Gilgamesh and Enkidu: Mesopotamian Friendship
Stephen Mitchell’s English translation of the tale of Gilgamesh is an epic poem that follows Gilgamesh, king of Uruk on his journeys. The story can be used to give insight on his relationship with Enkidu.
Within the story, Gilgamesh is an egotistic king, “two-thirds divine and one-third human” (71). His egotism resulted in his being cruel to the people of Uruk, so Enkidu was created to be his equal and bring him down a notch. Enkidu is two-thirds beast and one-third human and was raised in the wild until a trapper him to civilization with the help of Shamhat’s “love-arts” (78). An interesting fact about Enkidu and Gilgamesh is that upon Enkidu’s creation, Anu said to Aruru, goddess and mother of creation, “create a double for Gilgamesh, his second self, a man who equals his strength and courage, a man who equals his stormy heart. Create a new hero, let them balance each other perfectly so that Uruk has peace” (74). What makes this interesting is that Enkidu, a man part animal, was created as an equal for Gilgamesh, a man part god. This suggests that the Mesopotamians equated gods with nature or viewed nature as being divine in some form. Why then was Enkidu civilized? If they viewed nature as an equal to divinity, why would they take man from nature and civilize him? This could imply man’s instinct for power in the sense of being able to domesticate something they viewed as being above them or the Mesopotamians’ pride in civilization. Uruk was a great city after all. Instead of taming Enkidu, they could have killed him as they did to Humbaba, yet he was taken to Gilgamesh.
Upon meeting Gilgamesh, a fight ensued where Gilgamesh triumphed and then “they embraced and kissed. They held hands like brothers. They walked side by side. They became true friends” (90). Had it not been for the “like brothers” part, their relationship would seem homoerotic. I am not sure how Sumerians or Akkadians viewed homosexuality but that theory aside, the pair’s relationship could indicate how relationships were valued. Before civilization came to be, people were nomads and largely hunter gatherers. While humans have always worked better in groups, intimate bonds such as the two shared gives a different perspective on friendship. At least in American society, hypermasculinity is lauded, forcing males to not be as expressive in friendships as the two were. Their relationship could act as a testimony to the value of such bonds within Mesopotamia culture. As proof to the strength of their friendship, Enkidu could accept death at the price of a friend. Shamad said to Enkidu after he cursed Shamhat for civilizing him “wasn’t it she who… gave you splendid Gilgamesh as your intimate friend” and “When Enkidu heard this, his raging heart grew calm” (147-8). His fear and blame shifting subsiding at the mention of Gilgamesh shows the intimacy they shared. Their tie expresses a willingness to protect one another; perhaps it is linked to Mesopotamian way of life where they and care for everybody regardless of blood relations.
The intimacy in Gilgamesh relates to ancient Mesopotamia. Being the first known advanced civilization, they had a more intricate way of living which produced relationships with more depth as they spent more time around each other. Surely the tale of Gilgamesh can inspire readers to find their Enkidu or value the one they already have.