197 THE SELF-DEFEATING FANTASY Eric S. Rabkin, Ph.D. In our oldest tale, The Epic of Gilgamesh from the 3rd millen- nium B.C.E., the hero learns a secret thing [a mystery of the gods]. There is a plant that grows under the water, it has a prickle like a thorn, like a rose; it will wound your hands, but if you suc- ceed in taking it, then your hands will hold that which restores his lost youth to a man (pg. 116). [1] To  retrieve  immortality,  Gilgamesh  weights  himself  with stones and plunges into the life-offering, death-threatening water. But deep in the pool there was lying a serpent, and the ser- pent sensed the sweetness of the flower. It rose out of the water and snatched it away, and immediately it sloughed its skin and returned to the well. Then Gilgamesh sat down and wept, the tears ran down his face. I found a sign and now I have lost it (pg. 117). [1] Italo Calvino has written that the ultimate meaning to which all stories refer has two faces: the continuity of life, the inevitability of death (pg. 259). [2]