Essay on Friendship Theme in Gilgamesh

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Friendship Theme in Gilgamesh

True friendship is egalitarian. Everything is shared, loyalty to the friendship is equal, and the basis of the camaraderie is wholly altruistic. The friendship between the king Gilgamesh and the man of the steppe, Enkidu, was not a true and equal friendship. Loyalties and sacrifices to that friendship were disproportionate.

Friendship is conveyed in more than one way in Gilgamesh. The companionship between Enkidu and the animals of the steppe is the first example of friendship. Enkidu lived with the animals, as one of them:

He freed them from the traps / The hunters set. / A hunter’s son one day /
Saw Enkidu opening a trap: / The creature was all covered with hair /
And yet his hands had the dexterity of men’s; / He ran beside the freed gazelle /
Like a brother / And they drank together at a pool / Like two friends /
Sharing some common journey / Not needing to speak but just continue. (p. 16)

Enkidu’s friendship with the animals was one of equivalence. Neither Enkidu nor the animals knew that he was any different from them. Enkidu’s appearance was that of an animal, and he knew nothing of the world of man. In this sense, Enkidu was an animal, not a man. It was only until he slept with a prostitute, shaved his body, and went into a civilized town that he became a man. This companionship between Enkidu and the animals seems more genuine, as it was cultivated over Enkidu’s lifetime on the steppe.

Neither Gilgamesh nor Enkidu had ever had a friend that was a man before. Enkidu knew only of the steppe animals, and Gilgamesh, a tyrannical king, had never treated anyone as his equal. Both men had been informed of the future friendship from the prostitute and Ninsun, respectively...

... middle of paper ...

..., the motives for the journey become questionable.

My younger brother who saved me from / The Bull of Heaven and Humbaba, /
Who listened to my dreams, / Who shared my pain. / Why did he have to die? /
He would have stayed with me in death. / He would not have let me die alone. /
He was a friend. / He stopped, realizing / He had not come this far to hear himself / Recall the failure of his grief to save / But to find an end to his despair.

The concept of friendship sheds new light on the epic Gilgamesh. Enkidu, a true friend to the animals and a true friend to Gilgamesh, is wholly pure and good. Gilgamesh, although seemingly changed by his companionship with Enkidu, is still self-serving.
Focused on his own loneliness and journey, Gilgamesh contributes far less to the companionship and therefore causes the essence of the relationship to be tarnished.

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