled by death.” (Brand pg. 1) Apparently, it death was even more dreadful in the minds of the Mesopotamians. “Mesopotamian views of death were more pessimistic, resulting in less elaborate preparations for death.” (Brand pg.1) On the contrary, it seems that there would have been a lot of preparation involved, since the journey to the underworld alone was a perilous feat. This tells us that there was nothing glorified about death, and nothing exciting about traveling to the underworld. However, it reveals that there was a lot of confusion surrounding death, and confusion how to deal with it. Dr. Brand goes on to talk about how the underworld was a dark and gloomy place. One of his most startling revelations is his claim that they believed no matter how good or bad a person was, they would be treated the same in the underworld. “Every person— whether they had been good or bad, and regardless of whether they were a king or a peasant— everyone was treated the same in the Underworld” he says. (Brand pg. 3)
These ideals are very different from modern-day beliefs about death. Christian views about the afterlife include the two options for our souls after death: heaven- the happy, safe, and comfortable place where the good people go, and hell-the fiery, and dangerous place some go to if they made bad choices on Earth. Others believe in reincarnation, where a person’s soul lives on and takes the form of something else. Many people, no matter their religious stance, want to believe that there is something else after death, because it makes it easier when the time comes. It certainly eases some of the grief and anxiety that people face over death, and is far more comforting than the beliefs that ancient Mesopotamians held about death.
In any case, most scholars agree that death was not viewed as a positive passing before, or during the time, the epic was written. As a...