For many years, from antiquity to the present, the concepts of immortality and death have been a source of debate in relation to human life. Many people wrestle with what exactly life means especially when met with death. Following death, human beings go through grief, which varies from society to society, with each having rituals to help the man come in terms with death. In world literature, one of the greatest works perhaps in ancient history is the Epic of Gilgamesh, which is the story of a great hero king from Mesopotamia who wrestled with immortality before coming to terms with the death of his friend, Enkidu. Notably, his reaction has been analyzed based on various theories explaining the human response to death and trauma. The Kubler-Ross's grief cycle, for example, is a model that highlights and analyses different stages people go through as they come to terms with a traumatic experience. Ross notes that these stages include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, king Gilgamesh response to the death of his friend, Enkidu, resonates with Rosses's five models of grief.
The Epic of Gilgamesh gives an account of the great King of Uruk, who develops a deep friendship with a wild man, Enkidu, who later dies and leaves him in a time of grief. The first half of the epic tells of the great king of Uruk, Gilgamesh, whom the gods though was proud and arrogant. As a result, they send Enkidu, a wild man to kill him (Masrk). After an intense battle with Enkidu, in which Gilgamesh emerges the winner, they develop a deep friendship that lasted for many days. In one of their encounters, they set a journey into the Cedar Forest to kill a demon, Humbada ("Epic Of Gilgamesh") They manage to kill the demon, attracting the attention of Inanna/Ishtar, a goddess, who in turn sends her brother-in-law, the Bull of Heaven to destroy the dual for killing the demon. Enkidu manages to help Gilgamesh kill the bull, and as a result, Ishtar condemns him to death. The second half of the epic gives an account of Gilgamesh grief, searching for immortality as he mourns his death, Enkidu (Masrk). In the struggle, he searches an immortal man, Utnapishtim, in the quest to find an answer to immortality as he feared life would later turn as that of his friend ("Epic Of Gilgamesh"). After failing two tests given by Utnapishtim, he is urged to accept mortality as it remains unchanged. He finally accepts death, returns to Uruk, and continues a successful reign of 126 years.
The response of Gilgamesh towards the death of his friend Enkidu resonates with Kubler-Ross's model of grief. In the first stage, Ross argues that a person goes through denial, which is either a conscious or unconscious refusal to face and accept reality as a natural defense mechanism. In Gilgamesh story, Gilgamesh goes through denial as he refuses to accept that death is the fate of every man (Masrk). He refuses to face the reality that he will also face death at some point in life (Mahmood 23). The second stage involves anger, in which a victim of trauma develops anger with those around him or himself. Further, the next stage in the model involves bargaining, in which a person attempts to question and bargain with nature or with the Gods. This stage is evident in Gilgamesh life as he sets to meet Utnapishtim, who was believed to have been immortal from the time of the Great Floods of Noah, to bargain with reality and defeat death. Fourthly, Kubler-Ross argues that people face depression, which is an acceptance of emotional attachment (Mahmood 24). Finally, there is acceptance, which shows an element of emotional detachment from the departed one, and moves on with life. This stage is seen in Gilgamesh life as he accepts reality, detaches from Enkidu and travels back to Uruk and continues to be a successful king (Masrk). Notably, this model is not a process that is sequential; rather, it explains various reactions people have after traumatic experiences.
The reaction of the hero, King Uruk, can be interpreted in terms of people's emotional reaction to death or trauma. Notably, Gilgamesh is from a noble class, which is one of the determining factors of how people grief in different cultures. Niyi Awofeso, in his article, burial rituals as noble lies, an Australian perspective, argues that rituals following death vary from society to society, with conditions such as age, social class, sex, and religious beliefs greatly causing these variations (Awofeso 1). He argues that rituals are nothing less than noble lies that aid those in grief to face reality and live happily after the incidence (Awofeso 5). He explains noble lies as fictions that help people appeal to a different kind of reality. The ideology derived from the epic is that rituals are just means through which a person can manage to live beyond self-interest, regain emotional stability, social coherence, and ensure public health as no one can really fathom what life or death really holds.
In conclusion, people's response to death and traumatic experience is often accompanied by rituals which vary from one society to the other on the basis of age, sex, social class, and religion. These rituals may not necessarily be a representative of reality, but rather nothing more than noble lies that help individuals regain stability and live happily. Despite the different rituals, individuals generally respond to grief in various stages. Kubler-Ross suggests a five-stage model, in which individuals go through denial, anger, bargain, depression, and acceptance. This model is evident in Gilgamesh's reaction to his friend's death in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Notably, Gilgamesh represents the nobility, teaching that rituals are nothing but fictions that aid people's acceptance of reality after death.
Awofeso, Niyi. "Burial rituals as noble lies - an Australian perspective." Journal of Mundane Behavior, vol. 4, no. 1, May 2003.
"The Epic Of Gilgamesh." Assyrian International News Agency, www.aina.org/books/eog/eog.htm. Accessed 22 Feb. 2019.
Mahmood, Kaiser. "Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross stages of dying and phenomenology of grief." Annals of King Edward Medical University, vol. 12, no. 2, 2016.
Masrk, Joshua J. "Gilgamesh." Ancient History Encyclopedia, 29 Mar. 2018, www.ancient.eu/gilgamesh/. Accessed 22 Feb. 2019.
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