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Women Set the Boundaries Essay

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The Epic of Gilgamesh was written in Mesopotamia in 2700 B.C.E. (Droge). During that time, women were thought of as equal partners in life and enjoyed privileges such as owning property and doing business on their own (Craig 12). The story starts off with Gilgamesh who is one third man and two thirds god. His power is out of control so an equal creature is created by the gods to keep him in check. This story is about a man's quest for immortality in addition to the importance of boundaries between the realms of animal, man and god. The female presence is one of wisdom concerning the relations between these realms. Women symbolize the importance of locative boundaries in the text. These boundaries are set by the harlot, Ishtar, Siduri, Ninsun and Utnapishtim's wife. By giving women this role of wisdom and boundary enforcement The Epic of Gilgamesh reflects how Mesopotamian society actually valued women.

The harlot serves to establish the boundary between animals and humans. Enkidu, a creature on the border between animal and man is selected by the gods to balance out Gilgamesh's power. The gods summon the harlot to civilize Enkidu. The harlot, "made herself naked and welcomed his eagerness; as he lay on her murmuring love she taught him the woman's art" (Gilgamesh 64). Here, the harlot's sexuality is portrayed as an art only possessed by women and as something that can civilize man. Not only did the harlot have sex with Enkidu she also gave him clothing, good food and wine (Gilgamesh 67). These institutions of clothing and fine food are all new to Enkidu. They are major representations of civilization and are all given to him by the harlot, a woman. Next, Enkidu "rubbed down the matted hair of his body and anointed himse...


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...mbolize wisdom and the boundary between man and god.

Thus, the role of women in this story serve to keep animals, men and gods in their respective boundaries. The harlot represents civilization by taking Enkidu from borderline "manimal" and putting him solely in the human realm. Ishtar keeps Gilgamesh in check by taking Enkidu's life as a result of their disrespect. Siduri shows a woman's wisdom by giving Gilgamesh his lot in life and Ninsun gives Enkidu to Gilgamesh as an equalizer as well as her prophetic knowledge. Utnapishtim's wife shows that Gilgamesh can never be immortal and therefore must stay in his own world. These woman with their intuition and superior judgment show how Mesopotamia viewed women in 2700 B.C.E. Since they were given this important role in the story, it reflects how women maintain societal boundaries.



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