The friendship between Enkidu and Gilgamesh inThe Epic of Gilgamesh reveals much about the role of friendship in Sumerian society: a true friend is a most precious commodity and is even more precious than the relationship between a man and a woman. The problem Gilgamesh faces at the beginning...
The friendship between Enkidu and Gilgamesh in The Epic of Gilgamesh reveals much about the role of friendship in Sumerian society: a true friend is a most precious commodity and is even more precious than the relationship between a man and a woman. The problem Gilgamesh faces at the beginning of the story is that he has no equal. There is no one to share his energy, strength, and adventures with who can keep up with him, so he is a terrible ruler, working and adventuring his people to death. Then he meets Enkidu, who is his physical equal. Like in many great stories, they become friends by first fighting and then, when neither can win, they become friends. This friendship becomes all encompassing for Gilgamesh. I am not so sure the friendship changes his moral values; he still wants adventures and glory, but he no longer has to use his people as pawns, because he has a partner in Gilgamesh. This fact makes life much easier for the People of Uruk.
The friendship with Enkidu is important enough to Gilgamesh that he refuses the marriage proposal of Ishtar as being less valuable than his relationship with Enkidu. This refusal brings on the tragic events that lead to Enkidu's death. Gilgamesh's radical actions to try and save Enkidu and his extreme mourning at Enkidu's death also portray the importance of this friendship.
As Gilgamesh goes on his quest to find immortality, he does make other friends, most notably Urshanabi the boatman. Now Ushanabi is not the equal of Gilgamesh and their friendship is not the same, but it is important because it is now that Gilgamesh really realizes that men who are not his equal have value too. This lesser friendship truly shows more moral growth in Gilgamesh than the great friendship with Enkidu.
Overall, the story shows the importance of friendship in Sumerian society and the friendship of Gilgamesh and Enkidu echos across from the ancient world to the modern reader in a way that is very tangible to the modern reader.