The Epic of Gilgamesh is an ancient Mesopotamian epic about a king who is two thirds god and one third man. The king does not meet his expectations of leadership as he is selfish and often angers the Gods. When his companion Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh goes off on a quest to attain immortality. He fails in this quest and eventually dies, but through his travel he came to terms with his own mortality and his greatness lived on. While the main characters are men, women have small but important roles in the Epic of Gilgamesh.
The women in this epic reveal that ancient Mesopotamians valued womenos roles as child bearers and transmitters of civilization. While the Epic of Gilgamesh reveals much about Mesopotamian religion, the goddesses described also reveal, in some ways, how the Mesopotamian viewed and valued women. Ishtar is the goddess of both love and war, this shows that women have the power to be both wonderful and productive or destructive and horrible. A womanos most important role in life is to bear children and a woman who cannot bear children is seen as destructive to the population.
Only a woman has the capacity to create life and that makes her important and valuable. The one who created the earth, according to the Epic of Gilgamesh, was a goddess, a woman. The wife of the sun is the dawn, giving birth to a new day. Because of this unique ability to create life, women were also seen as transmitters of civilization. She who creates life, may also carry civilization within her; this is shown in the first chapter of the epic, OThe Coming of Enkiduo. Enkidu was created by the gods as an equal to Gilgamesh, the only man who could challenge him.
Enkidu was wild and uncivilized. Terrified y the strange man, a shepherd traveled to Uruk for a harlot from Othe temple of loveo 1 . The shepherd told the harlot, Oteach him, the savage man, your womanos art. O 2 After she taught him the art of women for six days and seven nights, the wild creatures fled from him: OAnd now the wild creatures had all fled away; Enkidu was grown weak, for wisdom was in him, and the thoughts of a man were in his heart. o 3 After being rejected by his wild companions, Enkidu returned to the woman who convinced him to come back with her to a civilized world. With that, she clothed him and Oholding his hand she led him like a child to the sheepfolds. Now treating him more as a tender child than a wild lover, she guides him to civilization. This example not only reveals that women transmitted civilization, but that their sexuality and sensitivity had immense power over men.
This story shows that men were aware of the power of womenos art which transformed even the most wild of men. Women had power as lovers and as mothers. Another such example of the power of women as lovers and nurtures is in the sixth chapter entitled OThe Returns. Gilgamesh had made his journey to the land of Dilmun, in the garden of the sun to see Utnapishtim, the Faraway, to whom the gods granted everlasting life. Utnapishtim revealed to Gilgamesh the story of the flood and how he and his wife came to be immortal though he refused to give Gilgamesh the answer to everlasting life and sent him on his way home.
It is the wife of Utnapishtim who convinces him otherwise, she spoke to her husband, OGilgamesh came here wearied out, he is worn out; what will you give him to carry him back to his own country? O 6 Because of these kind and understanding words of his wife, Utnapishtim told 1 “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” The Assyrian International New Agency ,http://www. aina. org/books/eog/eog. htm (accessed February 012), page 4. 2 Ibid, page 5. 3 Ibid, page 5. Ibid, page 5. 5 Ibid, page 16. 6 Ibid, page 22. Gilgamesh how to possess the plant which Orestores lost youth to a man. O 7 Gilgamesh acquired the plant only to lose it to a serpent, though he eventually comes to terms with his own mortality. The role of UtnapishtimOs wife is both small and simple, though shows that she was able to guide and influence her husbandes thoughts and actions. Though the women in the Epic of Gilgamesh have small roles, the characters of the harlot and the wife make vast impacts in the path of the story.
The harlot from the temple is the only one able to take the wild Enkidu and bring him to civilization, which allow for the friendship of Enkidu and Gilgamesh to blossom. The wife was able to convince her husband to reveal the secrets of the gods to Gilgamesh though he loses the plant, he was able to fulfill his destiny. The sexuality of women made them influential as lovers and as mothers. Thus, the women in this epic reveal that ancient Mesopotamians valued womenos roles as child bearers and transmitters of civilization