Comparing Gilgamesh And Yann Martel's Life Of Pi

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In the denouement of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Eric Idle muses that “life is quite absurd, and death’s the final word […] you must always face the curtain with a bow […] enjoy it – it’s your last chance anyhow” (Idle). The existentialistic attitude espoused in these lyrics appears not only in silly songs but also in the more serious entertainment of cultures old and contemporary. Indeed, the ancient Babylonian epic Gilgamesh, as translated by Stephen Mitchell, shares common existential conclusions with Yann Martel’s 2001 novel Life of Pi. In each novel, protagonists once devoted to their cultures’ religious systems adopt principles inherent to existentialism and learn that the only meaningfulness inherent to human life is that created…show more content…
Gilgamesh loses his close companion, Enkidu, to death; Pi survives the shipwreck that killed his entire family but finds himself aboard a lifeboat with an adult Bengal tiger, Richard Parker. Though distraught, the two protagonists seek means of perpetuating their own lives. Gilgamesh abandons his kingdom to seek guidance from the sole man to ascend from the ranks of men to the “garden of the gods,” and Pi successfully tames Richard Parker so as not to fall victim to the feline’s claws. Meanwhile, both protagonists begin to separate from their earlier, anti-existentialist beliefs – transformations symbolized in each journey by terrifying periods of blindness. Gilgamesh undergoes his axiomatic “dark night of the soul” while sprinting through a completely-dark tunnel leading to the “edge of the world” (Mitchell 162). During this experience, Gilgamesh faces a harrowing prospect: the sun uses this tunnel to cross from one side of the world to the other, and will kill him if he fails to exit the tunnel in time. When he emerges safely, the narrator notes that “he had barely escaped” from the sun’s deadly blaze (Mitchell 164). The entity Gilgamesh once worshipped as his patron and protector has assumed the role of his psychological tormentor, severely damaging his theistic belief system. Pi experiences genuine…show more content…
What have you lost? Nothing” (Idle). These words encapsulate the existentialist conclusions drawn by Gilgamesh and Pi as they reach the final stages of their exhausting journeys. Their beliefs in supernaturally-imposed earthly order shattered by disillusioning and terrifying experiences, the Babylonian king and the emigrating castaway revolutionize their worldviews, ultimately embracing Sartre’s principles of existentialism. Indeed, an excremental quality may permeate aspects of life, but an existential outlook allows even those sullied most by this waste, like Gilgamesh, to appreciate man-made wonders such as ancient Uruk. As Idle said, “worse things happen at sea” than reaching the understanding that belief systems derive from human

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