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A Written Response to Gilgamesh

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Written Response to Gilgamesh

Gilgamesh was the King of a city named Uruk in the Mesopotamia about 4,000 years ago. He was two-thirds god and one-third man. He built temple towers, and surrounded his city with high walls. Gilgamesh was physically beautiful, immensely strong, and very wise. Although Gilgamesh was godlike in body and mind, he began his kingship as a cruel leader. He lorded over his subjects, raping any woman who struck his fancy, whether she was the wife of one of his warriors or the daughter of a nobleman. He accomplished his building projects with forced labor, and his exhausted subjects groaned under his oppression. The gods heard his subjects' pleas and decided to keep Gilgamesh in check by creating a wild man named Enkidu, who was as magnificent as Gilgamesh. They eventually became best friends and embarked on a journey together that would teach Gilgamesh a lifelong lesson.

Though Gilgamesh is legendary, the narrator hastens to inform us that he was not always exemplary. An equal person was required to counter and control Gilgamesh's awesome power for he was more god than mortal. The narrator suggests that his equal, Enkidu, is a singular force of nature. He is hairy, he grazes with the animals, and he lacks the power of courage. He enables the animals to escape human impact, which threatens the balance of the world, as humans still do, today. When Enkidu must depart from his life in nature to approach civilization, his redemption is through a woman, who forces him to confront the strong power of a woman's sexuality, which you might say, tames him.

Enkidu's story repeats the story of humankind, the passage from mere animal existence to self-awareness and culture. His fall from nature foreshadows another biblical motif: Adam and Eve's fall from innocence in Eden when they become aware of their sexuality. Female sexuality is the force that makes domesticity and civilized life possible, and Ishtar, the goddess of love, fertility, and war, plays a huge role in Gilgamesh and Enkidu's stories. As the epic continues, however, sexual love does not necessarily figure in to the ultimate human relationship. In Gilgamesh, the love that exists between evenly matched comrades is even more important. Equilibrium, balance, and moderation are essential virtues. Since Gilgamesh is part god and part mortal, these different aspects are in constant contention with one another. The very qualities that make Gilgamesh awesome--his strength and beauty--also make him monstrous, until they achieve balance. Enkidu's wildness, likewise, must come into harmony with his humanity. He requires an equally developed spirit to control his powerful body and that is where Enkidu's domestication is a prerequisite for Gilgamesh's moral education.

When Gilgamesh left Uruk to embark on a journey with Enkidu, the narrator truly reveals how much they needed one another and how strong their friendship was going to become.



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