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Different Accounts Of The Afterlife

The afterlife (also referred to as life after death or the hereafter) is the idea that the consciousness or mind or soul of a being proceeds a kind of life after physical death comes. Many scientists think that existence after death often happens in some kind of a spiritual sphere when a substance lacks strength. Basic viewpoints on the afterlife come from religion, metaphysics and esotericism. The dead are usually thought to follow to a certain kingdom after death, typically thought to be reigned by a god, a goddess or a specific creature, depending on the actions of the life in this world. In contrast, the term reincarnation means that only the “matter” of the being is preserved. There exists an opinion that a god is a furious creature sending damnations to a location called Hell, where souls of the dead spend eternal life in sorrow. Heaven and Hell are obviously decided to be real, moreover, they serve more like experiential conditions rather than physical locations. Actually, everything on earth is within the power of God. The representatives of the Western religions believed that Hell is a place where God chastises the depraved, where they exist without God. Hence a god or some specific creature controls both live in this world and existing of a soul during the afterlife, but the souls that go to Hell are deprived of the presence of a god.

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The first source I am going to analyze is “The Epic of Gilgamesh”. It is a mixture of tragedy, morality and pure adventure. Through the action, the reader is shown a truly human relation of mortality, the search for knowledge, and the escape from the general lot of man. The gods cannot be tragic if they do not die. Gilgamesh is the king of Uruk in Mesopotamia. He is strong, wise, handsome and courageous as gods created him two-thirds god and one-third man. Thus nobody could overcome him and he took all sons away of their fathers, he left no virgins or wives of nobles, he was no shepherd to his people. But then a goddess created noble Enkidu, the one who might fight Gilgamesh and defeat him. Gilgamesh and Enkidu became companions, the greatest heroes to have left an allusion of themselves from the ancient sources of Babylon, perpetuated in this epic poem. “Together they journey to the Cedar Forest, slay the monster Humbaba and defeat the Bull of Heaven. When Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh’s grief and fear of death are such that they lead him to undertake a quest for eternal life” (Sandars 127). He wants to find out the secret of eternal life from one man, the only one known to have reached it. Along the journey, he encounters strange mysterious creatures who warn him of the unrealizability of his mission. He finally finds that man and gets the secret of eternal life but loses it on the way home and returns empty-handed. Thus his research did not result in a successful way. He was afraid to die but his immortality was destroyed by a snake (Maureen Gallery Kovacs). The theme of fear of death is one of the basic in this poem. The poem tells about a heroic violent struggle against death, a terrific failure and the final comprehension that the only immortality the hero may expect is the permanent name of his great achievements (George).

The idea of death has been the everyday companion of men involved in a devastating battle all over the world. There existed an opinion that the dead who are buried gather together in the depths of the earth. Most of the people of the Mediterranean basin had such a belief. The Ancient Greeks suggested early the idea that the soul is immortal. Sometimes this opinion referred to reincarnation as in Plato’s philosophy or an issue of the cosmic economy (Cumont). Most people had an ignorant opinion that a man lives after death in the bowels of the earth. This enormous space is peopled by a great number of shades who have left the tomb. Thus the tomb becomes the hall of the true residence of the spirits who have departed; its door is the gate of Hades itself. Thus the tomb is the way the shades of the underworld communicate with the spirits who still sojourn in the upper world. From antiquity till the time of the Roman Empire ordinary man believed in a life of spirits in the underworld dwelling. This was a kind of belief that went back very far and had very deep origins in the mind of the people that men accepted without trying to understand or explain them.

In Roman Empire, the opinion that the spirits or souls of the dead live in a common residence in the nether world was known from the time when the city was founded. The religion itself was approximately primitive, naive and archaic. A basic dissimilarity differentiates the idea of immortality as it stands in the religion of Rome from the modern understanding of this issue. The common fate for a soul was to live in the body for a certain period of time, then it has to disappear or vanish completely (Cumont 1923).

Greeks imagined the afterlife as three locations of Heaven and Hell: Elysian Fields, Limbo and Hades (McGeough). Already in the Odyssey of Homer three men who detach themselves from all the rest, desecrated graves of the gods, who retaliated by convicting them to eternal agony. Homer propones his opinion of death and life after death. When a person dies, the soul comes out from the body and enters the underworld, dark and gloomy. The god of the underworld is Hades, whose kingdom does not leave much space for inspiration or happiness. Shades are the souls of the dead, they do not consist of some physical matter, and they are longing for their previous life on earth. The idea of the afterlife of Homer cannot be viewed as an optimistic one. Heaven is represented with the Elysian Fields, but it was pointed out that to live a happy honorable life is more important, because the afterlife would not be so light and unclouded (Brodd). We should also mention that the ritual of burial was vitally important as the soul the body buried in the wrong way or not buried at all would not find peace.

Thus we can finally make a conclusion on the issue of the afterlife in the ancient world, namely the Roman Empire and Ancient Greece of the Homeric period, and the idea of the afterlife in the “Epic of Gilgamesh”, hence in the world of Mesopotamia. The character of the “Epic of Gilgamesh” had an immense sensation of fear, though he did not know what would wait for him in the nether world, he just did not want to die as his companion. Gilgamesh was trying to find a key to eternal life, to immortality. This hero was ready to overcome any obstacle, challenge any creature to live forever. But it turned out that his attempts were not successful and he was forced to come back home empty-handed. The ideas of the afterlife in the Roman Empire and Greece are alike as the culture, namely literature of Ancient Greece influenced the literature, lifestyle, ideas and beliefs of Romans. Romans believed the bodies should be buried properly as in another way the soul of the dead would not rest in peace. The common feature of the Grecian and Roman idea of the afterlife is that the underworld was represented with the same gods and creatures and every soul, every shade would find its dwelling in the bowels of the earth. The Greeks believe that the dead inhabit three places: Elysian Fields, Limbo and Hades. In many ancient pieces of literature, there are allusions about the afterlife and the ways of existing after death as the death itself is one of the basic themes of antiquity, such as “Odyssey” by Homer. The afterlife is represented as the only way of existing after death occurs. Therefore the religion of the Ancient world can be viewed as naïve, primitive and archaic. And the idea of the afterlife cannot be referred to as an optimistic one.

Works cited

Brodd, Jeffrey. World Religions: A Voyage of Discovery. Saint Mary’s Press, 2009.

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Cumont, Franz. After Life in Roman Paganism. Cosimo, Inc., 2005.

Cumont, Franz. After Life in Roman Paganism: Lectures Delivered at Yale University on the Silliman Foundation. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1923.

George, Andrew. The epic of Gilgamesh: the Babylonian epic poem and other texts in Akkadian and Sumerian. Penguin Classics, 2003.

Maureen Gallery Kovacs. The epic of Gilgamesh. Stanford University Press, 1989.

McGeough, M. Kevin. The Romans: An Introduction. Oxford University Press US, 2009.

Sandars, K. Nancy. The epic of Gilgamesh. Penguin Classics, 1972.

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