Like the Epic of Gilgamesh, the story of Adapa deals with man’s squandered opportunity for gaining immortality. In Gilgamesh as you may recall, the hero sets out to find the secret of immortality after experiencing profound grief at loss of his friend, Enkidu. Specifically, he is looking for Utnapishtim, who had joined the assembly of the god after being made immortal. He is the hero of the flood and one-time King of Shurrupak, an antediluvian city. Gilgamesh travels to the far side of the earth and across the Sea of Death, to the mouth of the rivers, where Utnapishtim resides with his wife, who was also made immortal. Utnapishtim, among other things, explains to Gilgamesh why he cannot gain immortality but his wife asks her husband to give the traveler something for his troubles. Utnapishtim agrees and he shares knowledge of a thorny plant that grows at the bottom of the ocean. Any man who eats of it, shall become young again. When Gilgamesh finally manges to get his hands on this extraordinary plant, he leaves it unguarded on a riverbank as he bathed himself in the waters. Tragically, an opportunistic snake comes upon the plant and eats it. When the snake quickly sheds it’s skin, any questions Gilgamesh may have had regarding the plant’s magical properties are answered.
Adapa, is about a fisherman’s failure to eat the bread and water of life. After his boat his blown off course and sunk to bottom of the ocean, Adapa is pissed. He curses the South Wind, whose relentless gusts are cause of all the fisherman’s misery. Strangely, just as Adapa’s curse leaves his lips, the South Wind’s wing breaks. For a week the wind does not blow. When Anu, the learns of this, he orders Adapa brought to heaven to face him but before Adapa gets to heaven, he is warned by Ea, another god not to eat bread or drink water if offered, since they will surely be the bread and water of death. Adapa takes this advice to heart, and after he explains himself to satisfaction, Anu offers him bread and water, which Adapa refuses. Anu is stunned by Adapa’s refusal of the bread and water of life, ie immortality, and in disgust, orders him sent back to earth. Once again, another classic screw-up. Or maybe, like Gilgamesh, is this just another way to say or show how immortality for man is simply not to be? So close, yet so far? One is careless, the other, gullible and presumptuous. It is these qualities, unique to no human alone that end all possibility of transcending the boundaries of life. In other words, are our ancient forefathers trying to tell us we are what we are and there’s simply no getting around it? No matter what strategy is employed or what gods lend help, immortality remains elusive. No matter what plant Utnapishtim can hook us up with nor even an invitation from top god Anu, to eat and drink the bread and water of life can seal the deal. I think Sidruri, the tavern keeper at the edge of the world summed it up best as she tried to explain all this to Gilgamesh.
Gilgamesh, wherefore do you wander?
The eternal life you are seeking, you shall not find.
When the gods created mankind,
They established death for mankind,
And witheld eternal life for themselves.
As for you Gilgamesh, let your stomach be full,
Always be happy, night and day.
Make every day a delight,
Night and day play and dance.
Your clothes should be clean,
Your head should be washed,
You should bathe in water,
Look proudly on the little one holding your hand,
Let your mate always be blissful in your loins,
This, then, is the work of mankind.