In the epic of Gilgamesh, and in Ancient Mesopotamia, what was the most important quality that distinguished a civilized man from a wild man?

Expert Answers
sfwriter eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Some of the most profound expressions of the difference between a civilized man and a wild man are found in Book I of Gilgamesh, wherein Gilgamesh and Enkidu are introduced as opposites.  Tellingly, Gilgamesh is "god and man" (Book I, line 7), and Enkidu is "animal and man" (ln. 8).  This hearkens back to the time before men "knew" the gods, and their gods were animals or spirits (note that Enkidu runs with the antelope he freed from a trap "like a brother", ln.36).  Since the stated purpose of the story is how the two became "human together" (ln. 10) the evolution of the tyrant godlike king under the influence of the innocent animal-man shows the Sumerians' understanding of both the spiritual and the animal nature of humanity.  Another major difference between the urban Gilgamesh and the nature-man Enkidu is innocence, especially of  temporality.  The first thing we know of Enkidu, other than his birthplace, is that he is "ignorant of oldness" (ln. 26)  While Gilgamesh and all the people of Uruk live with a remembrance of history, Enkidu has none.  He is innocent of other things, such as sex and cruelty to others, but, most profoundly he, like animals, has no future or past, including the knowledge of his own death.  In this, the knowledge (not unlike Adam and Eve before the fall, when they knew not of good and evil or of their own nakedness) of the temporal nature of life, the greatest gulf exists between Enkidu and Gilgamesh.   

Read the study guide:
The Epic of Gilgamesh

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question