What is the Mesopotamian view of the after life?

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davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

For Mesopotamians the afterlife was a pretty grim place. For them, physical death did not mean the end. The dead continued to have some kind of spiritual existence in the underworld as ghosts, or etemmu—shady doubles of their earthly forms. In The Epic of Gilgamesh, Enkidu, best friend of Gilgamesh, describes in pretty lurid detail what happens to shades in the underworld. They sit in darkness, eating clay and dust, clothed like birds. Doesn't sound like much fun, does it?

Food is pretty revolting in the Mesopotamian afterlife, but you only get that if someone back in the land of the living has made the appropriate offerings. Otherwise, as Enkidu reminds Gilgamesh, kings can be reduced to beggars, and all because no one could be bothered to take time out and offer up a little food and drink to a departed soul.

The afterlife is bad enough as it is, but worse still, it's every bit as hierarchical as Mesopotamian society. If you were a king on earth, then you'll be a king in the netherworld. If you were a priest on earth, yes, you've guessed it, you'll also be a priest among the shades. And if you were a poor, put-upon peasant on earth . . . well, you get the idea. However, this depends on the relatives of the dead carrying out their duties. For if they don't pay the appropriate honor to their dear departed and cough up a regular supply of good food and drink then their loved ones will be reduced to a state of beggary.

This shows the reciprocal relationship between the worlds of the dead and the living in Mesopotamian religious culture. Each world's stability depended to a large extent upon the other. We've already looked at what happens when the relatives of the deceased don't pay them the appropriate respect. But that cuts both ways. If the ghosts of the netherworld don't get what's coming to them they'll start to get restless and do all kinds of crazy, unpleasant things like haunting people's dreams or even possessing them by entering into their ears.


crmhaske eNotes educator| Certified Educator

For the Mesopotamian the afterlife was not particularly pleasant.  They believed that life after death meant a descent into an underworld ruled by the god Nergal.  They lived particularly difficult lives, and their ideas about the afterlife resembled the hardships they faced during their lives while still living, and they "wasted no time" preparing for the afterlife.  This is actually quite contrary to what usually occurs in that people who face tremendous hardships in life picture an afterlife in which their suffering is no more.  Evidently, Mesopotamians had very little hope :(

npoore84 | Student

During the Mesopotamia era, there was a group known as the Sumerians. These people lived in Mesopotamia from 2900-1000BC. There were one of the most diverse groups of people living in the valley beween the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. There were a very intelligent group of people studying astrology, religion, science, mathematics, etc.

The religion of the Sumerians was polytheistic and they spent a great deal of time learning about their gods.  These gods were very powerful and resembled humans. They were also known as creator gods, meaning they had created the world and the people that inhabited it. They believed that there were no punishments or rewards for human beings after death. They believed that they became "wisps of the earth" and eventually fade into nothing as time went on. Unfortunately there was little hope for Sumerians.

warriorreosti27 | Student

In my class we reviewed the answers and said that the view of the after life was adreadfull place where you would face the same hardships as you would while you were mortal. Also we had to read the Epic of Gilgamesh were in the story it said that the afterlife was a place where you still serve you god(s) and you had wings like an eagle and there was only one color there black.