Love, Friendship and Sexuality in ‘Gilgamesh’
The Epic of Gilgamesh is a story about men and gods, set in ancient Mesopotamia. Gilgamesh is king in the kingdom of Uruk, where he rules with impunity. The epic follows the events in Gilgamesh’s life that culminate in him becoming a humble person after a great friendship with Enkidu. Just like any other work of literature, the Epic of Gilgamesh contains several important themes, such as immortality, the nature of the gods, as well as love and sexuality. Although the story is set in ancient times quite different from ours, readers stand to learn quite a lot from reading the story. The central theme in the story is love, friendship, and sexuality, and the significance is that readers can relate these to their own lives.
Gilgamesh and Enkidu met under difficult circumstances, yet they grew to become the best of friends. Gilgamesh was a harsh and ruthless king who mistreated his people at will. For example, he raped any woman he desired and also used forced labor to build his temple. The people of Uruk cried out at these injustices, and the gods heard them. To challenge Gilgamesh, the gods sent a creature named Enkidu, who lived in the wild with animals. When a trapper discovered Enkidu’s extraordinary strength, he brought a prostitute named Shamhat to tame Enkidu and make him human. Sex was considered a calming force. After meeting with Shamhat, the wild animals ran away from Enkidu. He went to Uruk in search of Gilgamesh, who was just about to rape a bride, and the two men fought for a long time. Eventually, Gilgamesh prevailed, but the two later became good friends. They went on various adventures, but they angered the gods, and Enkidu was punished with death. Heartbroken over losing his friend, Gilgamesh sought a way to become immortal.
The friendship between Enkidu and Gilgamesh is the major part of the epic. Although the two met under strained circumstances, they later went on to become great friends (Ackerman,18). After their first fight, they set out on adventures together. One of these was to a forest belonging to the gods and forbidden to mortals. The two disregarded this and entered the forest, after killing Humbaba, the demon guarding the forest. They then journeyed back to Uruk on a raft made from cedars from the forest. When they returned, one of the goddesses named Ishtar fell in love with Gilgamesh, but he ignored her. Ishtar had her father send the Bull of heaven to destroy Gilgamesh, but he and Enkidu managed to kill the bull. This enraged the gods who killed Enkidu.
Love is evident in the friendship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu, as well as between other characters in the story. The theme of love and friendship is significant because it shows readers how powerful the force of love can be. When Gilgamesh and Enkidu met, they were supposed to be enemies because Enkidu was sent to stop Gilgamesh and his evil ways. However, even after the two fought, they later became good friends. This shows that friendship can strike between any two people, no matter their circumstances. Love is an integral part of friendship because it is the force that binds two people together (Ziolkowski 31). The love between Gilgamesh and Enkidu is even more apparent after Enkidu’s death. Gilgamesh was stricken with grief after his friend’s death and worried about his own death in the future. This deep grief is a sign of how much Gilgamesh loved Enkidu and valued their friendship.
The theme of love and friendship in the Epic of Gilgamesh also shows how far people are willing to go for love and friendship. The goddess Ishtar fell in love with Gilgamesh, although he did not return her feelings. This deeply wounded and enraged the goddess, and she set up a scheme to punish Gilgamesh. She asked her father to send the bull of heaven to destroy Gilgamesh, all because her love was not returned. This situation shows that love is a powerful and also destructive force when it is not reciprocated (Besamusca 12). Enkidu and Gilgamesh teamed up and eventually killed the bull, a testament to their great friendship. Enkidu could have left Gilgamesh to deal with his problems, but as a true friend, he stood with him in his challenges. Sexuality is shown in the situation between Shamhat and Enkidu. Sex was considered a powerful tool that could calm Enkidu from being a beast into a man, and it worked. The significance of this is that with the right weapon, any person can be subdued. In the epic of Gilgamesh, sex was a powerful tool, and the trapper used wisely to tame Enkidu.
In conclusion, the theme of love, friendship, and sexuality in the epic of Gilgamesh is significant in many ways. The friendship between Enkidu and Gilgamesh teaches readers that even the worst situation can result in positive outcomes. Enkidu and Gilgamesh should have been enemies, but they struck up a great friendship in trying times. Love is a major part of friendship and other relationships because it allows people to support each other in good and bad times. Enkidu and Gilgamesh shared a great love, and this is why Gilgamesh was greatly wounded by the death of his friend. The theme gives readers a chance to reflect on their own situations, and see the positive side of any terrible situation. The Epic of Gilgamesh is a great lesson due to its relevant themes.
Ackerman, Susan. When heroes love: the ambiguity of eros in the stories of Gilgamesh and David. Columbia University Press, 2005.
Besamusca, Bart. “The human condition, friendship and love: The Epic of Gilgamesh and medieval Arthurian romance.” People and Texts: Relationships in Medieval Literature. Brill Rodopi, 2007. 1-15.
Ziolkowski, Theodore. Gilgamesh Among Us: Modern encounters with the ancient epic. Cornell University Press, 2011.