Shirin HajilooS. Campbell
September 2nd, 2018
The Influence of Women on Gilgamesh
In The Epic of Gilgamesh, the storyline is set in a way that gives the reader an idea as to what the social scene was in that time. The story revolves around the quest of men, Gilgamesh and Enkidu; however, the story does not fail to demonstrate the crucial role the women play in aiding the men in their pursuits. The female characters in the story, like Shamhat, Ninsun, Anu, and Shiduri, are great examples of how women were seen and valued in Sumerian society. With the help of the power and wisdom of the women in the epic, they are able to help guide the men in their missions; from this, one is able to conclude that women were viewed in a respectful manner and were seen in a positive way in Sumerian society.
Throughout much of the plot, the men –Enkidu and Gilgamesh— required power for any and all types of predicaments –mentally or physically— and that is where the female characters played a huge role in. Both, Enkidu and Gilgamesh, owe their powers to the women. Enkidu, from the start, was depicted with might and power with the help of his animal-like appearance, “…she let it fall in the wilderness…his body was rough and covered with matter hair…Enkidu ate grass in the hills with the gazelle and lurked with wild beasts…”However, he did not possess the power of a civilized man, but, with the help of the harlot Shamhat, she was able to transform him into a civilized man, “…Enkidu was grown weak, for wisdom was in him, and the thoughts of a man were in his heart.” After laying with Enkidu for seven days and six nights, the animals were drawn away from him knowing that he has become civilized all due to the help of Shamhat; he grows in intellect and enlightens him the power of a civilized lifestyle. Just like Enkidu, Gilgamesh also derived his powers from women. His mother, Ninsun, is credited for bestowing Gilgamesh with his power of wisdom as she is the goddess of wisdom, as well as, attributing to his kingship status because he is the son of a goddess. He goes to her for blessings for his journey and asks “…pray for me to Shamash”, this illustrates the idea of how grand of a role women had in Sumerian society; in other societies, asking a women for advice was seen low because it was believed that women were unknowledgeable and were inferior to men, let alone protection. Ninsun, although she is a female, has the grand power of endowing her offspring with superiority—this is evidence of the high respect the Sumerians perceived the women in their society, because they granted a women with a power as high as that. From these examples, one can conclude that the women are held responsible for the power the men held in the epic.
Wisdom is portrayed in the epic through the women, however, that does not necessarily mean the men would take the advice and knowledge given to them. The best example of this is when Gilgamesh is on-search for Utnapishti, the goddess Siduri presents herself to him by advising him to not seek immortality. Because she is wise, and knows that he will not benefit from gaining immortality, she advices him to “…fill your belly with good things; day and night…dance and be merry…make your wife happy in your embrace; for this too is the lot of man”, she is knowledgeable of the fact that it is man’s duty to live a life where he can lead his family and rightfully pass away. This illustrates the idea that Sumerian’s thought of their women to be wise and knowledgeable because they depicted this female character in high regards who tries to lead the empty-headed and misdirected Gilgamesh. Another example of the women in the epic exemplifying wisdom is the goddess Anu. When she expressed her wanting for Gilgamesh and he declined her offer, goddess Anu compromised with Ishtar in saying that there will be a drought in Uruk for seven years. The wise aspect of this act is that Anu knew this would benefit the both parties; Ishtar’s feeling of revenge and pain towards Gilgamesh would be filled, and the city would suffer vast downpours of rain, but at the same time providing this as a benefit for harvesting and farming.
The plot of the epic is centered around the men and their pursuits, however, their goals would not have been met if it were not for power and wisdom portrayed by the female characters. The women’s roles in the storyline varied from knowing the importance of mortality, gaining kingship through a high-status that is of a woman’s, to obtaining the mentality of a civilized man. From all the contributions that the female characters handed to the men in the epic, one can conclude that women were seen in high regards in Sumerian society, or if not, at least equal to men; one can base this off of the idea because they were given characteristics, like intelligence and wisdom, that would give them the utmost respect. The men would not have been able to last on their precarious journey if they were not guided by powerful and wise female figures.
Shirin HajilooS. Campbell