A prelude introduces us to the hero. Gilgamesh’s mother was the Lady Wildcow Ninsun, a minor goddess noted for her wisdom, and Lugulbanda was his father. Gilgamesh built the great city of Uruk and surrounded it with magnificent, intricately constructed outer and inner walls. He erected beautiful temples for Anu, the god of the heavens, and for Anu’s daughter Ishtar, the goddess of war and love. He laid out orchards and ponds and irrigated fields. A dauntless explorer, Gilgamesh opened passes through the mountains and dug wells in the wilderness. He traveled to the ends of the Earth and beyond, where he met Utnapishtim, the sole survivor of the great flood that almost ended the world. When he returned from his travels he wrote everything down on a tablet of lapis lazuli and locked it in a copper chest.
As the story begins, Gilgamesh is terrifying and all-powerful. He sacrifices warriors whenever he feels like fighting, rapes his nobles’ wives, takes whatever he wants from his people, and tramples anyone who gets in his way. The old men of Uruk complain, saying that a king is supposed to protect his subjects like a shepherd, not harass them like a wild ox. The gods listen. They tell Aruru, the goddess of creation, that since she made Gilgamesh, she must now make someone strong enough to stand up to him.
Aruru takes some clay, moistens it with her spit, and forms another man, named Enkidu. Shunning the cultivated lands and the cities, he lives in the wilderness with the animals. His most prominent physical feature is his hairiness. One day a hunter sees him at a watering hole. Terrified, the hunter rushes back to his house to tell his father he has seen a giant man, the most powerful in the land. The hunter says the man has unset his traps and filled in his pits, and that now he cannot be a hunter.
The hunter’s father tells him he should go to Uruk and ask Gilgamesh to lend him a temple prostitute, whose greater power will suffice to conquer Enkidu. The hunter follows his father’s advice and soon travels back to the wilderness with the prostitute. They wait by the watering hole for three days.
When Enkidu finally appears, the hunter tells the prostitute to lie down on a blanket and show Enkidu her breasts. Enkidu comes to her and they copulate for six days and seven nights. When Enkidu’s lust is finally sated, he returns to the animals, but they no longer regard him as their kin. They run away from him.
Enkidu tries to pursue the animals, but he has become weaker and can no longer gallop as he did before. His mind has awakened. Troubled and confused, he goes back to the prostitute, who consoles him by telling him about the pleasures and wonders he will find in the city of Uruk. She tells him about music, food, festivals, and the strong, terrible king, Gilgamesh. As soon as Enkidu hears about Gilgamesh, he realizes how lonely he is. He longs to meet him and challenge him to a contest of strength.