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Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors
used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
Gilgamesh is rich in religious symbolism.
Religious rituals in Mesopotamia involved sacrifices, festivals,
sex, dream interpretation, and shamanic magic, all of which appear
in the story. Enkidu’s hirsuteness symbolizes the natural, uncivilized
state. The walls of Uruk symbolize the great accomplishments of
which mortals are capable. In the context of the ancient king who
built them, they represent the immortality he achieved through his
acts. Bulls represent explosive, destructive natural power, and
the ability to wrestle a bull suggests humanity’s ability to harness
nature’s power. This symbolism accounts for Enkidu’s interpretation
of Gilgamesh’s dream about the bull in the Cedar Forest. Enkidu
says the bull is Humbaba, and that the act of wrestling the bull
is Shamash’s blessing. Later in the poem, Enkidu and Gilgamesh do
subdue a bull together, perhaps suggesting that humankind has the
power to conquer famine.
Images of doorways, portals, and gateways constantly recur
in Gilgamesh. Enkidu blocks the doorway of the
bride’s chamber and wrestles with Gilgamesh. Enkidu and Gilgamesh
stand awestruck and terrified before the gates to the Cedar Forest.
After their triumph there, they fashion the tallest tree into a
gate for Uruk. The Scorpions guard the gates of Mashu. Siduri the
barmaid locks the door to her tavern. The hatchway of Utnapishtim’s
boat is caulked shut. In most cases, doorways mark a transition
from one level of consciousness to another. They also represent
choices, since characters can either shut themselves behind doorways
to seek safety or boldly venture through them.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Epic of Gilgamesh!