How Ancient Literature Reflects the People’s Beliefs about Death
Death was a mysterious part of life for the ancient people and while some cultures embraced and looked forward to an afterlife, others were mortified by death and seeked immortality. Different cultures had contrasting views on death. The Sumerians, in “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” wrote that death was terrifying and as a reaction Gilgamesh search for immortality. On the contrary the Egyptians, in “The Book of The Dead,” accepted death and spent their lives preparing for a great afterlife.
“The Epic of Gilgamesh” is a story about a king who is terrified of death and tries to seek immortality. Along the journey Gilgamesh learns the difficult lesson that, even as a king, he too must face the reality of his own death. On their way to face Humbabu, Enkidu expresses his concerns about death, which Gilgamesh laughs off, telling Enkidu that immortality is nonexistent. However, when Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh is so distraught that he seeks out Utnapishtim to learn the secret of immortality. Despite his hopes, Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh “the quest for immortality is is a futile one, as creation itself contains the seed of death, making it inescapable.” The gods, he explains, intentionally did this because life couldn’t exist without death. Gilgamesh returns to Uruk having learned that the quality of one’s life is measured not by wealth and fame, but by the quality of time he spent with the people around him. This in turn gives Gilgamesh a second chance at life, and he becomes a wise ruler who instead of hating death, does everything he could to live a good life.
On the contrary of Gilgamesh’s change for the good by embracing life, the Egyptians embraced death and prepared their whole lives preparing for an afterlife. The Egyptian “Book of The Dead” contained instructions on how one would live their lives and prepare for a successful afterlife. The book was originally intended as a set of incantations meant to...