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The Epic of Gilgamesh

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What is the significance of Enkidu's six-day, seven-night affair with the harlot in The Epic of Gilgamesh?

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The significance of Enkidu's six days and seven nights with the harlot can be understood as a story about civilization. The Epic of Gilgamesh presents sexuality as a core component of the human condition, such that a sexual encounter becomes the gateway that shapes Enkidu's own transformation from a life spent among wild animals to one of participation within a human society.

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The story of Enkidu is, at its core, a story about civilization. Enkidu, when he is introduced in The Epic of Gilgamesh, is more akin to the wild animals than he is to human beings, even to the point that he is depicted as eating grass. Enkidu's encounter with the harlot is thus framed as a civilizing moment and a deeply transformative experience for Enkidu himself. As the epic makes clear, he can never return to his earlier existence among the wild animals. Instead, he can only continue onward as a participant in civilization. In this sense, within The Epic of Gilgamesh (and also within the culture that produced it), sexuality seems to be understood as one of the core components that defines the human condition.

At the same time, it is important to note that the harlot is, more specifically, defined as a temple prostitute. In this sense, her sexuality is closely intertwined with the institutions of religion and social caste, a context that is significant given this scene's underlying thematic meaning, and the degree to which Enkidu's sexual encounter with the harlot is presented as the key influence that shapes his own transition from a life spent in the wilds to one spent in human society.

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