Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1323
The Prologue establishes Gilgamesh's stature as the special creation of the gods: he is the son of a goddess and a human and thus partly divine. The strongest and wisest of all humans, he is also the renowned builder and king of the great city of Uruk. The Prologue sets the story in the distant past, in "the days before the flood" (1.61), when Gilgamesh himself etched the whole story in stone.
1. The Coming of Enkidu
Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, is the strongest of all men, but he is a harsh and unkind ruler. The people of Uruk describe his abuses to Anu, god of Uruk, who asks Aruru, goddess of creation, to create an equal or ''second self'' (1.62) to oppose Gilgamesh and leave them at peace. Aruru creates Enkidu out of the raw stuff of nature. Enkidu is a fearfully strong, uncultured "wild man" with long hair and coarse features who runs with the beasts and eats grass. A trapper sees Enkidu at a watering hole, and tells his father about the wild man who disrupts his snares. The father advises the son to tell Gilgamesh about the wild man. Gilgamesh gives him a temple courtesan to tame the wild man. The woman embraces Enkidu, cleans and clothes him, and teaches him civilized behavior. When Enkidu is brought to Uruk, Gilgamesh puts off his pending marriage to Ishtar, the goddess of love, and meets Enkidu, who has challenged him, in the street. They fight, and after Gilgamesh throws Enkidu, they embrace and become friends.
2. The Forest Journey
Enlil, father of the gods, establishes Gilgamesh's destiny to be king and achieve great feats, but Enkidu is "oppressed by [the] idleness" (1. 70) of living in Uruk. In order to establish his eternal reputation, to "leave behind me a name that endures" (1. 71), Gilgamesh purposes to travel with Enkidu to the Land of the Cedars and kill its guardian, the fearsome giant Humbaba. Gilgamesh prepares for the journey both by making a sacrifice to Shamash, who gives him the natural elements as allies; by forging a set of formidable weapons, including an axe, bow, and shield; and by seeking the intervention of his mother Ninsun, who adopts Enkidu as her own. Now brothers as well as companions, Gilgamesh and Enkidu begin their journey. On the way, Gilgamesh has three dreams, which though frightening portend a successful end to his quest. Humbaba, the guardian of the cedars, can hear an animal stir from many miles away, and he has seven fearsome ''splendors" as weapons. After they arrive at the grove, Gilgamesh and Enkidu send Humbaba into a rage by cutting down one of the sacred trees. After a fierce battle, Gilgamesh defeats Humbaba, who begs for his life. Gilgamesh nearly relents, saving Humbaba momentarily, but acting on Enkidu's warning, Gilgamesh cuts off the giant's head. They present Humbaba's head to Enlil, who rages at them for their actions.
3. Ishtar and Gilgamesh, and the Death of Enkidu
After Gilgamesh slays Humbaba, Ishtar calls Gilgamesh back to be her groom by promising him many expensive gifts. Gilgamesh now flatly refuses her offer because of her "abominable behaviour" (1.87), for he knows how badly Ishtar has treated her previous lovers, turning many of them into animals. Ishtar becomes angry and pressures her parents, Anu and Antum, to set loose the Bull of Heaven upon Uruk and Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh and Enkidu together slay the bull, proving again their great fame and prowess. Afterward, Enkidu has a dream in which a council of the gods has decreed that Enkidu must die for their deeds. Enkidu falls ill, cursing the trapper and courtesan who brought him to civilization, but Shamash reminds him how much good came from the trapper's and harlot's action. Enkidu has a second dream about the underworld and its inhabitants, which Gilgamesh interprets as an omen of death. Enkidu languishes for days before he dies, and...
(The entire section contains 1323 words.)
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