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The Epic of Gilgamesh

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What are the similarities and differences between Enkidu and Gilgamesh in The Epic of Gilgamesh?

The similarities between Enkidu and Gilgamesh in The Epic of Gilgamesh include their part-god, part-man construction and superhuman strength and bravery. Their differences include their make-up, with Gilgamesh being one-third man and two-thirds god, and Enkidu having been fashioned by the gods to provide Gilgamesh with a worthy adversary.

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With regard to similarities, Enkidu and Gilgamesh are both neither entirely human nor entirely God. Both are immensely strong, in both body and mind. When the two inevitably clash, when Enkidu bars Gilgamesh's way to the temple, an epic battle is fought, after which Enkidu acknowledges Gilgamesh's strength, leading to the two becoming great friends.

Both Gilgamesh and Enkidu are phenomenally brave. When Anu sends a monster bull to wreak destruction in Uruk, the two team up to destroy the monster, with Enkidu jumping on its back while Gilgamesh stabs it in the neck. Every emotion they feel seems to be on a grand scale, whether it is happiness or rage.

When it comes to differences, Gilgamesh and Enkidu are made of different elements. Gilgamesh, known as the most attractive, strongest, and wisest mortal, is only one-third man, and two-thirds a god. When the city's residents beg the gods for mercy from Gilgamesh, the god Anu brings about the creation of Enkidu, who is also a demigod, but his body is made from clay, fashioned by gods.

I would argue that Gilgamesh is more courageous than Enkidu, who is initially hesitant to challenge the monster, Khumbaba. It could equally be argued, in light of the myriad warnings that Gilgamesh is given against taking on Khumbaba, that Enkidu is the wiser of the two.

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Both Enkidu and Gilgamesh are heroic figures, forming a sort of intermediary class between human and divine. Although they do not have the power and immortality of the gods, they are more powerful than ordinary humans. Gilgamesh is directly descended from the gods, and Enkidu was fashioned by the gods. 

Both are larger and stronger than ordinary mortals and capable of superhuman feats of athletic and martial prowess. Their characters and emotions, whether lust, joy, rage, or sorrow, also have a quality of grandeur. They live a life of grand passions rather than the everyday petty annoyances experienced by most humans (Gilgamesh grieves over the death of his friend instead of being frustrated by rush hour traffic). This grandeur and power make them a potential threat or challenge to the gods, who do not wish to be usurped or treated as equals by mortals and see mortals aspiring to a level of greatness that approaches the divine as a challenge.

Both Enkidu and Gilgamesh have sexual relationships with women, but these are fleeting and insignificant; their most important relationship is their "bromance." Enkidu is closer to nature than Gilgamesh and less corrupted by wealth and luxury, and thus he has a much strong sense of ethics. Gilgamesh is the more arrogant of the two, but on the other hand, that is partly justified as he is the king of Uruk. 

Perhaps the most important difference is that Gilgamesh is based on an actual historical king who appears in the Sumerian king lists, while Enkidu is a fictional character. 

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Similarities abound between the two, because Enkidu was created specifically as a balance to Gilgamesh. Essentially, they are mirrors of each other. Some similarities include:

  • Incredible physical strength- Gilgamesh is described as "Surpassing all kings, powerful and tall beyond all others, violent, splendid, a wild bull of a man." He routinely performs actions no other man can, & journeys of hundreds of miles take him only a day. Enkidu is described by the trapper that first sees him as "the strongest man in the world, with muscles like rock. I have seen him outrun the swiftest animals." So they both possess great size and physical strength.
  • Courage- Each man is willing to fight for what he believes in. In their first meeting, Enkidu stands up to Gilgamesh's practice of taking each bride on her wedding night. The ensuing fight proves Gilgamesh as the victor, but Enkidu surrenders willingly, & they are equals from that moment on. Together, they fight Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven, proving their combined strength and courage.
  • Mutual Love- Gilgamesh and Enkidu exhibit homosocial behavior, in that their love is a form of brotherly, masculine love that reveals the nature of male relationships in Mesopotamian culture. Gilgamesh often describes Enkidu in terms of marriage and the relationship between husband and wife, & when Enkidu dies, he mourns him like a spouse.

There are also differences between the characters as well. Because Enkidu serves the purpose of balancing Gilgamesh's  extremes as ruler, his personality must contrast.

  • 2/3 god, 2/3 animal- Gilgamesh is repeatedly described as "2/3 god", while Enkidu is clearly the archetype of the "innocent man" at the beginning fo the story. He lives with wild beasts, and is described as "2/3 animal". It is only after making love to Shamhat for 7 days that he is completely human, and no longer has the innocence of the creatures. While he is clearly supernatural, he does not have the divine aspect that Gilgamesh does.
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