The Epic of Gilgamesh serves as a great looking glass into a long lost culture in which most artifacts are lost. The story centers on Gilgamesh, a ruthless king who is two thirds god and one third man. As king, he does not meet his potentials of leadership as he is often self-centered and sometimes depicted as inhumane. When his dear friend Enkidu dies, he sets off to find immortality. He eventually fails, but during his journey, he came to terms with his mortality and became a more compassionate person. Even though the main characters are men, the women play small but vital roles along his journey.
The women in this epic reveal that they are solely responsible for the civilization of Gilgamesh and Enkidu by means of dream interpretation, sex, and motherly instincts, because the men of this epic do not have the ability to do them on their own. As king, Gilgamesh does things of his own accord and with his own judgment. He terrifies his city with his ruthless behavior, and even upsets the gods. He takes away sons from families, and has his way with newly wedded brides on their honeymoon before the grooms.
As Gilgamesh sees women as merely sex objects, it’s difficult to imagine that when he needs direction he goes to his mother, Ninsun “who is well-beloved and wise (page 66). ” It is interesting to see that Gilgamesh sees every other woman as a sex object, except his mother. Some theories to support this impression could be that she is different, because she is a goddess. She, unlike, other women, is a divinity. Or perhaps it could simply be the fact that having his way with his mother is a bizarre concept and also a practice of incest. Gilgamesh has these dreams that he always takes very seriously as he sees them as messages.
He consults only his mother to interpret these dreams for him. He explains to her his dream where a meteor fell and he couldn’t lift it. He confesses that “it’s attraction was like the love of a woman. They helped me, I braced my forehead and I raised it with thongs and brought it to you, and you yourself pronounced it my brother (page 66). ” He told his other dream where, “in the streets of strong-walled Uruk there lay an axe; the shape of it was strange and the people thronged round. I saw it and was glad. I bent down, deeply drawn towards it; I loved it like a woman and wore it at my side (page 67).
The reason for his confusion can stem from the fact that Gilgamesh loves the meteor and the axe like a woman, but they are both sex objects he does not understand. With his dreams revolving around the idea of love and femininity, this could be another reason why Gilgamesh seeks out a woman to interpret the dreams. Ninsun then interprets the dreams for him, saying that it foretells a friend coming. She tells Gilgamesh that he will, “love him as a woman and he will never forsake you. This is the meaning of the dream (page 66). ” She is the one responsible for informing Gilgamesh on Enkidu’s arrival.
This form of vital information from his mother is a way for her to civilize him. It distracts him from tormenting the city as he listens to the messages given to him. His mother promises something new that somewhat challenges his manhood unlike his current activities that seem very one-sided and in his favor. He now has something new to look forward to that could possibly defy him and concentrates on that. Another example of how women in this epic are sources of civilization is revealed in the chapter, “The Coming of Enkidu. ” Enkidu was created by the gods to be an equal of Gilgamesh.
Born wild and uncivilized, he was hairy and lived with the animals. After an encounter with a shepherd, a harlot from the “temple of love” was brought to civilize Enkidu. The shepherd told the harlot,” teach him, the savage man, your womanly ways, for when he murmurs love to you the wild beasts that shared his life in the hill will reject him (page 64). ” After teaching him for six days and seven nights of her womanly art, Enkidu was indeed rejected from his animal friends “for wisdom was in him, and the thoughts of a man were in his heart (page 65).
Feeling alone and unwanted, Enkidu returned to the harlot and allowed her to take him to the enlightened world. On the way, she clothed him, fed him, had him drink wine and treated him more as a child than a lover. This example illustrates one way that women were able to civilize men in this epic. The reason Enkidu returned to the harlot was simply because he liked her. The experience she gave to him was a positive one, one that was receptive and pleasurable. Enkidu returns to her in the hopes that she will give him more instruction and because she is the only person that will talk to him.
This is a new relationship to him because it is already predicated to this woman taking charge and teaching him new ideas, customs, and how to live life as a real man. This shows that a woman’s sensuality and sexual appeal had a great power over men. Sex in this story is considered a sacred act. This act that went on for seven nights seemed to drain Enkidu of his wildness, leaving a civilized man. The positive experience that was given and the kindness of the harlot encouraged Enkidu to return as a civilized man and allow himself so be somewhat submissive to her.
With the death of Enkidu, Gilgamesh wants to find a way to immortality. Looking for a way to escape death, he finds Utnapishtim, an immortal man. Utnapishtim informs him that he must do something worthy to gain immortality like he did himself. After Gilgamesh fails his challenge miserably, Utnapishtim’s wife implores her husband to give Gilgamesh something for his troubles. We could infer here that she may have felt motherly instincts for Gilgamesh after seeing him in despair. It isn’t easy to find Utnapishtim or his wife, so perhaps her lack of company makes her feel extremely sentimental to those few that do visit.
She asks her husband, “Gilgamesh came here wearied out, he is worn out; what will you give him to carry him back to his own country (page 116)? ” Utnapishtim agrees and tells Gilgamesh of a powerful plant that can revive any man. Gilgamesh retrieves the plant, promising to share it with the elderly in his city, but then shortly after loses it. The part that Utnapishtim’s wife played in this chapter of the epic is a huge contribution to the final stage of civilization for Gilgamesh. . This part is vital because shows how she was able to influence her husband and play a significant role during Gilgamesh’s realization about mortality.
If she had never convinced Utnapishtim to tell Gilgamesh about the plant we never would have seen a significant change in Gilgamesh when he swore to share the plants’ magical gifts. Losing the plant civilized him because it showed him how death is part of life, it’s unavoidable and inevitable. It is here that he realizes that although he himself may not live forever, his spirit of good leadership as king can. Although Utnapishtim’s wife is nameless and her role is small, it nonetheless started the final stage of civilization for Gilgamesh.
The Epic of Gilgamesh is about civilization and wilderness, death and immortality, love and war. This epic shows the masculinity of men and conveys the image that the men during this journey are in control. They say that a man is the head of the house, but the woman is the neck. She can turn the head any way she wants. Along this journey, it’s the women who civilize, educate, and comfort Enkidu and Gilgamesh on their journey. However, it does not show that the women are superior to men. Instead, it focuses on the fact that women are just as good, or equal to, the power of men.
This epic reveals that it is vital for men and women to form a sort of partnership. This is a completely different idea of a relationship between men and women from the first chapter. In the beginning of the epic, there was no partnership between the sexes at all. Every way that Gilgamesh treated the women of his city was for his favor. It becomes necessary in the later chapters that in order to complete this epic journey, there must be a formulated partnership between the women and men. An example of this would be the real partnership between Utnapishtim and his wife.
If these two were alone and separated, Gilgamesh would have gone home without anything to bring with him and would have never learned the true meaning of life or death. Together, Utnapishtim and his wife agreed to tell Gilgamesh of the powerful plant. This example illustrates that women are indeed very necessary to the story; however, there must be a sort of partnership between them and the men to truly be successful. From dream interpretation to sex to simply offering something of a cancellation prize, the women reveal that they are solely accountable for the civilization of Gilgamesh and Enkidu.
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