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The Epic of Gilgamesh

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Can problems Gilgamesh faces in The Epic of Gilgamesh be compared to modern societal issues?

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Yes, the problems that Gilgamesh faces can be compared to problems that persist in modern society, since they relate to universal themes such as love, death, jealousy, and loss.

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One of the things that makes literature great is perpetual relevance, and The Epic of Gilgamesh deals with themes that will always matter to readers. The most striking problem Gilgamesh has to face, which is described in detail on tablet 8, is the death of Enkidu. The death of loved one is a common theme in literature, but few poems describe grief and mourning in such heart-rending terms as The Epic of Gilgamesh. Even after he has done everything possible to honor his friend, Gilgamesh remains inconsolable, and the only thing he can do is to undertake a new quest, though this still does not cure his grief.

The death of Enkidu creates in Gilgamesh an emotion that is arguably more prominent in modern literature and culture than grief: the fear of annihilation. Gilgamesh becomes fixated on and terrified of his own death and desperate to do whatever he can to avoid it. The adventures described on tablet 11 bring him tantalizingly close to eternal life, but this finally eludes him, and he is forced, like everyone else, to accept the universality of death.

Gilgamesh is not always a likeable or admirable hero, but he is a supremely human one. His adventures often seem more modern than those of Odysseus or Aeneas. He has to deal with the wrath of a jealous woman (or goddess) when Ishtar decides that she wants him as a lover and is not inclined to take rejection well, sending the Bull of Heaven to destroy him. The scale of Gilgamesh's adventures is exceptionally large, but the problems he faces come from universal experiences such as love, jealousy, grief, and the fear of death, meaning that they remain relevant in every age.

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Are the issues that arise in The Epic of Gilgamesh still relevant to the modern world?

The Epic of Gilgamesh deals with a central theme that has yet to become irrelevant: man's search for meaning in the face of mortality.

Gilgamesh witnesses the death of his best friend Enkidu and thus comes to realize the certainty of his own mortality. He tries to find a way to become immortal, but the quest is fruitless. Gilgamesh must accept the inevitability of death or live miserable.

By the end of the story, Gilgamesh learns that the only kind of immortality that matters is fame, being remembered for being a good man. At one point, Gilgamesh is advised to simply enjoy being alive and spending time with the people he loves. As long as he has people to love and simple pleasures to enjoy, this gives his life meaning enough. And these ideas are still very much with us in the modern world.

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Are the issues that arise in The Epic of Gilgamesh still relevant to the modern world?

This will get fairly philosophical fairly quickly.  The search for meaning in one's life is an issue that comes out of The Epic of Gilgamesh that has meaning in the modern world.  Gilgamesh and Enkidu leave everything in terms of their home and comforts to go out and find meaning.  When Enkidu is killed, Gilgamesh must transform his quest for meaning into one that searches for answers as to why there is pain and what one's purpose is in life.  Even with Enkidu gone and with pain present, Gilgamesh still searches for meaning and for purpose.  The idea that this quest is one where there is both a physical and spiritual journey present is meaningful today.

There is little that offers meaning to Gilgamesh prior to his journey.  He understands that meaning and purpose will only come into his being once he makes a conscious attempt to grasp them.  This is something that is relevant today as people still struggle to find meaning in their lives and must take chances, their own forms of journey, to find what that meaning is.  Their demons are as perilous as Humbaba and sometimes, they undertake this journey with an Enkidu, or other times they must go alone.  Yet, the existential need for Gilgamesh to find meaning in his life and a sense of purpose is still relevant today as modern consciousness is one where meaning has to be sought and defined.

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