What aspects of friendship are seen in The Epic of Gilgamesh and how do we see them reflected in Sumerian culture?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The friendship between Enkidu and Gilgamesh is central to the plot of the anonymous Sumerian poem The Epic of Gilgamesh. It does reveal many elements of Sumerian society.

The first characteristic of friendship in Gilgamesh is that it is homosocial. Men are friends with other men; their relationships with women are seen as primarily sexual. This exemplifies a society with strong gender role distinctions and clear demarcations between the occupations and social lives of men and women.

Next, Enkidu is provided as a friend for Gilgamesh by the gods to improve his moral nature. This suggests that friendship is seen as a moral and civilizing influence.

Another characteristic of friendship is that it has a great degree of emotional intensity. Gilgamesh's mourning for his friend is intense and public. This suggests that a level of emotional expressivity was common in ancient Sumer that would general not be accepted among modern American men.