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.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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...

(The entire section contains 5 answers and 1039 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial
Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on October 28, 2020
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles
Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on October 28, 2020