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The Epic of Gilgamesh is considered as one of the first stories ever told, which dates back to approximately 3,000 B.C. Yet, this ancient story addresses some of the basic premises of existentialism, particularly as explored in the works of Kierkegaard, Buber, and Heidegger. This paper is an existential analysis of the story, its hero, and the deeper messages of this timeless portrayal of grappling with death and search for meaning, whose many lessons pertain aptly to the struggles of the 21st century human existence. It also, convincingly, conveys the message that what we refer to as existentialism is perhaps as old as humanity itself, and not simply a product of the 19th or the 20th century. This 'voice' from the distant past calls us to approach life in an engaged, passionate manner, while fully remaining aware of its uncertain, ephemeral nature.
This essay traces the history of the several major versions (Old Babylonian, eleven-tablet, and twelve-tablet) of the Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh and examines the development of meaning from one version to the next. The focus is on the underlying conflict or conflicts that define and impart power to the work, that is, the conflict between the extraordinary and the normal. We will notice that in the Epic there is a constant conflict between the heroic values that the warrior-hero Gilgamesh represents and those other existential values that defined Mesopotamian culture and that appear in the Epic in the form of Gilgamesh's several non-heroic identities: in the Old Babylonian version, the conflict is that of hero versus man; in the eleven-tablet version that of hero versus king; and in the twelve-tablet version that of hero versus god.
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