How did Gilgamesh Change during the Story: Battling Mortality and Immortality

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Updated: Apr 30, 2024
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How did Gilgamesh Change during the Story: Battling Mortality and Immortality

This essay will trace the character development of Gilgamesh in the epic. It will discuss how his encounters and experiences lead to a transformation in his understanding of mortality, immortality, and his own legacy. The piece will analyze the themes of friendship, power, and the human condition. PapersOwl offers a variety of free essay examples on the topic of Mythology.

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There exists a man whom the ancients tell of, a man who is both based on the fictional and non-fictional. “The Epic of Gilgamesh” tells the story of a being two-thirds god and one-third mortal. In the epic, Gilgamesh has a hard time battling his mortality as he witnesses death fall to those around him. Sure of his godhood status, Gilgamesh ventures out into the wild and seeks immortality but is ultimately unfruitful. Gilgamesh’s eventual epiphany makes him realize that one day, he will die.

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Through the death of his friend and Utnapishtim’s trials, Gilgamesh can accept death.

Transformation and Acceptance of Mortality

During an encounter with the gods, Gilgamesh and Enkidu fight the Bull of Heaven, a creature spawned from Ishtar’s ire at being rejected by Gilgamesh. After the duo finally slays the beast, Enkidu has an infamous dream vision of the gods having a council on what to do after their treasured weapon is destroyed. Unfortunately, the gods decided upon Enkidu’s death as punishment for such blatant disrespect against them. When Gilgamesh’s cherished friend dies in his arms, Gilgamesh is awestruck at the realization that he, too, will suffer the same fate one day. After Enkidu’s death, Gilgamesh fell into a deep state of apathy toward the outside world and mourned continuously for his friend, roaming the countryside nonstop with his friend still in his arms. Gilgamesh seldom had any companions that were told in the story, none that were as close as Enkidu. His inexperience in a friend’s death caused Gilgamesh to become obsessed with the idea of immortality.

With his new obsession, Gilgamesh ventures off to find a man named Utnapishtim, who has supposedly learned the secret to immortality. Upon meeting Utnapishtim, Gilgamesh recites his epic so far and his goal. After hearing Gilgamesh, Utnapishtim gives him a task to go for a whole week without sleep. Unfortunately, Gilgamesh slowly succumbs to his body and takes a small nap. Following his slumber, Gilgamesh awakens in a panicked state and realizes he has failed the test. The hero then readies to leave Utnapishtim, but he informs Gilgamesh that there is a way to achieve eternal youth through a small thorny plant deep in the sea. Gilgamesh, now reinvigorated towards his goal, then goes to retrieve the plant, only to have it stolen by a snake shortly after that. Following the robbery, Gilgamesh cries over recognizing that he has now lost all chances to achieve immortality as he first set out to do. Now, without companionship and agitated by his impending doom, Gilgamesh wanders, awaiting his fate. Even though there was no evidence that the plant could restore life, Gilgamesh still ran towards it, showing that Gilgamesh’s fear turned him delusional. The plant could also signify that eternal life, such as death, is not a thing that can be grasped. Gilgamesh was always accustomed to fighting the physical, like the Bull of Heaven and Enkidu, and thus was unable to grapple with the metaphysical.


Gilgamesh was a man battling his mortality despite clutching onto the idea of immortality. Upon seeing his dear companion die in his arms, Gilgamesh was determined not to follow the same path and adventured out to change his fate. Upon going through Utnapishtim’s challenges, Gilgamesh realizes he is not good enough to achieve his dream. Throughout his experiences, Gilgamesh sees himself slowly fading away and spends his remaining lifespan on naught but a fairytale. It is interesting to see that even though Gilgamesh tirelessly chased after a dream he could not physically achieve, he accomplished immortality through his experiences as a ruler, adventurer, and friend.


  1. “The Epic of Gilgamesh” (Translated by Andrew George).

  2. “Gilgamesh: A New English Version” by Stephen Mitchell 

  3. “Gilgamesh: A Verse Narrative” by Herbert Mason

  4. “The Buried Book: The Loss and Rediscovery of the Great Epic of Gilgamesh” by David Damrosch

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How Did Gilgamesh Change During the Story: Battling Mortality and Immortality. (2023, Aug 31). Retrieved from