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The Epic of Gilgamesh

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What type of relationship do Enkidu and Gilgamesh share in The Epic of Gilgamesh, and how would its absence affect Gilgamesh's hero status?

Quick answer:

Enkidu and Gilgamesh share a profoundly deep and powerful relationship, with Enkidu having been created to serve as Gilgamesh's equal. However, their relationship is complicated. On the one hand, the two have a very close relationship, and Enkidu plays a key role in Gilgamesh's evolution from tyrant to hero. At the same time, however, they also reinforce and enable each other's pride and recklessness, which leads to Enkidu's death. This, in turn, inspires Gilgamesh's most famous adventure of all.

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The relationship between Enkidu and Gilgamesh is the most powerful relationship in either of their lives (in fact, keep in mind, that Enkidu was actually created for Gilgamesh to provide him with a worthy equal). As for whether their relationship had a positive or negative influence, that's a more difficult and complicated question. Regardless, the influence the two hold over each other is profound.

As the epic opens, Gilgamesh is depicted in terms of being a tyrant, so much so that the people of Uruk pray to the gods for deliverance (and the gods respond by creating Enkidu). From this perspective, Enkidu would have certainly had a positive influence on Gilgamesh's life, as their friendship is a key aspect in Gilgamesh's own transformation from tyrant to hero. At the same time, however, you should not forget how Enkidu pushes Gilgamesh to kill Humbaba when they have him at their mercy (an act that angers the god, Enlil). Later, both Gilgamesh and Enkidu insult the goddess Ishtar: first, Gilgamesh castigates her after she attempts to proposition him, and later, after they have slain the Bull of Heaven, Enkidu will throw its thigh at her. Thus, at the same time that Enkidu has had a positive influence on Gilgamesh's transformation from tyrant to hero, you should also not forget the ways in which the two seem to reinforce each other's prideful and often reckless behavior. Finally, keep in mind the price that they pay for these infringements, with the gods demanding Enkidu's death (a moment which, in turn, inspires Gilgamesh's most famous adventure: his quest for immortality).

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