Illustration of Gilgamesh's face

The Epic of Gilgamesh

Start Free Trial

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

Quick answer:

The similarities between Enkidu and Gilgamesh in The Epic of Gilgamesh include their part-god, part-man construction and superhuman strength and bravery. Their differences include their make-up, with Gilgamesh being one-third man and two-thirds god, and Enkidu having been fashioned by the gods to provide Gilgamesh with a worthy adversary.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

With regard to similarities, Enkidu and Gilgamesh are both neither entirely human nor entirely God. Both are immensely strong, in both body and mind. When the two inevitably clash, when Enkidu bars Gilgamesh's way to the temple, an epic battle is fought, after which Enkidu acknowledges Gilgamesh's strength, leading to the two becoming great friends.

Both Gilgamesh and Enkidu are phenomenally brave. When Anu sends a monster bull to wreak destruction in Uruk, the two team up to destroy the monster, with Enkidu jumping on its back while Gilgamesh stabs it in the neck. Every emotion they feel seems to be on a grand scale, whether it is happiness or rage.

When it comes to differences, Gilgamesh and Enkidu are made of different elements. Gilgamesh, known as the most attractive, strongest, and wisest mortal, is only one-third man, and two-thirds a god. When the city's residents beg the gods for mercy from Gilgamesh, the god Anu brings about the creation of Enkidu, who is also a demigod, but his body is made from clay, fashioned by gods.

I would argue that Gilgamesh is more courageous than Enkidu, who is initially hesitant to challenge the monster, Khumbaba. It could equally be argued, in light of the myriad warnings that Gilgamesh is given against taking on Khumbaba, that Enkidu is the wiser of the two.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.
Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Compare Gilgamesh and Enkidu in The Epic of Gilgamesh. 

Enkidu is as loyal, courageous, and determined as Gilgamesh. However, his humility exceeds that of Gilgamesh.

In the story, Enkidu challenges Gilgamesh's exercise of jus primae noctis (the right of the first night, where the king beds a young bride before her husband does). Enkidu asserts that this practice is a flagrant abuse of a king's power. He challenges Gilgamesh but is overcome by the latter's superior strength.

Despite his defeat, Enkidu graciously accepts Gilgamesh's offer of friendship. He acknowledges that Gilgamesh's "strength surpasses the strength of men," and he willingly pledges to follow him. Although Enkidu is as brave a warrior as Gilgamesh, he is more cautious in nature. Unlike Gilgamesh, Enkidu prefers to ensure that a possibly successful plan is in place before he ventures forth. 

When Gilgamesh voices his resolve to confront Humbaba (the watchman of the cedar forest), Enkidu begs him to first inform Shamash (the sun god) of his plans. Gilgamesh takes Enkidu's advice and petitions Shamash for protection and courage. For his part, Shamash decides to have compassion on Gilgamesh. The sun god appoints strong allies to assist Gilgamesh in his quest; he deploys the fiercest of the natural elements to give the advantage to Gilgamesh and Enkidu.

In the story, Enkidu has a special skill that Gilgamesh is not likewise gifted with: he can interpret dreams. When Gilgamesh has a frightening dream about his destiny, Enkidu interprets the vision for his friend. According to Enkidu's interpretation, the gods have gifted Gilgamesh with superior strength and supremacy in battle.

Later, when Gilgamesh dreams about a fierce bull in the wilderness, Enkidu reassures him. He tells Gilgamesh that the bull simply represents Shamash the Protector. In moments of peril, Shamash stands ready to aid Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Enkidu's gift of interpreting dreams allows him to comfort and strengthen Gilgamesh when the latter begins to doubt his abilities. 

Perhaps the greatest traits shared by both Gilgamesh and Enkidu are courage, loyalty, and tenacity.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Compare Gilgamesh and Enkidu in The Epic of Gilgamesh. 

Gilgamesh is the established, tyrannical King of Uruk at the beginning of the epic, while Enkidu is a relatively unknown demigod created by Anu. Gilgamesh is depicted as the wisest and strongest demigod, who embodies civilization and has human features. In contrast, Enkidu is portrayed as a product of the wilderness, who is more like a animal than a human.

Unlike the physically attractive Gilgamesh, Enkidu is covered in hair and resembles a wild beast. Enkidu is eventually civilized after his encounter with a harlot sent from Uruk and his time spent with the shepherds. Enkidu then travels to Uruk to challenge Gilgamesh and loses to the famous king. The two demigods become inseparable friends and journey throughout the land, engaging in a series of heroic exploits.

Both Enkidu and Gilgamesh are considered heroes and are revered for their strength and courage. They bravely challenge the ferocious giant Humbaba and defeat the Bull of Heaven sent by Ishtar.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Compare Gilgamesh and Enkidu in The Epic of Gilgamesh. 

Both Gilgamesh and Enkidu are heroic (willing to perform challenging deeds) and extremely strong. The two share the exact same lineage/parentage. 

These heroes differ in important areas too, as Gilgamesh is the bolder of the two. He is bold to the point of being brash and he enjoys the power he holds over others (at least he does at the opening of the epic story). 

Enkidu is a helper and protector. He is a figure of sympathy, helping the animals escape traps and later confronting Gilgamesh to save the city from his hubris and greed. Enkidu is less adventurous than Gilgamesh. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Compare and contrast Gilgamesh and Enkidu from The Epic of Gilgamesh stating what is different and what is the same about them.

In The Epic of Gilgamesh, Enkidu is created by the god Arruru in the image Anu, and Enkidu is a wild creature without knowledge of civilzation. As such, he runs with the fierce animals, obeys them, and helps them. Gilgamesh is a king who mistreats his people and who is a half-god betrothed to Ishtar the goddess of love. They are alike in that they both have qualities that need to be tamed in order to live with or rule civilized people. They are also alike in that they are both enormously strong.

When Gilgamesh and Enkidu meet, they engage in a wrestling match. They are equally matched and there is no end of the match in sight. Then Gilgamesh gains the upper hand and throws Enkidu to the floor thus winning the match. From then they are inseparable.

They are different in that Enkidu was created by the gods because the people whom Gilgamesh was mistreating prayed to the gods and begged for a challenger to Gilgamesh so Gilgamesh would be preoccupied with him and leave them alone. After Enkidu was civilized by a trapper, he no longer fulfilled his purpose but instead helped Gilgamesh kill the challengers the gods sent to prevent his mistreatment of his people.

They are also different in that Enkidu dies without having learned how to be or repenting for how he has been. Gilgamesh goes on a quest to find immortality and thus conquer death, which frieghtened him when he mourned Enkidu's death for an overly long time. As a result of Gilgamesh's quest, he learns how to be, repents of how he was, and returns to his kingdom as a wise and kind ruler with a new companion.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How were Gilgamesh and Enkidu different from one another?

Despite his wild origins and thick jungle of body hair, Enkidu is more recognizably human than Gilgamesh. Mind you, that was only after making love to Shamhat for a whole week. Though still technically two-thirds animal, Enkidu is 100% more of a human than the initially cruel and tyrannical Gilgamesh. It's this very human quality of his that rounds off some of the corners of the man who becomes his close and trusted friend. Enkidu adheres to quite a strict moral code that differentiates him from Gilgamesh, whereas Gilgamesh himself has an insatiable appetite for sex, wealth, and power. Having grown up and lived with wild beasts, Enkidu is inevitably much closer to nature than Gilgamesh. This helps him keep his feet on the ground, so to speak, allowing him to act as a restraining influence on his powerful, semidivine friend.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How were Gilgamesh and Enkidu different from one another?

While Gilgamesh and Enkidu are both demigods with incredible strength, they are quite different in terms of personality. Gilgamesh is impulsive, while Enkidu is cautious. These opposing qualities can be most clearly seen in the case of Humbaba: Gilgamesh wants to rush into combat with Humbaba, while Enkidu knows doing so will end badly.

Gilgamesh and Enkidu also embody the difference between civilization and the natural world. Gilgamesh was born and bred in an urban environment; he is cultured and worldly. Enkidu was created from earth and saliva and raised by animals. This makes Enkidu far more innocent to the ways of the world. Even after Shammat initiates him into human society, Enkidu still retains some of this natural world innocence, as he is not as corrupted by the desire for power and glory as Gilgamesh is. For example, Gilgamesh is selfish and abusive to his people and mad with power. Enkidu criticizes him for these flaws when the people come to him for help.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How were Gilgamesh and Enkidu different from one another?

Despite the fact that both Gilgamesh and Enkidu are demi-gods who are revered for their strength and courage throughout the epic, they come from completely different backgrounds and have relatively different personalities. Gilgamesh is two parts god and one part man and is the powerful, feared King of Uruk at the beginning of the epic. He is initially depicted as an arrogant, callous king, who rules as a tyrant instead of being a benevolent leader. Gilgamesh symbolically represents civilization and is portrayed as an educated, ambitious builder.

In contrast, Enkidu was created by the goddess Aruru out of a ball of clay and was raised in the wilderness. Enkidu symbolically represents the natural world and comes into existence as an uncivilized beast. His body is completely covered in hair, and he runs free with the other animals in the forest. Unlike Gilgamesh, he is relatively unknown at the beginning of the epic and is not as skilled or strong as the powerful king. He is also more sympathetic to Gilgamesh's subjects, and the two great warriors become inseparable friends after fighting each other.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How were Gilgamesh and Enkidu different from one another?

While Gilgamesh and Enkidu have many common characteristics, such as their extreme physical prowess, Enkidu in many ways serves as the antithesis of the great King Gilgamesh. Both their similarities and differences are by design, as Enkidu was created specifically to arrest the great arrogance of King Gilgamesh.

Gilgamesh is a man of noble bearing, a warrior king who was born and raised in a great urban center of the ancient world. He is cultured and educated and possesses authority derived from the traditions of a political system. Enkidu on the other hand is a wild man, formed of earth and saliva, raised by animals, or at first completely unaware of the ways of human society. He lacks the education and cultural knowledge of Gilgamesh, and his authority is entirely the product of his own strength.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on