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In this paper, I seek to explore the identities and relationships between Gilgamesh and Enkidu in the epic poem of Gilgamesh, up through Enkidu s death. I will explore the gender identity of each independently and then in relation to each other, and how their gender identity influences that relationship. I will also explore other aspects of their identity and how they came to their identities as well, through theories such as social conditioning. I will investigate the possibility that Gilgamesh and Enkidu enjoy a homosexual relationship, since modern times allow such investigations which only 20 years ago were considered extemporaneous to ancient texts by traditions western conventions. Conversely, I will also consider the possibility of a heterosexual male-male relationship in the terms of Platonic love. In addition to this, I will touch briefly at times on the unique relationship each has to a world that is caught up in a change from nature and natural things to what we call a civilized life, or an urban life.
In the beginning of the epic poem Gilgamesh, the main character Gilgamesh is conveyed as a generally immoral human, his genesis mythically coming from the gods. Two thirds they made him god and one third man. (19, Norton; Gilgamesh). He also is said to have a perfect body, which is a trait of godliness in many ancient cultures. When the gods created Gilgamesh they gave him a perfect body. (18, Norton; Gilgamesh). Here again it is obvious that the myth says Gilgamesh is from the same stuff as the gods. He is known for taking whatever he desires His lust leaves no virgin to her lover, neither the warriors daughter or the wife s noble. (19, Norton; Gilgamesh).
He has the arrogance and audacity to simply take anything that he considers in his kingdom. Clearly, at least early on in the story, the actions of Gilgamesh mirror that of his mythical genealogy from the gods, who live by a different moral code than that of civilized humans. At the same time however, Gilgamesh is certainly portrayed in the story as magnificent and capable of incredible things, such as the building of the walls and Rampart in Uruk. Climb upon the wall of Uruk; walk along it, I say; regard the foundation terrace and examine the masonry: is it not burnt brick and good? (19, Norton; Gilgamesh). So at the same time as the people detest Gilgamesh, it is also evident that he has done great things for civilization. This admiration so early in the story of a man who is obviously morally corrupt open up the possibility that he may at some point in the story change into something else.
That change will come greatly as a result of a man in the story named Enkidu, who the gods create to be the equal of Gilgamesh and to stop his tyranny. Unlike Gilgamesh who seems to come out of civilization from the start of the poem, Enkidu comes from nature and the wild. Enkidu ate grass in the hills with the gazelle and lurked with wild beasts at the water holes; he had joy of the water with the herds of wild game. (19, Norton; Gilgamesh). It is also obvious in the poem that the gods create Enkidu as well in order to balance Gilgamesh. After a while however, a trapper finds Enkidu, which is a kind of bridge between civilized life in the city and wild life in nature. The trapper the goes to tell Gilgamesh of the one he saw who seems to be as strong and of the same genesis as Gilgamesh himself.
Gilgamesh then orders that a harlot to be sent to change Enkidu in a way such that the game of the wilderness will surely reject him. (20, Norton; Gilgamesh). This is the first proof we have for Enkidu that he does have sex with women, as they spend time together in the woods. After this, Enkidu grows week and he beasts run from him. Enkidu was grown weak, for wisdom was in him, and the thoughts of a man were in his heart. (20, Norton; Gilgamesh).
Also interesting here is the fact that Enkidu is changed by a woman, and in fact a woman takes his strength from him with wisdom and love. Also, since the beasts now run from him, it seems that he now has no choice but to go to civilization, since nature will no longer have him as an equal. So he proceeds to Uruk, where he and Gilgamesh meet and seal their friendship upon meeting each other, and form an immediate male-male relationship. After Gilgamesh and Enkidu meet, there forms a relationship based on the theories of Platonic love, which can also be called erotic love. However, this relationship does not have to be a sexual one, such as modern times lead us to believe. Erotic need not suggest sexual relationship here, but the companionship, the feeling of being met fully by others, the warmth of empathy, and the sharing of the heart that is erotic in the widest sense, yet not necessarily physically sexual. (Doty 76).
Gilgamesh and Enkidu come to share a relationship in which each becomes a very close companion of the other. In this relationship, Gilgamesh tends to be the more masculine figure, while Enkidu is more feminine in many respects. On the broad level, one possible explanation for this is the idea of social conditioning. children learn of the association of aggression, say, with masculinity from the fact that parents and nursery school teachers treat boys more roughly and boisterously than girls, and from their experience in nursery school, for instance, that the boys tend to be more often involved than the girls in rough-and-tumble and aggressive interaction. (Sayers 24). Although Enkidu did not attend a nursery school, he was raised in the wild, and in the wild it is often true that many wild animals have different definitions of gender roles, such as females hunting ad males watching the young in some species. This was the environment in which Enkidu spent the earliest part of his time on earth.
Then, in his first interaction with mankind he was with a harlot, and therefore his first glimpse of mankind was of the feminine side, even if it was from a sexually male perspective. Then, he is forced into a world where his behaviors that were the norm are no longer the norm for most of the society he is entering into. Whereas at one time we could not look at this kind of relationship in terms of the possibility of there being more than an emotional Platonic love present, with the opening up of today s society it can now become an important analytical lens (Doty 76). Although we can not say that Gilgamesh and Enkidu definitely shared a homosexual relationship, we also can not discount the possibility that such a relation ship exists. It is interesting that they take each other by the hand in several instances. It is hard today to know for sure if this was typical at this time or if it was a specific gesture.
Of particular interest in relation to the meeting of Gilgamesh and Enkidu is that upon embracing Gilgamesh, Enkidu essentially gives up women to be by the side of Gilgamesh. This could easily be an example of Platonic love, in which the separate parts of the original being have returned to their unified state, in this case both parts being male. In modern times, it would be very difficult for most males to relate to this type of a relationship. This is largely due to the distrust of male relationships, and the fact that since such a relationship does not normally exist, there is no social conditioning on how to handle a male-male relationship (Sayers 24). Platonic love is not as well understood today as it was naturally at this time, so it is possible that the whole idea of homosexuality in this poem is merely a result of modern analysis. Of course, at the same time, we must also consider that Gilgamesh and Enkidu are considered part god, and at this point in history the mythical gods do not abide by the same set of rules for sexuality that mortal man does, and therefore Enkidu and Gilgamesh could be involved in such a relationship and have it be perfectly acceptable at this time because they are considered nearly gods themselves.
Interesting also is the passage in which the goddess Ninsun takes Enkidu on as her own son. Strong Enkidu, you are not the child of my body, but I will receive you as my adopted son; you are my other child like the foundlings they bring to the temple. (25, Norton; Gilgamesh). Here, even though it seems that Enkidu is being taken on like a lost child, it is also possible that Enkidu is being accepted by Ninsun as a subordinate to Gilgamesh, almost like a wife, or a son in law. Once again Enkidu s identity of masculinity comes into question, and we are forced to evaluate the situations that Enkidu continually finds himself in, and ask it he is as a wife to Gilgamesh, or a temple servant perhaps, or if this is simply an idea that lies at the foundation of Platonic love.
Later Enkidu and Gilgamesh embark on a quest together to slay the mighty Humbaba. During the battle, Enkidu is dealt a mortal blow, and seems certain to die. He curses those who led him to civilization, and at this point the god Shamash hears Enkidu and responds to remind Enkidu that he was brought into civilization by these people and basically that this is a good thing. This is a statement of the poem that civilization is regarded as superior to the wilds of nature at this time, and that Enkidu should be thankful he was even given the opportunity to partake in it. Once again, Enkidu is forced to give up the identity he might wish to conform to another.
It is also intriguing here that the mention of Gilgamesh s name seems to calm Enkidu. did she not give you glorious Gilgamesh as your companion (33, Norton; Gilgamesh). Even the language here describes Gilgamesh as superior, as glorious and forces Enkidu to be a less than equal. Later, in order to resurrect Enkidu, Gilgamesh searches for a legendary plant. When he finally locates it, a serpent steals it, and he is forced to deal with the death of Enkidu, and for the first time he is forced to deal with the fact that it seems death simply can not be escaped.
This helps to change Gilgamesh a great deal, and in fact it is after this that Gilgamesh begins to change his way and is truly a shepherd of the people. In the end, Gilgamesh veils Enkidu like a woman (35, Norton: Gilgamesh). In fact, the text describes this as being veiled like a bride in this translation. So once again, even in death, it seems that Enkidu and Gilgamesh have moved to a very close and personal relationship with each other, which is certainly Platonic in nature, and even possibly sexually oriented in some way or another. In the end, it is unavoidable that in some way each is affected by the other, either to serve or remember the other and to be the fulfillment of each other.
Bibliography Unknown Author. Gilgamesh. In The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, the Western Tradition, Seventh Edition, Volume 1. Ed.
Sarah Lawall and Maynard Mack. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, Inc. , 1999. 18 - 35.
Doty, William G. Myths of Masculinity. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1993. 73 - 78. Sayers, Janet. Sexual Contradictions. New York: Tavistock Publications Ltd. , 1986. 23 - 34.
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