A harlot slowly approaches a savage man, who drinks and eats grass from the hills with the other animals. The harlot bares her breasts and offers her tempting body to the savage man, for when he “murmurs love to her the wild beasts that shared his life in the hills will reject him” (Sandars 64). For six days and seven nights they lay together, until the savage man is fully satisfied with the harlot. Little does this savage man, Enkidu, from The Epic of Gilgamesh, know that by being seduced by the harlot, the unforeseeable effects of this action will force him to his inevitable death. The notion that “seduction leads to destruction” is clearly evident in the characters of Gilgamesh and Enkidu from The Epic of Gilgamesh. This is critical because this notion exemplifies the archetype of women seen throughout historical literary works such as The Epic of Gilgamesh.
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The Epic of Gilgamesh immediately dives into this theme that “temptation leads to destruction” because the scene of Enkidu and the harlot is presented in the first few pages. By being seduced by the harlot, Enkidu unintentionally forsakes his savage and animal nature. Upon arriving back to his animal friends, Enkidu startles them and “when the wild creatures saw him they fled”, as if he had never drunk or eaten with them – erased from their existence (Sandars 65). The animals appear to recognize a change in Enkidu; Enkidu begins to realize as he chases after his animal brethren that he does not have the endurance and strength he once embodied as if “his body was bound as though with a cord” (Sandars 65). At this point, Enkidu has now been invested with the “gift” of wisdom and “the thoughts of a man in his heart” after he has lain with the harlot (Sanders 65). This wisdom grants Enkidu the knowledge of self-recognition and this knowledge may be that stigma the animals have against Enkidu. In any case, Enkidu has now been removed from his primordial lifestyle and begins his journey into humanity.
A distinction used to separate civilized man from savage beasts is the ability to wear clothes. In the story, soon after the harlot has lain with Enkidu, she clothes him and instructs him on how to eat the bread she has provided, for he has only “suck the milk of wild animals” (Sandars 67). In addition to the bread, the harlot provides wine for Enkidu as well. The act of Enkidu consuming wine and bread is much like receiving Communion in Christianity, in which a person receives the body and blood of Christ, so that a person can accept and allow Christ to become a part of him/her. In this case, Enkidu accepts humanity and all its greatness and pitfalls into his life. Enkidu then anoints himself with oil – a similar act that is performed when babies are baptized and adolescents are confirmed in the Christian religion as way to finalize a rite of passage. Even though Christianity does not appear until long after The Epic of Gilgamesh, the pull of archetypal behaviors appears throughout man’s history. Therefore after anointing himself, Enkidu is declared a man and unknowingly declares the beginning of his destruction.
Enkidu’s journey to understand what it means to be a civilized man, begins with brawl of brawn against the king of Uruk, Gilgamesh, who befriends him after the match. Together, the duo develops a friendship and tackle situations throughout Uruk. Their first true challenge lies in the forest, ironic that Enkidu must be out of the confines of a walled city of civilization to test his might against the nature that first raised him. The two confront Humbaba, protector of the forest. Enkidu pleads that because Gilgamesh does “not know this monster and that is the reason why he afraid,” but Enkidu knows Humbaba and is terrified (Sandars 80). Gilgamesh delivers the first blow to Humbaba while Enkidu contemplates whether or not if he should strike Humbaba because the creature did not preemptively strike, but is merely protecting what it values and cherishes. Through the persuasion of Gilgamesh, Enkidu releases his hesitations and declares that “the strongest of men will fall to fate if he has no judgment” (Sandars 82). Therefore Enkidu executes a deafening strike to Humbaba which serves as the destruction of the spirit of the animal nature that once embodied Enkidu. Together the two continue to strike Humbaba until it is destroyed and then relish in their victory over the creature.
Nowhere up to this point in the story does Enkidu utilize his recognition of being a civilized human as a way to exert power over those that are animals. Enkidu, who first lives as a man that carries the characteristics of an animal, never declares that humanity and civilization as a whole are better than his previous life with animals when he is transformed into a civilized man after the seduction by the harlot. The seduction by the harlot has now led to the destruction of Enkidu’s animal nature, but the destruction of his civilized human nature will soon follow.
In contrast to the seduction of Enkidu by the harlot, and how he willing lays with her, Gilgamesh is seduced by the goddess, Ishtar, and spurns her attempt to seduce him. Ishtar is the ancient Babylonian goddess of love and fertility, and so when Gilgamesh denies Ishtar’s offer to “grant [her] the seed of [his body]” and “let [her] be [his] bride” and reminds her of her former lovers, Gilgamesh goes as far as proposing an ironic question to the goddess of love of whether or not she in fact loved her lovers (Sandars 85). This decision by Gilgamesh seems out of character when compared to when he is described at the beginning of the story – a man who went out of his way to sleep with the bride of newly married couples before the husband could. Gilgamesh’s decision to deny Ishtar’s temptation is a key turning point in Gilgamesh’s journey of better understanding himself and humanity as a whole because he longer is self-indulged and genuinely cares for others.
Ishtar becomes enraged by this deprecation that Gilgamesh unleashes upon her and her status as a goddess. She then reports the situation concerning Gilgamesh to her father, Anu, and asks that he gives her the Bull of Heaven to avenge her honor and “destroy Gilgamesh” and to “fill Gilgameshâ€¦with arrogance to his destruction” (Sandars 87). The Bull of Heaven is summoned to encounter Gilgamesh and Enkidu, but the strength of the two comrades outmatches that of the creature. Gilgamesh then “tore out the Bull’s right thigh and tossed it” at the face of Ishtar, who is tremendously insulted and plans to retaliate by sending a disease with which Enkidu will become afflicted (Sandars 88).
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The disease strikes Enkidu swiftly and within a matter of days, Enkidu nears his inevitable death. During this time, Enkidu renounces his experience with the harlot, which turned him away from the animals, and curses her, but the god, Shamash, reasons that Enkidu would have never taste “bread fit for gods and drink wine of kings”, never wore beautiful clothes, and never known of Gilgamesh’s friendship (Sandars 91). Shamash merely only assuages and placates Enkidu’s attitude toward his own inevitable fate and death because he does not comprehend what his purpose in life is. Enkidu was created to be the counter-half of Gilgamesh, so that the people of Uruk could live without the brash rule of Gilgamesh. When Enkidu curses the harlot, who seduced him and gave him new life as a civilized man, he is condemning the idea of his own existence and why he must suffer the disease. This destruction of Enkidu is brought about by the events after his experience with the harlot, and these events are simply pieces of a puzzle that ultimately unveil the destined destruction of himself.
Gilgamesh is overcome by his friend’s destruction and begins a journey to find a way to resurrect his beloved friend and the secret to immortality. Gilgamesh acquires knowledge that a man, who used to be a mere mortal, now has the immortality of a god. With this information, Gilgamesh decides to find this man in hopes that he can provide the secret to everlasting life. When Gilgamesh has what he desires, a plant that rejuvenates the old, he begins his journey back to Uruk so that he and the elders can receive the rejuvenation that the plant provides. Gilgamesh takes a swim one night, but “deep in the pool there was lying a serpent, and the serpent sense the sweetness of the flower” (Sandars 117). The serpent snatches the plant and subsequently sheds its skin as it has been rejuvenated by the plant’s powers. Gilgamesh’s journey, while almost complete, crumbles into a journey in vain when fate intervenes and robs Gilgamesh the opportunity for immortality and to resurrect his friend.
The snake that steals the plant from Gilgamesh bears light on the idea that Gilgamesh is led to the destruction of losing his dear friend and the plant that provides immortality because of his own “snake.” The snake is a historical reference to the male penis and plays a crucial role in how The Epic of Gilgamesh concludes. At the beginning of the story, Gilgamesh uses his “snake” to exert his reign as king and seduces newlywed brides, and ironically by the end of the story, a snake is what destroys the completion of Gilgamesh’s journey and any hopes for immortality. Gilgamesh must then face the reality of Enkidu’s death, but more importantly, he must face the reality of his mortality. Enkidu also becomes destroyed by his “snake” when he becomes seduced by the harlot, an important and praised woman of love, and then the goddess of love, Ishtar sends a disease to destroy him. Both Gilgamesh and Enkidu are betrayed by their sexual longings – both are destroyed when they give in to the seduction of women.
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