October 11, 2000
Socrates Vs. Gilgamesh
Socrates’ view of death in the Phaedo, Crito, and Apology is complex. His argument tries to prove that philosophers, of all people, are in the best state to die or will be in the best state after life because of the life they lead. Socrates’ views are sharply contrasted in The Epic of Gilgamesh. In fact, he would probably say that Gilgamesh had not lived the proper kind of life and his views of life, and death would lead to an unsettled existence in the afterlife. Socrates’ view of death, from his opinions on the act of dying, the state of the soul after death, and the fear of death, differs from that of The Epic of Gilgamesh to the extent that Socrates would refute every belief about death presented in The Epic of Gilgamesh.
Socrates believes the act of dying to be a separation of the soul from the body. The soul is that which attains knowledge, and the body is that which experiences senses and emotions. In Gilgamesh there is no distinction between the body and soul. In the Phaedo, before Socrates drinks the poison Crito questions him as to how he would like to be buried to which Socrates replies, “I do not convince Crito that I am this Socrates talking to you here and ordering all I say, but he thinks that I am the thing which he will soon be looking at as a corpse” (Plato 153). By this Socrates means that after death what is left is merely the body and that the self is in the soul, which is no longer part of the body. Gilgamesh does not see things this way. After the death of Enkidu he tells the Man-Scorpion, “I have wept for him day and night, I would not give up his body for burial, I thought my friend would come back because of my weeping” (Gilgamesh 98). Gilgamesh has the view that the body still encompasses what is the self. Socrates would obviously say that it is nonsense to cling to the body of the dead as if it were the person because t...