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The Pursuit of Immortality

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of these autocratic regime dictators now reflect weakness and defeat – in a sense, an end to the immortality they sought for their reign of power:

"In the first months after the Arab revolutions began, the world’s televisions were filled with instantly iconic images of a crumbling old order: the Ben Ali clan’s seaside villa on fire in Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak’s stilted pre-resignation speeches in Egypt, Muammar al-Qaddafi’s rambling, defiant diatribes from a bombed-out house in Libya. They were a reminder that one of the most enduring political archetypes of the 20th century, the ruthless dictator, had persisted into the 21st" (Robertson).

As he tamed his recklessness, Gilgamesh came to appreciate compassion, friendship, responsibility for others and a sense of wisdom after undergoing depression and suffering that was prompted by the death of his friend, Enkidu, another hero in the Epic of Gilgamesh who is also conveyed to hold superhuman powers. Historical accounts of tragedies inflicted upon other rulers are similarly illustrated as moments of realization of mortality and the inability to evade death or hardships of loss despite the empires they have built and the power they have garnered.

Yet, the quest for immortality is not only specific to leaders and dictators, nor is it specific to status, gender, religion or culture. When he realized that attaining mortality was not viable, Gilgamesh acquired the magic plant that was said to restore youth, drawing parallels to the desire in people to evade aging and death:

"With the rise of science, and the appearance of powerful medical therapies, the quest for immortality has shifted from the spiritual to the physical. The accomplishments of Louis Pasteur and other microbiologists at the turn of the last century, and the explosive growth in biological research since then have provided cures for many terrible diseases…These triumphs have given us reason to hope that someday scientists will be able to reverse the effects of age. If protozoans can live millions of years, why not the human body?" (Panno 5).

The theme of mortality is strongly illustrated throughout the journey of Gilgamesh as he is transformed from an almighty ruler with little regard for his people to a man humbled by the loss of a companion and good friend and awakened by the realization that he will not escape the inevitable fate of all humanity, death. In this regard, the parallel of comparison between the pursuits of immortality by Gilgamesh is not unlike the historical recounts of other rulers and even the actions of present day leaders. A common and timeless quest by humanity, the pursuit of immortality has resulted in desperate means to reverse aging, prolong longevity, and embrace religious, cultural and philosophical explanations to the hereafter and the meaning of life.

Works Cited

Anonymous, Maureen Gallery Kovacs and Wolf Carnahan. The Epic of Gilgamesh.

Electronic Edition, I998.

DeForest, Dallas. “Review: Alexander the Great: A Life in Legend.” eHistory at Ohio State

University, 2008. Web. 20 Mar. 2012 <>

McDermott, John J. (John Joseph). The Drama of Possibility: Experience As philosophy

of Culture. New York: Fordham University Press, 2007.

Mitchell, Stephen. Gilgamesh: A New English Version. New York: Free Press, 2004.

Panno, Joseph. Aging: Modern Theories and Therapies. Facts on File, 2011. eBook

Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 19 Mar. 2012.

Parks, Cara. “Arab Revolutions: From Tunisia to Egypt, is this the beginning of a trend?” The

Huffington Post, 2011. Web. 18 Mar. 2012. <>

Robertson, Graeme. "Arab Autocrats May Be Tottering, But The World’s Tyrants Aren’t All

Quaking In Their Steel-Toed Boots." Foreign Policy 186 (2011): 36-39. Academic

Search Premier. Web. 20 Mar. 2012.


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