Women were expected to have long hair, and to act as a hairdresser, and presumably general caretaker, for their family. Shamhat, the prostitute, plays a dual role as a fount of sexual pleasure and as a maternal figure to Enkidu: “Enkidu is untaught … and Shamhat teaches him the basics that every child must learn: eating, drinking, dressing himself” (Harris, 83). Slightly more graphically, Enkidu's dying curse of Shamhat includes such lines as “may a drunk soil your festal robe with vomit” (Tablet VII). The inclusion of this amongst such threats as “may you … not be able to love a child of your own” implies that, for women, the dirtying of a dress was comparable to infertility. Combined with the third tablet's description of Ninsun's clothing (“she donned jewels worthy of her chest”), this suggests that men believed that dress was an integral feature of womanhood. This essay will now delve into the more anatomical definitions of 'graphic depiction': primarily, sex. The first reference to sex in the epic is in the very first tablet: Shamhat, the harlot, exposes herself to Enkidu and then has sex with him “for six days and seven nights.” Sex between a man and a woman is “the task of womankind” and seems to be the only defining aspect of some women's lives: the scorpion-beings who guard Mount Mashu are named as “the scorpion being [and] his female” (Tablet IX), and Utanapishtim's wife is never
It shows these topics were as relevant in those times as they are still today, as people continue to seek the elixir of life that will not only guarantee a long life but a long and youthful life, a search for the fountain of youth, which somehow also illustrates the sheer vanity of Man.
The author states that the hero in Gilgamesh, as in other related epics, is portrayed as having the best of qualities that any man can aspire. The element of beauty, strength, and wisdom are stretched in ways that project the hero above the normal character of a human. Gilgamesh is described as exceedingly beautiful and mighty.
It is believed to have been written around 2750 to 2500 BC and survived despite the absence of the any printing press (Jackson, xvi). Till date, there have been various translations and versions of the book that try to introduce the book into popular culture.
The Epic of Gilgamesh is considered the oldest story recorded in humanity; it narrates the adventure of King Gilgamesh of Uruk and his friend Enkidu. After his friend's death, punished by the gods, Gilgamesh scared and concerned about his own mortality, begins a second journey alone in search of Utanapishtim, The Faraway.
It narrates the life of historical King of Uruk in Mesopotmaia who is lauded as godly in appearance: “Two-thirds of him is god, one-third of him is human” and that “The Great Goddess…prepared his form”. (Kovacs, Tablet I)
The Genesis has an uncertain date but it places between the 1,500 and 5,00 B.C consisting of events that have occurred more than a thousand years earlier. Epic of Gilgamesh has been based on the Babylonian society while the Genesis is the first book of the Tanakh, the Hebrew
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named, even though she is one of only two immortal humans (Tablets X, XI). Simultaneously, and somewhat conflictingly for the women, sex is high on the list of male priorities. When the Elders entreat Enkidu to protect Gilgamesh on their journey to Humbaba, they phrase it thus: “Let [Enkidu's] body urge [Gilgamesh] back to the wives” (Tablet III). Somehow wives symbolize both bait and servitude. Also, the courtesies, for want of a better word, about sex seem to be less rigid than those with which we are familiar. Enkidu famously blocks Gilgamesh from a marital bed in Tablet II, in a situation which has echoes of polyandry: “he [Gilgamesh] will have intercourse with the 'destined wife', the first, the husband afterward.” Similarly, Shamhat tells Enkidu “It is Gilgamesh who Shamhat loves”; yet “after the harlot recounted the dreams of Gilgamesh to Enkidu the two of them made love” (Tablet I).
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This essay "Graphic Descriptions of Womanhood in The Epic of Gilgamesh" will look at the more graphic descriptions of women in the epic, namely the images of appearance, sex, and birth, to suggest some ideas about a lot of women in ancient Mesopotamia…