Between gods and animals: becoming human in the Gilgamesh epic

Tablet V of the Epic of Gilgamesh
Tablilla V de la Epopeya de Gilgamesh. Museo Sulaymaniyah, Irak. Foto: Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin / Wikimedia Commons

Por Sophus Helle
Publicado originalmente en Aeon bajo liciencia Creative Commons

The Epic of Gilgamesh is a Babylonian poem composed in ancient Iraq, millennia before Homer. It tells the story of Gilgamesh, king of the city of Uruk. To curb his restless and destructive energy, the gods create a friend for him, Enkidu, who grows up among the animals of the steppe. When Gilgamesh hears about this wild man, he orders that a woman named Shamhat be brought out to find him. Shamhat seduces Enkidu, and the two make love for six days and seven nights, transforming Enkidu from beast to man. His strength is diminished, but his intellect is expanded, and he becomes able to think and speak like a human being. Shamhat and Enkidu travel together to a camp of shepherds, where Enkidu learns the ways of humanity. Eventually, Enkidu goes to Uruk to confront Gilgamesh’s abuse of power, and the two heroes wrestle with one another, only to form a passionate friendship.

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