Mesopotamia and the Egyptian Civilization

Is it possible to find immortality to avoid the underworld? Mesopotamian and Egyptian ideas about death were similar; they both believed in the horrific underworld and many other aspects of death. However, there were many things that they did not agree on. The Egyptians believed in a happy afterlife in the sky with the gods, while in Mesopotamia, it was believed that everyone went to the horrific afterlife. Both civilizations believed in the underworld, and they both believed in immortality; they just had to find the way.

Mesopotamia was the “land between two rivers” (Fiero 18) which lay between the Tigris and Euphrates river, and while this helped with agriculture, the rivers would at times overflow, destroying whole cities. The people of Mesopotamia were polytheistic, they worshipped many Gods. In fact, they associated the forces of nature with various God’s and Goddesses. For example, in The Babylonian Creation, humankind’s earliest cosmological myth, they mention Anu God of the sky, and Nudimmud-Ea God of wisdom.

They would conduct rites and services to win the favor of the Gods they did so with the hopes that they would cease to send devastating weather to the land.

While the people of Mesopotamia feared the wrath of the God’s while they were alive, they feared the underworld much more. We see this in the “Epic of Gilgamesh”; the poem describes the journey of Gilgamesh for everlasting life. ‘I am going to die! —am I not like Enkidu?! / Deep sadness penetrates my core, / I fear death, and now roam the wilderness—” (“Epic” 32).

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Here Gilgamesh is devastated about the great loss he just endured of his friend Enkidu, but he also fears that death. He knows that death inevitably awaits him, and the only way to overcome this is taking a journey to Utnapishtim, a mortal who saved humankind from a flood, and received eternal life as a reward from the Gods. When Gilgamesh reaches Utnapishtim he is told that there is no permanence. “Do we build a house to stand forever, do we seal a contract to hold for all time? Do brothers divide an inheritance to keep forever, does the flood-time of rivers endure? It is only the nymph of the dragon-fly who sheds her larva and sees the sun in his glory. From the days of old there is no permanence. The sleeping and the dead, how alike they are, they are like a painted death.” (“Epic of” 7) He tries to tell Gilgamesh that no matter who you were in life, everybody had the same fate, everyone was going to be equal in death.

Death was associated with the netherworld. A visualization is given when Enkidu is talking about the dream, he had about it. He explains that he saw people elaborating on the fact that everybody went to the netherworld regardless of the life they lived on earth. “Everywhere I listened, it was the bearers of crowns / who in the past had ruled the land, / but who now served Anu and Enlil cooked meats, / served confections, and poured cool water from waterskins.” (“Epic” 29). Enkidu gives us another visualization when he described another part of his dream

Then he … turned me into a dove, so that my arms were feathered like a bird. Seizing me, he led me down to the House of Darkness, the dwelling of Irkalla, to the House where those who enter do not come out, along the road of no return, to the House where those who dwell do without light, where dirt is their drink, their food is of clay, where, like a bird, they wear garments of feathers, and light cannot be seen, they dwell in the dark, and upon the door and bolt lies dust.” (“Epic” 28).

This vivid imagery of what awaits in the underworld was the message that was spread to the people of Mesopotamia, it’s what they believed and how they viewed death.

Like Mesopotamia the ancient Egyptian civilization was polytheistic and accredited the weather and any other natural events and features to the gods. For example, Amon was the sun god and creator of heaven and earth, and Osiris was known as the god of the underworld. However, in contrast to the people of Mesopotamia, they did not have a strictly negative view of the afterlife. While they did believe in the underworld, they did not believe that everyone was dammed to it.

The Egyptians were aware that death was inevitable, but they also believed that in the promise of rebirth. They believed in the resurrection because of Osiris, the Egyptian myth says that Osiris was slain by his evil brother who then chopped him into pieces and threw his pieces into the Nile river. But his loyal wife Isis, Queen of Heaven, gathered his body pieces and resurrected him. Resurrection was not a question that the civilization posed, the question that was posed was whether they would resurrect and come back to the afterlife or the underworld. They lived a fairly happy life and they did not fear death. It was said that every individual could be prepared for death and their “judgement day” through the Book of the Dead, a collection of funerary prayers or the guidebook for the underworld.

At first, the Book of the Dead was written for Pharos, but eventually everybody in Egypt believed that normal people were able to reach the afterlife. In the scroll we learn that in order for the soul to reach the afterlife the body had to me mummified, and all of the organs had to be removed, with the exception of the heart. The purpose of the mummification was to preserve the body to the best of their ability so that the soul could reconnect with the body, but not before the soul has traveled to the underworld, described as a dark place “There is neither water nor air here, its depth is unfathomable, it is as dark as the darkest night, and men wander about here helplessly. A man cannot live here and be satisfied, and he cannot gratify the cravings of affection.” (Egyptian 48) Here they would reach Osiris and Isis and recite a confession that would attest to the purity of their heart. The heart was then weighed against a feather and depending on the weight, it would be determined if they would continue to live through resurrection or stay in the underworld. This, like in the Epic of Gilgamesh, was the journey to immortality.

The Egyptian Book of the Dead and the Epic of Gilgamesh, take a look at immortality and death, but more importantly, they both signify the views of both civilizations and their view on death and the underworld. The people of Mesopotamia believed that everybody was to be dammed to the underworld regardless of who or what they did in their life. No matter how hard they tried, the journey to immortality was no longer possible, and the gods were certain of that, which is shown through the epic. The Egyptian civilization believed that there was such thing as a dark underworld, but they also believed that resurrection in the afterlife was another option. If they followed the current steps, lived the correct life, and lived an honest life, they had the possibility of resurrecting, if not every step was followed, they would move on to the underworld.

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Mesopotamia and the Egyptian Civilization. (2022, Apr 19). Retrieved from

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