The Role Of Women In The Epic Of Gilgamesh

1546 words - 6 pages

What if women ruled the world? The question does not seem so strange today as it may have back in 2500 B.C.E., an age when people tell stories of the Great King of Uruk--Gilgamesh. Although the story of “Gilgamesh” revolves around themes of masculinity and brotherhood--with its male prerogative, its composers develop several strong female characters which suggest women have great influence in a male-dominated, Mesopotamian society.
The first female character that influences a man is the prostitute. She is left at the spring by the hunter so that she can sleep with Enkidu and make the other animals abandon him. According to the tale, Enkidu acts like an animal. Nonetheless he is drawn to the prostitute. She is wise and knows the nature of man. She tells Enkidu he is no longer an animal, he is like a god, like Gilgemesh. She uses her influence to get him to go to Uruk. One could say the prostitute plays a maternal role. She clothes him, with her robe and takes him to a house where he is taught how to live like a human being. After she teaches him all he needs to know, she sends him to Uruk to confront Gilgamesh. She does not lead him, she follows behind him signifying his readiness to be a man. The prostitute is an independent person. Besides being led to the spring where Enkidu rests, she does not have to be told what to do or how to influence him. She has her own agenda and successfully accomplishes her mission.
Ninsun is the next woman to use her influence over the men in the story. She is the mother of Gilgamesh, and a minor goddess. She is the only person with whom Gilgamesh shares his thoughts. Ninsun interprets her son’s dreams. He puts all if not most of his trust in her. She is the calming influence when he is excited and fearful. Ninsun is portrayed as wise, she is the one Gilgamesh and Enkidu go to before their journey. She pleads with Shamash the sun and moon god on her son’s behalf. She also adopts Enkidu and calls on the gods to protect him, but she places a charm on his neck and calls for Enkidu to protect his friend—Gilgamesh. This invocation eventually damns Enkindu and saves her son as they go on the quest to fight Humbaba and later the bull of heaven. Ninsun’s influence with the gods shields her son from death but sacrifices Enkindu. Enkindu realizes his fate as he lies on his death bed; “The gods have said that one of us must die…. .Enlil said I must die, for you are two-thirds god and should not die. . . I know they have chosen me” (Mason 46). Ninsun does everything to protect her son, even if it means influencing the gods and sacrificing Enkidu.
Another female that influences her man is Utnapishtim’s wife. She is a lessor character who lives with the wise man of Shurupak. She intercedes with her husband when Gilgamesh comes to him for the answer to eternal life. Utnapishtim tells him the story of the flood but Gilgamesh, overcome with tiredness from his journey, falls asleep. Utnapishtim is angered that...

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