The Legend of Gilgamesh Essay

The Legend of Gilgamesh Essay

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Although the central protagonists of this story are men, women also have an important significance in the legend of Gilgamesh. A prime example of this significance is the character Shamhat the Harlot, the first woman that Endiku comes across in the story. Shamhat is a prostitute who was sent to tame Enkidu on behalf of King Gilgamesh and a hunter residing in the city of Uruk. When Enkidu is introduced he is a wild man living in nature, unfamilar of human kind. Enkidu’s transition into a man allows him the opportunity to befriend Gilgamesh. By introducing Enkidu into society and influencing his relationship with Gilgamesh, Shamhat is pivotal to the success of their adventure and relationship.
Shamhat is hired to domesticate Enkidu, a wild man roaming in the woods. Upon meeting, Enkidu and Shamhat engaged in sexual intercourse for nearly a week. “She did for the man the work of a woman, his passion caressed and embraced her. For 6 days and 7 nights Enkidu was erect as he coupled with Shamhat” (I191 P.8). When they were done Enkidu was bestowed with self-awareness and a man’s consciousness. He could not keep up with the other animals and was forced to linger behind with Shamhat. “Enkidu was weakened, could not run as before, but now he had reason and wide understanding” (I 201 P.8) Women are highly revered for their ability to produce life; therefore, Shamhat’s sex symbolizes her ability to nurture. Shamhat’s womb tames and civilizes Enkidu; their sex transforms and births Enkidu into a new world. Self-awareness and consciousness is the main thing that separates humans from beasts; thus, had Shamhat not instilled this sense of understanding in Enkidu, he never would have left the forest.
Although Shamhat is sent to have sex with ...

... middle of paper ...

... work. When Shamhat spoke to Enkidu of King Gilgamesh’s actions towards his people, he felt obligated to confront the King to help protect others. It is at this point in the story that Enkidu heads off to the city of Uruk, where he encounters Gilgamesh. Shamhat’s occupation is a harlot gave her a deeper insight to the inner workings of the male mind, which gave her more power which to influence Enkidu with. Had Shamhat never seduced Enkidu, he never would have confronted Gilgamesh. Shamhat’s ability as a woman to nurture Enkidu from a wild man to a civilized man illustrates the importance of the role of women in the Epic of Gilgamesh and Ancient Mesopotamia.


George, Andrew. The Epic of Gilgamesh: The Babylonian Epic Poem and Other Texts in Akkadian and Sumerian ; Translated and with an Introduction by Andrew George. London: Allen Lane, 1999. Print

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