My 12th grade World Lit. class just finished reading "The Epic of Gilgamesh." It's... not that exciting really. BUT it is a pretty big deal because it's more or less the first written literary text that has been discovered at this point. The story (or at least the part we read) goes something like this:
Gilgamesh is 2/3 god and 1/3 human and the king of the Mesopotamian city, Uruk. And he's kind of a jerk, so he has all these run-ins wherein he upsets various gods and goddesses. Thanks to one run-in, his sidekick, Enkidu, dies. Gilgamesh becomes deeply aware of and concerned with his own mortality and goes on a quest to find the secret to immortality (this, of course, is the epic quest). He goes to a prophet-type figure who tells him his worthiness for the secret must be tested. The test is for Gilgamesh to stay awake for 6 days and 7 nights- and he promptly falls asleep for days, and days. Fail.
Then, the prophet figure feels bad for him and tells him to pick up a plant on his way home that makes old men young again. This isn't immortality, but it's close-ish. Gilgamesh gets the plant and cheerfully heads back to Uruk, but on the way he takes a little break and a sneaky snake steals his plant. And he is distraught for a while (according to the 12th graders, "cries like a baby"), until he goes back to Uruk has a change of heart, tells his story, and becomes a good king.
Now, during our discussion, I asked them if they thought that Gilgamesh was successful at all in his quest. They said nothing (they were more or less asleep thanks to the soothing voice of the man on the recording we listened to). So I explained the two essential views-
1. He succeeded in a way because by telling his story and sharing his knowledge he ensured that he would be remembered. Evidence- we are still reading about him and talking about him thousands of years later.
2. He failed. He was on a quest for immortality, and he didn't get it. In fact, this is literally an "epic fail."
Response: "Epic fail, ha, I get it... it's an epic! And he failed!"