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The Epic of Gilgamesh

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In The Epic of Gilgamesh, what does Enkidu teach Gilgamesh?

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The most important lesson that Enkidu teaches Gilgamesh is the value of humility.

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The most important lesson that Enkidu teaches Gilgamesh is the value of humility. At the beginning of The Epic of Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk is described as a tyrannical ruler, with some versions of the story going so far as to say that he partook of prime nocte rights with the city’s women. The goddess Aruru, answering the prayers of the people, molded Enkidu from clay and water, and put him in the forest where he grew into his own as a wild man. Later, Enkidu becomes somewhat domesticated by sleeping with the temple prostitute Shamhat. It is described as a loving relationship, although Enkidu loses touch with his animal brethren.

Already, Enkidu and Gilgamesh have been established as diametric foils. Enkidu is a literal force of good coming from the wilderness, tamed with love. Gilgamesh is a tyrannical demigod ruling over his city with indifference. When Enkidu first confronts Gilgamesh, the king is on the way to sleep with a new bride before her husband does. Enkidu wrestles him to the ground, and the two struggle. Gilgamesh is shocked to discover that another being on the planet matches him in strength. They immediately become friends and begin doing good deeds and acts of heroism for the city. Enkidu is not threatening Gilgamesh, but it seems as though the mere existence of a foil has the effect of changing Gilgamesh’s outlook completely. Once humility is given the opportunity to have a footing in his character—the realization that he is not necessarily the strongest being in the world—it thrives, and he becomes a more humble, friendly person.

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Enkidu plays an important role in the epic and is initially created by Aruru to oppose the tyrannical Gilgamesh. At the beginning of the epic, Gilgamesh is depicted as an arrogant, selfish ruler who oppresses his subjects. After Gilgamesh defeats Enkidu, he becomes close friends with him, and the two heroes set out on a quest to kill the monster Humbaba. Enkidu leads Gilgamesh safely to the Land of Cedars and helps him defeat the monster. Enkidu also helps Gilgamesh kill the Bull of Heaven, which eventually leads to Enkidu's death. Through Enkidu's death, Gilgamesh becomes aware of his own mortality and embarks on a quest to the ends of the earth to attain immortality from the gods. Gilgamesh is transformed by his journey and accepts his place in the universe as a mortal being who will one day die. Gilgamesh gains respect for the gods and understands the importance of being an esteemed leader upon his return to Uruk. Essentially, Enkidu indirectly makes Gilgamesh aware of his own mortality, which results in his dramatic transformation following his epic journey. Through Enkidu's death, Gilgamesh begins focusing on leaving a lasting legacy, which motivates him to be a benevolent, just king.

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In this famous epic story, Endiku seems to have the role of acting as foil to Gilgamesh and reminding Gilgamesh of what it is to be human. At various stages in the narrative Endiku prevents Gilgamesh from completely forgetting who he is and acts as a kind of link to humanity. Consider, for example, the following incident. When Gilgamesh is about to kill Humbaba, Humbaba pleads for his life and promises that he will serve the gods. Gilgamesh is tempted by this proposal, in spite of the way that Humbaba is depicted as an evil, deceitful creature, and it is only Endiku's words that encourage him to kill the giant after all:

Endiku feared his friend was weakening

And called out: Gilgamesh! Don't trust him!

As if there were some hunger in himself

That Gilgamesh was feeling

That turned him momentarily to yearn

For someone who would serve, he paused...

Throughout this epic, therefore, we can see that Gilgamesh's weakness is his excessive pride. His relationship with Endiku who is a human is something that helps to humble Gilgamesh and to remind him of what it means to be human.

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