Women In The Epic Of Gilgamesh

The Epic of Gilgamesh is an epic poem that was written on 12 tablets. It originated from the ancient Mesopotamia. The story centers on a god-like man called Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, a city he ruled with highhandedness. He killed men through games, test of strength or forced labour and forced their brides to have sex with him on their wedding night. The people’s outcry to the gods for help was honored with the emergence of Enkidu, a primitive man who matches Gilgamesh in strength. The poem pictures Enkidu resisting Gilgamesh in his attempt to forcefully sleep with another bride. Finding him as strong, they became friends and later embarked on a heroic adventure to destroy the demi-god, Humbaba, and the goddess Ishtar which led the gods to vote for the death of Enkidu. Afraid for his life, Gilgamesh embarked on a fruitless journey to discover the secret of immortality. Unarguably, women featured prominently in the poem to make it an epic.

The Young Women (Brides) of Uruk

The poem opens with the tale of unnamed young brides who were subjected to forced sex by Gilgamesh who evokes the powers of “lord’s right” to sleep with them on their wedding night. These set of women are portrayed in this poem as sex objects, vulnerable to abuse owing to the animal instinct of the male sapient.

The Priestess Shamhat

The Priestess Shamhat symbolizes wisdom and learning. She was the one sent to the wild-man, Enkidu to bring him out of wilderness and introduce him to civilization. She employs the tool of sex to accomplish this task. She had sex with Enkidu for seven days and took him through the process of civilization such as imbibing healthy habits, eating human food and having a sense of civic responsibility. Shamhat was used in the poem to convey the seductive power of a woman over men and her ability to influence positive transformation through learned habits. As the poem rightly points out, for instance, Enkidu finds out “that his mind had somehow grown larger, he knew things now that an animal can’t know.” Shamhat plays the role of a positive force that brought knowledge and civilization to a warrior.

The goddess Ishtar

The goddess Ishtar felt humiliated after the king, Gilgamesh, rejected her sex advances because she mistreated her former lovers like Dumuzi. In her fury, she asks her father, Anu, to send the Bull of heaven called Gugalana to carry out vengeance on Gilgamesh. Ishtar represents the dangerous or destroyer nature of a woman in the face of humiliation. The goddess Ishtar offered to make Gilgamesh well respected by all, wealthy, and his kingdom prosperous if he marries her, but became sore angry and destructive when he was turned down.

Shiduri the tavern-keeper

The last woman in Gilgamesh was Shiduri. She symbolizes wisdom and learning in that upon Gilgamesh’s quest for immortality, she offered him knowledge and help. She tried to dissuade him from continuing the fruitless journey while educating him that the nature of man as ordained by the gods was for him to live and die. Women played very important roles in the epic of Gilgamesh to pass across vital principles that are beneficial to human existence.

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