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How is Enkidu a parable of culture in The Gilgamesh Epic?

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sarahkenney | eNotes Newbie

Posted February 17, 2009 at 9:37 PM via web

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How is Enkidu a parable of culture in The Gilgamesh Epic?

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sfwriter | College Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted February 18, 2009 at 2:25 AM (Answer #1)

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Enkidu can be considered a parable of culture in microcosm --- the story of the slow civilization of humanity as told through the lifetime of one man.  There are many lessons about living in society in Enkidu's life (especially his death, in which he gives up his life for his friend) but his indoctrination into culture is probably the most direct parallel to the process of humanity changing from hunter-gatherers into settled farmers and city-dwellers.  First, he is clothed, then he is brought inside to a house and fed products of agriculture (bread and liquor), and then his body is shaved of his long hair, and he is washed.

He let her clothe him in a portion
Of her scarlet robe and lead him
To a shepherd's house
Where he was welcomed and taught to eat bread
And drink the liquor that the shepherds drank.
... The prostitute
Shaved the long hair off his body;
She washed him with perfumes and oils,
And he became a man.  At night
He stood watch for the shepherds
Against the lions so they could sleep,
He captured wolves for them (20-1)

There is so much in this passage that tells of the slow settlement of humanity -- the covering of the body with clothing, then living in houses, then eating mostly agricultural products rather than hunted or gathered food.  But perhaps the biggest transformation is Enkidu protecting domesticated animals from his former friends, the wild animals.  Source: Gilgamesh.  Herbert Mason, trans.  New York: Mentor Books, 1970.

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