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Enkidu and Gilgamesh

August 31, 2013


Enkidu Gilgamesh


In the poem Gilgamesh, the protagonist of the title is the king of Uruk. He is semi-divine and does what he wants with whomever he wants, especially when what he wants is the new bride of another man. This is a major concern to the residents and gods of the town. The gods decide that what is needed is a man equal to the power of Gilgamesh, a kind of twin, and so there materializes out of “earth clay and divine spittle” the wild man Enkidu. At first, he runs with the animals, and is uncivilized to the core, hairy like a beast, and would rather have a ziggurat fall on his head than wear even one thread of clothing. He unsets the traps of hunters and eats shepherd’s flocks. He is the first eco-terrorist. The hunters report the news of this force of nature to the king, Gilgamesh. The plan is to send the famous temple harlot, Shamhat, to tame Enkidu.

Shamhat finds her protégé and for seven days teaches him the art of love as opposed to the act of grunting animal sex. There is pillow-talk, too, wherein Shamhat tries to sells him on the idea of abandoning the gazelles and his other furry chums to go live in the city of Uruk. He has now gained some level of self-consciousness and soon is demanding to go to the center of civilization to confront Gilgamesh. Shamhat gives Endiku his first set of duds, a torn piece of her robe, and off they go on their journey, during which he experiences other first-time amenities, like cooked food and beer and bathing and cologne. Now he guards the flocks that were once his dinner.

Endiku hears about a wedding feast in Uruk and how Gilgamesh will be carrying out his personal tradition of raping the bride. Enkidu enters the city amidst oohs and ahs from the gathering crowd, who note his size and beauty and his resemblance to the king. The former wild man stands sentinel at the door of the bridal chamber and meets the ever horny Gilgamesh for an epic rumble that shakes the very foundations of the city. In the end, Enkidu concedes victory to his noble twin, who in turn gives Endiku the status of best friend for life.

Enkidu may now be an urbanite, but he loses no time in devising a plan for a road trip with Gilgamesh. The servant seems to be more intelligent than the master, as Enkidu only drops the hint that they should travel to the Cedar Forest to take on the famed monster, Huwawa, and then lets the threatened manhood of the king take over the thought, seeing it as a way to make headlines in the Uruk Times. Enkidu knows the wilderness. He will lead the way in an arrangement not unlike the African tour guide being the one really in charge of the megalomaniacal billionaire safari hunter out in the bush. This is never more apparent than when Gilgamesh has three dreams en route to the Cedar Forest that foretell anything but good times ahead, but Enkidu puts an opposite spin on the true meaning of each dream that would have made proud the most cynical political campaign manager. The man who was once an innocent soul of nature has now become a master of manipulation.

They enter the gloomy Cedar Forest and encounter the presence of Huwawa, who at first is more felt and heard than seen in the flesh. Then the king beholds the fiery monster face to face and turns tail in an instant. Again Endiku must take control of the situation and talk Gilgamesh down from the cowering ledge employing what will become their mantra: “Two people, companions, they can prevail together against the terror.” It is true that moments later Endiku also flees from Huwawa, but the unoriginal Gilgamesh must use Endiku’s words, the mantra, to restore courage.

The god, Shamash, comes to the aid of the two men to neutralize the demon, whereupon Huwawa wants to cut a deal with Gilgamesh that will give Uruk the timber needed to build gates. Enkidu interposes to tell the king not to be so gullible, that they must kill the monster before it is too late. Enkidu knows that Gilgamesh is vainer than a Hollywood starlet. As such, he adds that, with the guardian of the forest dead, they can take all the wood to build the gate as testament to the greatness of the king. The two companions kill Huwawa and thereafter bring the finest wood back to Uruk in triumph.

At this point, everything would have been fine had not Gilgamesh decided to reject the sexual advances of the goddess, Ishtar, who retaliates by sending the Bull of Heaven to wreak havoc on Uruk. Of course, it is Enkidu who takes the proverbial and literal bull by the horns. He ends up in a life and death struggle with Ishtar’s bovine hit-man before asking the spectator, Gilgamesh, to maybe lend a hand, thank you very much. The two men cite the mantra about “Two people, companions,” etc, and kill the Bull of Heaven.

Ishtar is livid and puts a curse on Gilgamesh, which puts the ever noble Enkidu in an equal state of rage. He breaks off a piece of the Bull of Heaven and throws it at Ishtar, and, like Ahab, threatens the very gods for bestowing on him an independent mind and then getting outraged whenever he expresses that independence. And like Ahab, Enkidu must now pay for daring to stand toe to toe with the immortals. What better way to demonstrate that one is not a god than to remind him and the rest of humanity that he is mortal – Enkidu will have to die a slow mysterious death.

Enkidu progresses through different stages of how to confront his inevitable demise. He regrets that he will have to spend the immediate part of the afterlife without his best friend, Gilgamesh, which demonstrates his nobler self. Then he gets angry about the wooden gate and what it took to build it, as it is a reminder of the futility of human endeavor. But Gilgamesh, now confronted with the loss of Enkidu, and understanding the native greatness of his servant, promises to erect a statue to immortalize Enkidu in immortal stone.

The next day, Enkidu begins to question the wisdom that had converted him from a care-free child of nature, who was no more aware of his own mortality than a four-legged animal grazing on a hillside, into this civilized man who is analyzing and fussing over the details of existence. He wants to turn back the clock and return to Eden. He curses the hunter and Shamhat for their role in taking him away from the heedless life of the animal. He is Everyman looking back on his life and wishing he would have made different decisions, and wishing he had not been so concerned with his name and his social responsibilities – that, in a word, he would have recognized what is most important in life: living in the moment, and enjoying special moments.

He is at this bitter stage on his slide toward death when the god, Shamash, puts a reassuring hand on Enkidu and says something to the effect that, “Hey, you did all right in this world, my son. Don’t rebuke Shamhat, for she showed you a good time and taught you how to eat and drink and wear fine clothes and made it possible for you to hold second spot in the mortal pecking order right below Gilgamesh, who, mind you, loves you more than anything and will make sure that you are remembered so long as humans live on this earth.” In response, Enkidu reaches the last stage of wisdom and heroism – magnanimity — as he blesses the harlot, Shamhat, with the poetry of the truly civilized man: “May the old man comb his locks and beard to please you. May the young unbuckle his belt in joy for you…”

Nonetheless, the next day Enkidu is afraid of the coming end, but his companion, Gilgamesh, is present at his bedside. Enkidu describes a dream from the previous night of how he was alone on a dark plain, and how another man, a menacing man, attacked him, and however much Enkidu fought back, the man could neither be seen or held with any certainty, such is the elusiveness of life, and how Enkidu called out the mantra of “two people, companions,” only there was no word from Gilgamesh – all of which no doubt symbolized how each man must face death alone in a lonely place.

Enkidu suffers for twelve more days, always aware of the final destination. On that last day, he reminds Gilgamesh of the mantra, “Two people, companions, they can prevail,” but then adds that this belief is just that, a belief, since no one, not even the two strongest mortals in the world, can prevail over death. Enkidu dies with that thought in mind.

Enkidu is just as much a hero in this poem as is Gilgamesh, and maybe even more of a hero. Enkidu had the greater journey, having progressed through all stages of human history, from living in a state of nature with the gazelles, to sexual awakening and its romantic asides, to a civilized concern over appearance, to vying for power, to quixotic quests in the name of personal glory, to anthropomorphic megalomania, to the regret that it all must end, and to it actually ending accompanied by one’s human imagination picturing an afterlife that may not be full of light. Enkidu was more self-aware than Gilgamesh, though he had started off devoid of all self-awareness. He felt strong feelings, and thought strong thoughts every step of the way, and learned something at each step, and what more can be asked of mortal man?


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