Illustration of Gilgamesh's face

The Epic of Gilgamesh

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The Epic of Gilgamesh Characters

The main characters in The Epic of Gilgamesh include Gilgamesh, Enkidu, Ishtar, and Utnapishtim. 

  • Gilgamesh is the King of Uruk. He is a demigod who declines Ishtar's marriage proposal and searches for the secret to immortality.
  • Enkidu is a demigod created by the gods. Upon arrival in Uruk, Enkidu challenged Gilgamesh to a battle. Enkidu later died after being cursed by Ishtar as revenge against Gilgamesh.
  • Ishtar is a vengeful goddess who proposes marriage to Gilgamesh and is offended when he turns her down.
  • Utnapishtim is a man who was blessed with immortality after surviving an ancient flood.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated February 8, 2024.

Gilgamesh

Gilgamesh is described as two-thirds divine and one-third mortal. His appearance is majestic and imposing, befitting his role as the king of Uruk. With a statuesque physique, he possesses unparalleled strength and vitality.

Surpassing all other kings, heroic in stature,

brave scion of Uruk, wild bull on the rampage!

Gilgamesh's personality undergoes a significant transformation throughout the narrative. Initially depicted as arrogant and oppressive, he evolves into a more complex character shaped by experiences with companionship, loss, and the pursuit of immortality.

As a demigod, Gilgamesh has divine lineage, with his mother being the goddess Ninsun. This divine connection contributes to his initial arrogance and sense of invincibility. However, his encounters with Enkidu and the ensuing friendship expose him to the vulnerability of mortality and prompt a profound introspection. His motivations in the latter part of the epic are rooted in a deep-seated fear of his demise, triggered by the death of Enkidu. This fear drives him to seek answers from the immortal Utnapishtim, setting the stage for a transformative journey.

Gilgamesh's character operates at the intersection of hubris and vulnerability to showcase the complexity of human nature. His evolution from an arrogant ruler to a more thoughtful and compassionate leader highlights the tale's exploration of themes such as friendship, mortality, and the acceptance of fate. This multifaceted portrayal adds depth to Gilgamesh, making him a compelling and relatable figure whose journey reflects the enduring questions and challenges of the human experience.

Enkidu

Enkidu is initially introduced as a wild man created by the gods to humble Gilgamesh. His appearance is primal, with long hair and a body covered in shaggy fur, symbolizing his connection to the untamed wilderness. Enkidu's personality reflects his initial untamed nature, living harmoniously with the animals and exhibiting a childlike innocence. In many ways, he begins as a wilder version of Gilgamesh.

In build he is the image of Gilgamesh,

but shorter in stature, and bigger of bone.

For sure it's the one who was born in the uplands,

animals' milk is what he was suckled on.

Shamhat, a temple prostitute, plays a crucial role in civilizing Enkidu, introducing him to human ways through shared intimacy. This transformative experience leads to Enkidu's physical transformation, shedding his wild exterior for a more human appearance.

Motivated by friendship and a desire for camaraderie, Enkidu befriends Gilgamesh after a fierce initial encounter. Their friendship becomes a central aspect of the story and drives the plot forward. Enkidu's motivations evolve throughout the epic, initially aligned with the animals and nature, then shifting towards a shared quest for glory and adventure with Gilgamesh.

Enkidu exists as a bridge between the untamed natural world and the structured human society. His internal conflict, torn between his wild origins and newfound humanity, adds depth to his personality. Enkidu's eventual death serves as a powerful moment in the narrative, impacting Gilgamesh profoundly and prompting existential reflections on life and death.

Ishtar

Ishtar, the goddess of love and war, is a powerful and capricious deity. She is divine and alluring, captivating those who behold her. Despite her divine beauty, Ishtar's personality is characterized by unpredictability and a sense of entitlement. She is passionate and vengeful, embodying the dual nature of her domains — love and war.

Ishtar's motivations often stem from desires for love, worship, and power. As the goddess of love, she seeks romantic entanglements with mortals, and her proposal of marriage to Gilgamesh reflects her fickle nature. However, her motivations turn darker when spurned, unleashing her wrath in the form...

(This entire section contains 818 words.)

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of the Bull of Heaven to punish Gilgamesh.

Ishtar exists within the complex realm of divine relationships and human interactions to showcase the impact of her emotions on both mortal and immortal domains. Her portrayal adds a layer of divine tension to the narrative. It contributes to exploring themes such as the consequences of defying the gods and the intricate dynamics between immortals and humans in the ancient Mesopotamian worldview.

Utnapishtim

Utnapishtim stands as the epitome of resilience and wisdom. He is a wise elder, weathered by the ages and marked by the experiences of surviving the great flood. He exudes a sense of calm and wisdom shaped by the profound understanding he has gained from witnessing the destruction and rebirth of humanity.

Utnapishtim's past is intricately tied to the gods' decision to flood the world. His motivations are rooted in a desire for survival, leading him to follow divine instructions, building an ark to weather the catastrophic inundation. Utnapishtim's narrative is a testament to his ability to navigate divine will and emerge as a survivor.

Motivated by a sense of duty to share his wisdom, Utnapishtim challenges Gilgamesh, offering valuable insights about the inevitability of mortality. He connects the mortal and divine worlds by acting as a messenger of the gods while imparting profound philosophical lessons. Utnapishtim's portrayal emphasizes the importance of accepting fate and finding wisdom in life's challenges.