A Lesson from Gilgamesh
Gilgamesh is an ancient Sumerian epic, the oldest literature known. I found myself reading it recently, in the Foster translation, as part of a learning journey. I engaged slightly grudgingly with the text and emerged very moved.
I was moved by the narrative itself; the cadences of the translation; the basal messages which are shown, not told, in a sophisticated style; and the evident devotion of generations of scholars to unearthing, deciphering and translating the cuneiform tablets on which this tale was written four millennia ago.
Here is a snippet from Tablet X that was especially evocative.
The scene is as follows: Gilgamesh, a king who is chasing immortality, meets Siduri, an alewife, in a tavern near the end of the world.
This is what she says in response to his world-class whining:
Gilgamesh, wherefore do you wander?
The eternal life you are seeking you shall not find
When the gods created mankind
They established death for mankind
And withheld eternal life for themselves.
She then tells him to chill out:
As for you, Gilgamesh, let your stomach be full,
Always be happy, night and day.
And finishes with this inspirational message:
This, then, is the work of mankind,
He who is alive [should be happy]
The Mesopotamians had it all figured out. They worked out that there is one life to live; live it as fully as you can; and come to grips with the mystery of death by simply not spending any time agonizing about it.
We could just dispense with four thousand years of philosophizing (religious or otherwise) and progress, and go straight to Tablet X.