Monday, July 14, 2008

Quote of the Day: Epic of Gilgamesh

While I am reading on some Ancient Near Eastern relationships with some of the texts for my dissertation, I have reread the Epic of Gilgamesh, which, as it turns out, I will probably be teaching this fall as well--it is nice when teaching and research can overlap! Anyway, here is the quote of the day:

"How, O how could I stay silent, how, O how could I keep quiet?
My friend whom I love has turned to clay:
Enkidu my friend whom I love has turned to clay.
Am I not like him? Must I lie down too, never to rise again?"

Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet X, column V.

This passage indicates the intense friendship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Enkidu has now died, gone down to the underworld ruled by goddess Ereshkigal. The souls, shades, or whatever, of the deceased are usually depicted as birds in Mesopotamian literature, so, Enkidu's shade has flown below, and his body has returned to clay (much like the biblical phrasing of "dust to dust"). It is a place from where no one could return--there is no resurrection here as indicated by the last line. In a way, one could see the whole story of Gilgamesh as a failed search for immortality. Only one human ever achieved it--Utnapishtim, the Babylonian counterpart to Noah--who was granted immortality after surviving the Flood, and even he seems to be the exception that proves the rule. After Enkidu's death, Gilgamesh laments greatly, forcing his city (Uruk) to mourn Enkidu's death with him for six days and seven nights. Gilgamesh also erects a statue in honor of his friend.

This is a famous example of intensive friendship in the ancient world. In fact, the story says that Gilgamesh loved Enkidu as he would his wife, that he would dote on him as he would a wife! Hint of homoeroticism? Similar legendary friendships include Achilles and Patroclus from the Iliad, and David and Jonathan from Kings in the Bible. Each of these stories have had speculation of homoerotic possibilities, but speculation it must remain.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Its not so much "speculation" as an obvious aspect of the nature of male sexuality, which was not so riddled with shame and deception as it is now. The Epic of Gilgamesh is charged with homo eroticism from the moment Enkidu and Gilgamesh meet.

Jared said...

It is much clearer in another part o the poem, in Gilgamesh's dream visions, in which he strokes the emblem that represents Enkidu "like a wife."

62beatles69 said...

Jared i just wanted to thank you so much for your quote from The Epic of Gilgamesh. I am a 10th grader, and i was given an essay to write over the weekend. Unfortunately i forgot my book and the essay must have a quote in it. Your quote really helped to get me through the day, and i wanted to thank you for it