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The Epic of Gilgamesh

The Epic of Gilgamesh Poem Review

The Epic of Gilgamesh is an antique Mesopotamian epic poem, which tells the story of a king who is a man by one-third and god by two-thirds. In the analyzed poem, males are the main characters. Though women are assigned small roles, they are still extremely important in the Epic of Gilgamesh. The female characters demonstrate the Mesopotamian cherish woman as a bearer of children and nation. In fact, women have a prominent part in the poem. Without them, the events would have occurred in a completely different way.

The goddesses in the poem explain how the Mesopotamians treated and viewed women; the poem reveals a lot of aspects of the local religion. Ishtar is the goddess of war and love; she proves that females have all the necessary power to be both horrible and productive, as well as destructive and captivating. The most significant role of every woman is giving birth to children; a female that is not able to bear offspring is considered a destructive member of the population. Only females have the ability to create a life, which makes them an important part of humanity. According to the poem the Epic of Gilgamesh, a goddess (a woman) was the one who created the World. Females have a really unique ability – they can give birth to other human beings; this fact makes women the source of civilization and life at large. Metaphorically, because of her ability to create a life, a woman is believed to hold the whole generation inside her. This idea can be viewed in the first chapter of the poem, which is entitled “The Coming of Enkidu” (I. 4-11).

According to the poem, the Gods created Enkidu an equal to the King Gilgamesh. Enkidu was uncivilized and wild. He, being frightened by the weird man, traveled a long way to Uruk for a harlot from the holy place of love. The shepherd asked her to teach him the woman’s art. The woman, in turn, revealed him the secrets of the art of women at six days and seven nights. This knowledge had changed Enkidu, and his savage spirit had fled away. Despite the fact that Enkidu was weak, there had always been a strong spirit of wisdom inside him and his heart had been full of thoughts that only a man could have. When Enkidu left his wild friend, he came to the woman, who made him return to the world of people. She put clothes on him, grabbed his hand, and guided him as a child to the new reality, which was strange to him. After that, she did not treat him as a wild savage anymore, but as a pure child, whom she had to bring into a civilized world. This example demonstrates that the woman’s power is not only in her sexuality and senility. Females rather use these means to bring civilization to the male heart and receive power over them. The story about Enkidu demonstrates that even the wildest and most intractable men cannot resist the women’s art, which transforms them from savages to civilized people. Women possess the unique gift; they have the power of a gentle lover and careful mother.

The reader can find one more example of women’s power in the sixth chapter (VI. 31-35) “The Return”. In this chapter, Gilgamesh made a journey into the garden of the sun, where he wished to see Utnapishtim, who enjoyed the everlasting life. Utnapishtim told Gilgamesh a story of how he and his wife became immortal, but he refused to answer the man’s question about the secret of everlasting life and told him to come back home. However, Utnapishtim’s wife used her gentle voice to convince her husband to help the man. She said that Gilgamesh made a difficult journey, and he deserved to carry something to his country.

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The wife’s voice made Utnapishtim tell Gilgamesh about a unique flower, which “restores lost youth to a man”. He revealed the secret and explained how the man should possess himself of the flower in order to receive its magical power. However, when the man found the flower, it was too late as the plant had already lost its ability to restore youth.

Utnapishtim’s wife plays a big and a small role at the same time. She said only few words, but these words had a significant impact on her husband’s decision. According to this fact, it can be said that she had enough power to influence her man’s thoughts and actions.

Despite the fact that women in the Epic of Gilgamesh do not perform big roles, and their characters are less visible, they contribute significantly into the development of the story. In fact, the harlot from the temple was the one who brought a wild Enkidu into the civilized world, where he met Gilgamesh. Consequently, the friendship of Gilgamesh and Enkidu was the result of a woman’s interference. The reason of why Gilgamesh could find a plant that gave immortality was also the female participation. According to this issue, it can be said that all women in this story have their own meanings. Despite the fact that their presence is limited, every their word and action bring certain consequences. Ancient Mesopotamians valued women and their contribution to life as lovers and mothers; therefore, in the story about Gilgamesh, one can find the footprints of this tradition.

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In the ancient poem about Gilgamesh, the female characters are the embodiment not only of the great power and wisdom but also of ruin and temptation. In the epic, there are two female characters that demonstrate wisdom and knowledge. The Priestess Shamhat is one of them; she was sent to tame Enkidu. The woman was rather skillful in her task; she stripped off her rope and lay naked in the wilderness. Finally, Enkidu had sex with her, which led him into the masculine maturity and marked a break with the unsophisticated animal world, in which he had lived before. As one can understand, it was the beginning of the civilized development that involved eating human food, civil liability, and hygiene (85-6). Enkidu’s union with the woman led the man to the disciplined life, and he realized “that his mind had somehow grown larger, / he knew things now that an animal can’t know” (79). Shamhat was a compassionate force that brought civilization and knowledge to a great hero and prepared him for the further trials.
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The second outstanding woman in the Epic of Gilgamesh is the inn-keeper, whose name is Shiduri. The King met her when he was roaming after having lost his comrade and searching for the ways to achieve immortality. When Gilgamesh was describing the nature of his journey, Shiduri would question his opinion and learn what she wished to know. She gave confidence to him in order to teach the man how to put away his pain and find pleasure in all things that he had in his life. In another case, one could say that he was simply trying to escape from death. Despite the fact that at the time, the King did not pay attention to Shiduri, she still offered him useful knowledge. Certainly, because of refusing her help and wisdom, the King suffered significantly and even failed in his endeavor to become immortal.

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Taking into consideration all the above-mentioned information, one can see that females play a crucial role in the poem the Epic of Gilgamesh though they are only the secondary characters. A woman is a representative of the integrity of knowledge and wisdom. She becomes the greatest supporter to the hero since she is the one who can provide him with all the information that he needs to know in order to change the world and himself. A woman becomes a substitute of the mother-goddess, a symbol of all the magnificence and power of the innate world. In other words, a woman is the embodiment of the pledge of flawlessness. By joining her, a hero is not tied up from the delusion of opposites; he becomes the knower and lord of his own fortune. The union between a hero and a woman can be achieved through a figurative matrimony with the goddess; this is how a hero can display his abilities. Nevertheless, while a woman is a symbol of life, a hero is her master and knower. A woman is a tool, which helps the man understand his quest and heart. Therefore, one can state that a woman plays an essential role in the development of the hero’s character throughout his journey. However, females can be very dangerous for a hero since all their knowledge has the ability both to destroy and to create; it depends on how a woman is treated and how her power is used.