Paper #1; LIT 230
24 January 2018
Paper #1, Topic # 2
The first work is The Epic of Gilgamesh, an epic poem composed by an anonymous group of authors from ancient Mesopotamia. This story follows Gilgamesh the King of Uruk, and his struggle to avoid death and his obsession with his own inevitable mortality. The depiction of the underworld in this epic comes from the nightmares of a dying Enkidu. In these nightmares, Enkidu is snatched by a creature with hands like lions and nails like an eagle’s talons, turned into a dove, and led to the underworld, termed The House of Darkness. Enkidu describes the underworld, “house where those who enter do not come out, /along the road of no return, /to the house where those who dwell, do without light, /where dirt is their drink, their food is of clay, /where, like a bird, they wear garments of feathers, /and light cannot be seen, they dwell in the dark, /and upon the door and bolt, there lies dust,” (The Epic of Gilgamesh, Lines 161-167). Here Enkidu observed royal crowns tossed aside and gathered in heaps, the royals whom the crowns belonged, and who had once ruled the land, now served Anu and Enlil cooked meats. The depiction of Irkalla as a place not of punishment (hell) or reward (heaven), and instead is just a dreary version of life above. Irkalla is similar to the Greek underworld in that it is a place where the souls of the dead go, after being separated from their bodies but beyond that, there isn’t very much they have in common.
To go more in-depth on the subject of the Greeks concept of the underworld, also known as Hades, one could look to the epic poem of The Odyssey authored by Homer. This epic tells the tale of the Greek hero Odysseus, the king of Ithaca, and his journey home after the fall of Troy. Though only briefly mentioned in Book 11 when Odysseus travels to Hades on the advice Circe who tells him that he must sail to Hades, speak with the spirit of Tiresias, a blind prophet who will tell him how to get home. Similar to Irkalla the lives of the souls that reside in Hades were very neutral, there was no social classes nor political positions, and no one’s previous positions in their lives gave them an advantage in the underworld. Bodies of deceased Greeks would often have coins somewhere on their person so that they could pay the Ferryman Charon to get passage to the Gates of the underworld where the Judges of the Underworld decide where to send the souls. Elysium was a place for more notable figures of Greek history or mythology like demigods or heroes. Afterlife in Elysium was relatively easy and involved no labors. The Asphodel Meadows was a place for the souls of the common, or ordinary people who did not commit any great crimes nor did they accomplish any greatness or recognition. It was where mortals who did not belong anywhere else in the Underworld were sent. Tartarus was the place where the truly awful people were sent, and where they would experience punishment for their sins for all eternity. While in Hades Odysseus also speaks to a number of other souls including Agamemnon, Achilles, Patroclus, Antilochus, and Telamonian Aias whom he had fought with or against during the Trojan War. Before he goes, Odysseus also sees Minos, Orion, Tityos, Tantalos, Sisyphos, and Herakles well known mythical Greek figures.