Copyright Thom Kapheim, from The Epic of Gilgamesh, verse rendition by Danny P. Jackson, 2nd deluxe edition (Wauconda, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 2000).

A distraught, weeping Gilgamesh cradles the dead Enkidu in his arms, in contemporary artist Thom Kapheim’s woodcut Won’t I Soon Be Like Him? The Gilgamesh epic, in all its versions, is a meditation on human mortality. When Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh embarks on a desperate search for the meaning of life and the secret of immortality. Author Tzvi Abusch shows that as the epic evolved over time—from the disconnected Sumerian tales of the third millennium B.C.E. to the unified epics of the second and first millennia B.C.E.—Gilgamesh finds different, but always moving, answers to the question that obsesses him after his friend’s death: Why and how should we live if we must die?