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The Epic of Gilgamesh

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How is Gilgamesh a tyrant in the beginning of The Epic of Gilgamesh?

Gilgamesh is a tyrant at the beginning of The Epic of Gilgamesh in that he works his citizens to death, forcibly conscripts young men into his army, and rapes women.

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Even more than most ancient heroes, Gilgamesh's behavior is not particularly heroic by modern standards. At the beginning of the poem, on tablet one, his tyranny against the women of Uruk takes the form of sleeping with them on their wedding night. This prerogative of the ruler, known in Latin as ius primae noctis, "the right of the first night," has existed in various societies, but has rarely been enforced except by the most despotic and lascivious rulers. Gilgamesh's treatment of the men is less clear, since some text is missing at this point, but it seems that he uses them as forced labor to build and fortify the city of Uruk. In any case, his tyranny is severe enough to make them cry out to the gods for help.

Although he fails to defeat Gilgamesh in single combat, Enkidu, whom the gods send as a champion against Gilgamesh, does stop him from claiming the first night with new brides. In tablet three, however, when Gilgamesh and Enkidu leave Uruk on a quest, the city elders are still only too happy to let Gilgamesh go, and it does not seem that he will be much missed. The quest is Gilgamesh's own idea, and it is rather a pointless one. He goes to kill Humbaba, a demon who lives in a cedar forest and who does not seem to have been causing harm to anyone, certainly not to the people of Uruk. Gilgamesh's nature remains high-handed and arbitrary in this adventure and throughout the poem.

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At the beginning of the epic that bears his name, Gilgamesh is the epitome of a tyrant. Brutal, arrogant, and entirely self-centered, he has no conception of the enormous responsibilities entailed by kingship. As far as he's concerned, being king is a license to do whatever he likes.

Whether it's conscripting young men into his army, raping women, or having anyone he fancies executed at the drop of a hat, Gilgamesh exercises a tyranny over his people that makes them pray to the gods for relief.

It's clear that the present situation cannot go on for much longer. The gods hear the desperate pleas of Uruk's citizens and send down a demigod in the image of Gilgamesh who will teach the tyrant king the error of his ways and turn him into a benevolent ruler. This demigod is none other than Enkidu, who in due course will become Gilgamesh's bosom buddy and faithful companion throughout his many adventures.

To be sure, it is the gods' intention that Gilgamesh will still be a king, and a very powerful one at that, but with the crucial difference that he'll be a wise, benevolent king, someone who will inspire respect among his subjects rather than fear and terror.

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At the beginning of The Epic of Gilgamesh, prior to the death of his friend Enkidu, Gilgamesh is portrayed as a tyrant in a number of ways.

As two-thirds god and one-third human, Gilgamesh had immense power. He was known for killing the sons of his own people and raping their daughters.

His actions showed him to be arrogant, conceited, vain, and egotistical, and other gods were disgusted by his behavior. Right from the beginning of the epic, Gilgamesh invested his time in anything that was despicable. Having been conceived by a goddess, he had not only extraordinary strength, but status as well.

He would compel young men to participate in an unknown activity which was despised by them. It is not known what this activity was, but it was described as being forced onto the young men "day and night."

As the eternal "bad boy," Gilgamesh irresponsibly led his friend Enkidu into the Cedar Forest to fight Humbaba, despite having been advised that this was a terrible idea.

It must be noted that Gilgamesh undergoes a major transformation after the death of Enkidu.

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At the beginning of the epic, Gilgamesh—who is two-thirds god and one-third man—is described as being the most powerful ruler on earth. Instead of being a benevolent king and shepherd to his people, Gilgamesh rules Uruk as a tyrant. He is described as being an extremely arrogant king who enlists each male born into his army and unmercifully overworks the citizens. In addition to exhausting the population by forcing them to build a monumental wall around the city, Gilgamesh also sleeps with every virgin before she can consummate her marriage. The citizens of Uruk resent Gilgamesh's arrogance and tyrannical behavior to the point that they petition the goddess Anu for help. Anu hears the people's cries, and the goddess Aruru creates an opposing warrior out of clay named Enkidu. However, Enkidu is not able to defeat Gilgamesh. The two heroes quickly become inseparable friends and embark on an epic quest. By the end of the epic, Gilgamesh gains perspective on what it takes to be a remembered leader and returns to Uruk to rule as a benevolent, honorable king.

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Gilgamesh is a tyrant because he kills men and takes advantage of women in his kingdom.  He is too smart and too strong, and no one can be his equal.

Gilgamesh is very strong.  He is arrogant, and walks around looking down on people.

Gilgamesh seems to take whatever he wants.  Neither men nor women are safe from him.  He takes the boys in duel and has his way with the women.

No son is left with his father, for Gilgamesh takes them all; and is this the king, the shepherd of his people? His lust leaves no virgin to her lover, neither the warrior's daughter nor the wife of the noble. (I)

As a result, his people fear him.  He seems too strong for them to defend against, so they ask for help from the gods.  The gods hear their plea and decide to make a companion for Gilgamesh that will be just as strong as he is.

‘You made him, O Aruru; now create his equal; let it be as like him as his own reflection, his second self; stormy heart for stormy heart. Let them contend together and leave Uruk in quiet. (I)

After Enkidu comes, Gilgamesh calms down.  By the end of the story he has turned into an excellent king.

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