We learn about ancient civilizations through literature, artifacts, and stories passed down from generation to generation. The Mesopotamian civilization is one of earth’s earliest civilizations, and it’s also one we know very little about. We can gather information about these people’s way life, beliefs, and geographical location. The Epic of Gilgamesh, a literary work from this time period, shows us several important pieces of information that helps us understand this ancient civilization. This epic shows us the Mesopotamian peoples belief system, their views on death, and their description of the after life.
The Mesopotamian people believed in a higher being, like most civilizations have for centuries. Their belief system consisted of many gods, each representing an aspect of Mesopotamian life. From the Epic of Gilgamesh we learn that they believed that the gods are the creators of everything around them. This is seen in this epic with the creation of Enkindu, by the goddess of creation, Aruru. We also can conclude that the god of the heavens, Anu, ruled the gods. The Mesopotamian people also had gods for death, love, and even cattle. The Mesopotamian people used the gods to explain just about every aspect of their life.
Their gods were all-powerful, and could grant people godly features. For example, Gilgamesh embarks on a quest for eternal life from the gods when his fear of death becomes a reality with the death of Enkindu. The Mesopotamian people also believed in an afterlife. Through the Epic of Gilgamesh, we see that this civilization had an ancient version of what we consider to be heaven and hell. Their hell was controlled by the Queen of Darkness, and was believed to be a place of no return. The epic describes this place as a place of darkness where “dust is their food and clay is their meat”(sources, p5).
Their underworld was where everyone who stood in the way of the gods. Death for the Mesopotamian people was believed to be controlled by the gods. We see this with the death of Enkindu. The gods decided that Enkindu should die because of his actions with Gilgamesh, and when Enkindu dreamed of his death, he knew it was the gods decision and he couldn’t prevent it. We can also see the god’s control of death through Gilgamesh’s journey to obtain immortality. It was known that the gods could grant a person eternal life by Gilgamesh’s encounter with Utnapishtim, a man that had been granted that of which Gilgamesh had been searching for.
If granted eternal life, it was believed that you where entered into the assembly of the gods. Without the epics, and recordings of ancient civilizations, we would not be able to learn about the accomplishment and life-styles of are ancestors. The Epic of Gilgamesh has sheded some light on the mysteries of long ago. We do not have many recordings of Mesopotamian civilization, but with works of literature like this epic we can take another step closer in the search for answers to question about their beliefs, views on death, and what they believed about life after death.