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The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Death of Ivan Illyich: A Brief Introduction

1. Gilgamesh & The Death of Ivan Ilyich: A Brief Introduction

The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Death of Ivan Illyich are two works that, on the surface, could not be more different. One is an ancient Mesopotamian epic poem, while the other is a modern Russian novella. However, despite their differences in time, place, and genre, the two works actually have a great deal in common. Both works explore the theme of human nature, and both present contrasting views of materialism and idealism.

In The Epic of Gilgamesh, the titular character Gilgamesh is a king who embarks on a quest for immortality after the death of his friend Enkidu. Along the way, he encounters a number of challenges and adventures, eventually coming to realize that immortality is not possible for mortals. In contrast, Ivan Ilyich in The Death of Ivan Illyich is a man who has led a very different life. He is a judge who has always followed society’s expectations and lived a very materialistic lifestyle. However, when he becomes ill and faces his own mortality, Ivan Ilyich begins to question the value of his life and deeds.

2. Contrasting Themes of Materialism and Idealism in the Works

One of the most striking similarities between The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Death of Ivan Illyich is the way in which they explore the contrast between materialism and idealism. In both works, the protagonists begin their journeys with very materialistic outlooks on life. Gilgamesh embarking on his quest for immortality is motivated solely by a desire to extend his life, while Ivan Ilyich’s initial reaction to his illness is one of annoyance at how it will disrupt his well-ordered life.

However, as both characters confront death, they also begin to question the values that they have placed on material things. Gilgamesh comes to realize that immortality is not possible for mortals, and that even if it were attainable, it would not be worth the price he would have to pay for it. Ivan Ilyich similarly begins to see the emptiness of his materialistic lifestyle and comes to believe that the only thing that truly matters in life is our relationships with other people.

3. Examining the Character of Ivan Ilyich through the Lenses of Passions and Gods

If we examine the characters of Gilgamesh and Ivan Ilyich through the lens of passion, we can see another similarity between the two works. Both characters are driven by their passions in different ways. For Gilgamesh, it is his quest for immortality that drives him on his adventures. This quest leads him to many different places and brings him into contact with many different people. In contrast, Ivan Ilyich’s passion is much more internalized. He is driven by a desire for power and prestige within society. This desire leads him to neglect his family and pursue a career that he does not necessarily enjoy.

We can also examine both characters through the lens of religion or belief in gods. In The Epic of Gilgamesh, there are many references to various Mesopotamian gods, and religious belief plays a significant role in the story. In contrast, religion is largely absent from The Death of Ivan Illyich. This absence is significant because it highlights how secular Ivan Ilyich’s life has been. He has never really stopped to believe in or consider the possibility of a higher power.

4. Conclusions: Weighing Deeds and Decisions in the Balance of Life

The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Death of Ivan Illyich both offer different perspectives on how we should weigh our deeds and decisions in the balance of life. Gilgamesh comes to realize that immortality is not possible for mortals, and that even if it were attainable, it would not be worth the price he would have to pay for it. Ivan Ilyich similarly comes to believe that the only thing that truly matters in life is our relationships with other people. These contrasting views offer different insights into what it means to live a good life.
Ultimately, both works suggest that a balance between material and spiritual values is necessary for a fulfilled life. Gilgamesh’s quest for immortality is ultimately unsuccessful because he is too focused on material gain. Similarly, Ivan Ilyich’s neglect of his family and pursuit of a career that he does not necessarily enjoy leads to an emptiness in his life. It is only when both characters come to see the importance of balancing their material and spiritual values that they are able to find inner harmony and peace.
In conclusion, The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Death of Ivan Illyich offer two different but complementary perspectives on human nature and the balance that we must strike between material and spiritual values in our lives.

FAQ

The similarities between Gilgamesh and Ivan Ilyich are that they are both humans who experience death. The difference is that Gilgamesh is a king and hero, while Ivan Ilyich is a middle-class man.

Both stories illustrate the human experience of death as something that is inevitable and often unexpected. In addition, both stories show that death can be a transformative experience.

The meaning of life is different for each character in each story. For Gilgamesh, the meaning of life may be to find immortality, while for Ivan Ilyich it could be to come to terms with his own mortality.

The characters in each story deal with death differently. Gilgamesh mourns the death of his friend Enkidu and goes on a quest to find immortality, while Ivan Ilyich tries to deny his impending death until he comes to accept it near the end of his life.

Fate or destiny plays a role in each story in different ways. In Gilgamesh, fate seems to play a role in Enkidu's death, which leads to Gilgamesh's quest for immortality. In Ivan Ilyich's story, destiny might play a role in his coming to terms with his own mortality at the end of his life.

There is hope for redemption or resurrection after death in both stories. In Gilgamesh, Enkidu is resurrected as an immortal being after he dies, and Ivan Ilyich has a vision of redemption at the end of his life where he sees himself living happily with his family again despite having died earlier on in the story.

These stories teach us about how to live our own lives in light of mortality by showing that death is inevitable and often unexpected. In addition, they show that death can be a transformative experience.

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