The Epic of Gilgamesh Questions and Answers

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What role do gender and gender roles play in The Epic of Gilgamesh?

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To understand the role of gender in the Epic of Gilgamesh is to understand how a few of the male and female characters behave and function in the story. For this analysis, we will look at the roles and behaviors of Gilgamesh, Enkidu, Humbaba, Ishtar, and Ninsun. As is common with ancient patriarchal literature, the males are sexual, warlike, heroic, and central to the plot, whereas the females are supporting characters, sexual, or maternal/nurturing.

The male figures in the story dominate the epic. The main character in the story is Gilgamesh. He is a warrior-king who goes about raping women. While this fact is reprehensible, it is an undeniable theme of his masculine dominance. Enkidu is also a central figure; he hears of Gilgamesh’s sexual exploits and attempts to stop him, resulting in an intense battle. Enkidu loses and later accompanies Gilgamesh on his quest to defeat Humbaba in the cedar forest. In the epic, Enkidu is only civilized after his six-day sexual encounter with the...

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