The Role of Women in The Epic of Gilgamesh Essay

The Role of Women in The Epic of Gilgamesh Essay

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The story starts off with Gilgamesh, the King of Uruk, who is one third man and two thirds god. This story is about a man's quest for immortality in addition to the importance of boundaries between the realms of animal, man and gods. Women symbolize the importance of locative boundaries in the text. These boundaries are set by the harlot Shamhat, Ishtar, Siduri, the tavern keeper, Ninsun and Utanapishtim'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, Shamhat, 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. Gilgamesh summons Shamhat to civilize Enkidu after a hunter complains to him about not being able to hunt properly. The harlot, "made herself naked and welcomed his eagerness; as he lay on her murmuring love she taught him the woman's art" (64). Not only did the harlot have sex with Enkidu she also gave him clothing, good food and wine causing Enkidu to become a man" (67). This shows not only the locative emphasis of a man's role in society but also a woman's role in securing that place. By civilizing Enkidu, the harlot manages to keep Gilgamesh in his place by establishing an equal for him.
Similarly, both Ishtar and Siduri maintain the boundaries between humans and the divine realm by trying to keep Gilgamesh in the realm of man. Gilgamesh insults Ishtar with rejection and she then sends down the Bull of Heaven as revenge (85-88). After Enkidu and Gilgamesh kill the Bull of Heaven Enkidu insulted Ishtar further when he, "tore out the Bull's right thigh and tossed it in her face" (88). ...


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... Gilgamesh sleeps show that he is powerless over sleep. Utanapishtim's wife represents Gilgamesh's inability to be immortal and the necessity of boundaries between the realms. Therefore, both Utanapishtim's wife and Ninsun symbolize wisdom and the boundary between man and gods.
Thus, the role of women in this story serves to keep animals, men and gods in their respective boundaries. The harlot represents civilization by taking Enkidu from wild man to civilian and putting him solely in the human realm. Ishtar keeps Gilgamesh in check by taking Enkidu's life as a result of their disrespect while Siduri shows a woman's wisdom by giving Gilgamesh his lot in life. Meanwhile, Ninsun gives Enkidu to Gilgamesh as an equalizer as well as her prophetic knowledge. Lastly, Utanapishtim's wife shows that Gilgamesh can never be immortal and therefore must stay in his own world.

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