Enkidu

Enkidu

[en-kee-doo]
Enkidu (𒂗𒆠𒆕 EN.KI.DU3 "Enki's creation") is a central figure in the Ancient Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh. In the story he is a wild-man raised by animals and ignorant of human society until he is bedded by the temple prostitute Shamat. Thereafter a series of interactions with humans and human ways bring him closer to civilization, culminating in a wrestling match with Gilgamesh, king of Uruk. Enkidu loses, and thereafter becomes the king's constant companion, accompanying him on adventures until he is stricken ill by the gods for interfering in their will. The loss of Enkidu inspires Gilgamesh's quest to escape death in the last

Older sources sometimes transliterate his name as Enkimdu, Eabani, or Enkita. Enkiddu is a modern variant.

First Tablet

Enkidu is the quintessential savage person in the beginning of the epic:

Enkidu roamed with the beasts of the wilderness. He protected the animals, destroying the hunters' traps, and lurked around the watering holes to protect the game. These actions were much to the chagrin of a local trapper. The trapper went to King Gilgamesh to ask for help. Gilgamesh offered the advice "Trapper, go back, take with you a harlot, a child of pleasure ... he will embrace her and the game of the wilderness will surely reject him." The trapper did what he was told, and hired the temple prostitute Shamhat for acculturation. Enkidu was immediately taken with the harlot and bedded her. The animals begin to avoid him, the bond he once shared with them having been broken. Now "he scattered the wolves, he chased away the lions" and the herders could lie down in peace, for Enkidu was now their watchperson.

After the abandonment of his animal brethren, Enkidu is introduced to a pastoralist way of life. He works for the trapper and shepherds, hunting and killing the animals he once served. Soon he grows restless, looking for a greater challenge.

Shamhat tells of a great king in the city Uruk (Gilgamesh) and says, too, that he would be a worthy challenge for Enkidu. Gilgamesh is surprised by Enkidu. The two wrestle fiercely for sometime, until suddenly Gilgamesh gains the upper hand and throws Enkidu to the ground. Knowing his defeat, Enkidu praises Gilgamesh and both swear an oath of friendship, and thereafter cohabit.

Enkidu later in the Epic of Gilgamesh

Enkidu assists Gilgamesh in his fight against Humbaba, the guardian monster of the Cedar Forest. Contrary to Enkidu's conscience, he cooperates in killing the defeated Humbaba. Afterwards, he again assists Gilgamesh in slaying the Bull of Heaven, which the gods have sent to kill Gilgamesh as a reprisal for spurning the goddess Ishtar's affections. Ishtar demands that the pair should pay for the bull's destruction. Shamash argues to the other gods to spare both of them, but could only save Gilgamesh. The gods pass judgment that Enkidu had no justification for fighting the Bull of Heaven and was interfering with their will. Enkidu then is overcome by a severe illness. Near death, he has visions of a gloomy afterlife, and curses the trapper and Shamhat for civilizing him. He retracts his curse on Shamhat, however, after Shamash scolds him, reminding him that it was Shamhat who taught him about civilization, and ultimately, brought him to Gilgamesh.

Gilgamesh mourns over the body of Enkidu for several desperate days. In a vivid line repeated in the epic, Gilgamesh only allows his friend to be buried after a maggot falls out of the corpse's nose. Gilgamesh's close observation of rigor mortis and the slow decomposition of Enkidu's body provides the hero with the impetus for his quest for eternal life, and his visit to Utnapishtim.

There is another non-canonical tablet in which Enkidu journeys into the underworld, but many scholars consider the tablet to be a sequel or add-on to the original epic.

Popular cultural references

Enkidu and the Gilgamesh Epic have been mentioned in modern works of fiction, see adaptations of the Epic of Gilgamesh.

Bibliography

The Epic of Gilgamesh, Foster, Benjamin R. trans. & edit. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001. ISBN 0-393-97516-9

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