Hairy-chested and brawny, Enkidu begins his literary life as Gilgamesh’s faithful sidekick. In the most ancient of the stories that compose The Epic of Gilgamesh,he is a helper to Gilgamesh. As those legends evolved into chapters of a great epic poem, Enkidu’s role changed profoundly. Much more than a sidekick or a servant, he is Gilgamesh’s soul mate, brother, and equal, even his conscience. In the later stories the gods bring Enkidu into the world to provide a counterpoint to Gilgamesh. Unlike Gilgamesh, who is two-thirds god, Enkidu is fashioned entirely from clay. He begins his life as a wild man, raised by animals, and, crude and unrefined, he remains to a certain extent a sojourner in the civilized world. For example, when Gilgamesh spurns Ishtar, the goddess of love, with flowery, allusive insults, Enkidu merely hurls a piece of meat in her face. However, Enkidu is also instinctively chivalrous. He takes up arms to protect the shepherds who first give him food, and he travels to Uruk to champion its oppressed people and protect its virgin brides from their uncontrollable king. Ironically, that king is Gilgamesh. Enkidu overcomes him with friendship rather than force and transforms him into the perfect leader. Perhaps Enkidu feels Uruk’s injustices so keenly because he is such a latecomer to civilization. Though Enkidu is bolder than most men, he is also less pious than he should be. He pays dearly for the disrespect he shows to Enlil, the god of earth, wind, and air, when he urges Gilgamesh to slay Enlil’s servant Humbaba, and he incurs the wrath of Ishtar. Like all men, Enkidu bitterly regrets having to die, and he clings fiercely to life.
More characters from The Epic of Gilgamesh
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