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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.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Epic of Gilgamesh!