The Coming of Enkidu
In this chapter, Gilgamesh is portrayed as a tyrant. How does this view of him change as the narrative progresses? As a framework, I ask students to consider the dramatic tension between individual desire and communal obligation. Gilgamesh's transformation is defined by the mitigation of this fundamental and archetypal confrontation. As central to the purpose of narrative, stories represent the ways in which tales, as products, function in the process of defining our realtionship to society.
None can withstand his arms--Gilgamesh rules by arrogance: no son is left to his father; he takes the children; he takes the virgins for himself. The people of Uruk pray to the gods to create another to contend with Gilgamesh, so that he will leave the residents in Uruk in peace. Why don't they just ask the gods to destroy Gilgamesh?
So Enkidu is conceived--Gilgamesh's second-self--in the mind of the goddess, then pinched from clay and dropped down into the wilderness. Why the wilderness? And what about this guy Enkidu? Beast? Innocent? Eats grass with the gazelles. What might he possibly represent?
The trapper fears him. Enkidu evidently is the protector of the wild animals. Here we have the first of what I might call the crosscurrent in the story, an example of how reversal works in mythology (and how animals help make us human). Gilgamesh supposedly should be the shepherd of his people, a civilized man. Yet he is more a savage oppressor than a responsible king. On the other hand, Enkidu is a beast-like creature who knows nothing of the science of agriculture or the psychology of human behavior, yet he seems the protector of his community of animals, even though he is a wild creature. The story then inverts the meaning of what it means to live in culture and wildness and therefore creates tension--reversal--between our definitions of savage and civil. It is like looking through a kaleidoscope as it turns. Savage Enkidu. Civilized Gilgamesh. Savage Gilgamesh. Civilized Enkidu. At this point in the story, Enkidu doesn't know anything about human speech or behavior, but he is perhaps more humane than Gilgamesh? What are some of the most significant implications of this part of the story?
So the trapper seeks advice from Gilgamesh and thus he evidently devises a strategy to overcome the power of the mysterious Enkidu, a strategy that requires the service of a harlot. She will strip naked and when Enkidu comes to the watering hole, she will show herself and Enkidu will embrace her and thus the other wild beasts will reject him. Why would this happen? For six days and seven nights they lay together. Wow! I'd be exhausted too. But Enkidu's weakness seems more permanent: Wisdom makes you weak? I thought it was supposed to make you stronger. Enkidu also forgets his animal friends. Doesn't forgetfulness indicate that your mind is slipping? What is going on here? How do we explain this transformation?
So Enkidu sits at the feet of the harlot and listens to what she says. I guess this indicates that he is learning language. But remember that Enkidu is created for a reason. And he certainly doesn't seem to be a peer of Gilgamesh exactly. He is completely different, even an opposite. How is it that Enkidu is the second-self that the people asked for? Consider for a moment our discussion of Greek Tragedy the the figurative forced marriage of Apollo and Dionysus as emblems of the dramatic competition. It is the binding of opposites that creates a kind of balance not unlike electrons and protons--even the yin/ yang emblem can help us envision what the goddess had in mind when she created Enkidu?
Now the story takes a turn into a dream sequence--Gilgamesh dreams and Ninsun, his mother / goddess interprets his dreams. The ax image?
The harlot gives Enkidu clothing and takes to live among the shepherds where Enkidu discovers food and drink, including wine. He takes up arms against the lion--he becomes the watchman of the shepherds. He is merry. Until the day a man arrives and tells them that Gilgamesh is lording over the people by demanding to be first with all brides. Enkidu will go and challenge Gilgamesh and "change the world order." Gilgamesh and Enkidu fight and Gilgamesh throws Enkidu. What might the struggle represent? Why is Enkidu able to take-on Gilgamesh? Why does Enkidu win the admiration of Gilgamesh?