The Epic of Gilgamesh | Study Guide

Sîn-lēqi-unninni

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The Epic of Gilgamesh | Book 2 | Summary

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Summary

Enkidu dresses in one of Shamhat's robes, and she leads him to a shepherds' settlement. The shepherds marvel at his size and strength and seat him at a table set with bread and beer. Following Shamhat's example, he eats several loaves of bread and drinks seven pitchers of beer. Enkidu's heart rejoices in his knowledge of what it is to be human—to enjoy sex with Shamhat, to enjoy food at the table, and to enjoy conversation with the shepherds. He has his long hair cut; he washes his skin and smooths it with oil. Now completely human, Enkidu is a handsome man and ready to enter the city. But for a time, he and Shamhat remain with the shepherds, and he guards the flocks at night from predatory animals. One day, as he and Shamhat make love, a man passes in a hurry. When Enkidu inquires where the man is going, he says he's set out a wedding feast and is now going to host it. After the priest blesses the young couple, he says, the groom will stand aside to allow Gilgamesh to enter the marriage house and have sex with the bride first, as the gods have decreed. Enraged, Enkidu hastens to Uruk to challenge Gilgamesh. Shamhat follows close behind.

Enkidu arrives as the wedding guests feast and the bride waits in the marriage house to "forget her husband and open to the king." Gilgamesh arrives at the marriage house to find Enkidu blocking the door, ready to fight. And fight they do, bashing their heads together and wrestling through the streets, leaving a trail of damage as they go. At last, Gilgamesh prevails, and suddenly their anger dissipates. Enkidu acknowledges Gilgamesh as king, and the men embrace and then walk through the city, hand in hand, as brothers do.

Analysis

In Book 2 Enkidu continues his preparation, under Shamhat's gentle teaching, to enter the city as one of its subjects. Enkidu's story is a brief journey that happens during, and for a while in parallel with, Gilgamesh's journey. Unlike ancient stories in which characters fall from a state of innocence and thus must leave a garden paradise (as with the story of the first man and the first woman in the Garden of Eden in the biblical Genesis), Enkidu leaves the wilderness to enter the great city, where he will find his heart's desire—his friend and brother. The epic celebrates the city and its life—busy markets, trade, marriage feasts, and temple worship included. Shamhat describes it all, in glowing terms, awakening longing to be part of the city's people. Archaeological work near modern-day Warka, Iraq (ancient Uruk or Erech), suggests that Gilgamesh's city was, for its day, a marvel. Approximately six miles of fortified wall enclosed a city arranged on either side of a canal. The temples to Anu, on one side, and Ishtar, on the other, were masterfully built and adorned. Given that the narrator, Shamhat, and Gilgamesh, at various points in the epic, all speak with pride of the gardens and orchards within the city walls, it's almost as if the garden paradise has been incorporated into the city.

When the young man hurries past, however, Enkidu hears jarring news about the city and the king Shamhat praises so highly. In the king's case, Shamhat is also realistic: she doesn't omit his overbearing treatment of Uruk's people. Interestingly Enkidu doesn't react to this detail. So scholars are puzzled as to why Enkidu erupts in rage when he hears that Gilgamesh has the divine right to sleep with every bride before her husband does. Enkidu has been created to balance Gilgamesh and end his oppressive rule, so it makes sense to many readers for Enkidu to rage against injustice on behalf of every husband who's had to wait while Gilgamesh deflowered his bride. On the other hand, the gods have decreed the bride-right, and Enkidu proves himself obedient to the gods, even when they demand his death later in the epic. Perhaps Enkidu, himself a mighty man with mighty sexual appetites (his first sexual experience lasted seven days), believes the bride-right should be his own. Some scholars have suggested, too, that Enkidu already loves the king. And Gilgamesh, in his dream about the boulder, which symbolizes Enkidu, caressed and embraced it as a man does his wife. So, readers might conclude, jealousy may partly explain Enkidu's rage.

In fact, as the wrestling match that damages Uruk's buildings shows, Enkidu is almost a match for the king. The description of their fight is an odd mix of violence (they smash their foreheads together, and walls around them shake) and intimacy (their limbs are "intertwined" as they "embrace" and wrestle). They are not fighting to destroy each other, it seems, but to discover each other's nature and limits. When Gilgamesh finally prevails, Enkidu declares him worthy to rule, and the friendship is sealed.

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