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

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MaudlinStreet | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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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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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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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. 

Sources:

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