The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the ancient works of literature depicting adventurous life of King of Uruk. Gilgamesh is not only an athletic and handsome but also arrogant and cruel, attributes which he uses to challenge men in the kingdom to physical combat and contests. Besides, he claims that he has a right to have sexual intercourse with all the new brides in the kingdom. These actions do not go down well with the inhabitants of the kingdom who now turn to their god in heaven for intervention and to deliver them from such a king. Like any other work of literature, the role of women is very evident in the Epic of Gilgamesh. The women featured in the Epic of Gilgamesh include, Shiduri, Ishtar and Shamhat. The role of these women is prominent in shaping the writing since they convey messages that have a direct impact on the society.
The first woman presented in the book is Shamhat; she is sent to tame Enkidu. It the sexual act between Enkidu and Shamhat that makes the latter to graduate into adulthood. Shamhat goes to the field where she strategically positions herself and lures Enkidu. She “stripped off her robe and lay there naked….stayed erect and made love with her” (Sanders 79). The sex between Enkidu and Shamhat causes the former to break away from animal and uncivilized world where he initially inhabited. The role of women in propagating civilization is evident in the action of the two characters. Civilization is dropping actions that one initially found refuge in their course of living. Before joining with the priestess, Enkidu’s life was marked with living with animals and his attempts to go back to the wild animals “But the gazelles saw him and scattered” (Sanders 79).
The role of women in bringing a society to a civilization is depicted in the text and this shows how women have a potential to bring and develop civilization in the life of a people or community. Civilization of a community is usually achieved when they move from their former way of doing things and adopt a new life. Prior to joining and living with Shamhat, Enkidu enjoyed the life of living with wild animals and doing all the things associated with that kind of living. The move to live in the family of Shamhat is a step towards domestication and illustrates that in life and throughout generations and ages, humans have tried to acquire a better, more advanced and organised living. In the history of humanity, humans used to live in caves with unorganised life being the order of the day, domestication is then a pointer that humans have the ability to acquire new forms of living and ensure that they adapt to the new forms and experiences that come with organised living.
It is evident that women have a role in ensuring that new ideas are generated in the community. Today, as in the Epic of Gilgamesh, new ideas come as brought about by the advent in technology and women have a role in ensuring that these technologies are used for purposes of ensuring that the community reaps the best out of them. In moving Enkidu from the wild animals, Shamhat demonstrates that various methods can be used in advancing civilization. It is according to this “that his mind had somehow grown larger, he knew things now that an animal can’t know” (Sanders 79). Enkidu’s civilization thus prepares him for life ahead with challenges that comes with it. In the fullness of time, Enkidu would become a great hero and appreciates the actions of Shamhat. When a civilization is brought to a people, they apply the attributes associated with it to make life better than it was before. Indeed, it is out of this civilization as developed by Shamhat in the life of Enkidu that the latter would use later in life to face the trials that would come his way. It is on this basis that one is safe to argue that women have a role in propagating civilization and advancement of knowledge in the society for the benefit of both present and future generation. Women, such as Shamhat, have over the years contributed in advancement and championing of new ideas in the societies in which they live and such is the contribution of Shamhat in the Epic of Gilgamesh.
Shiduri, the tavern-keeper, is the second woman encountered in the Epic of Gilgamesh. The role of women in offereing wise counsel is manifested in her life and this is illustrated by way of encouraging Gilgamesh to put away all the grief in his life and focus on things that matters. After the death of Enkidu, Gilgamesh wanders around the kingdom in a bid to look for a means of immortality. Shiduri offers her wise counsel to Gilgamesh to “…enjoy your life, spend it in happiness, not despair …. that is the best way for a man to live” (Sanders 168-169). While Shiduri offers her counsel to help Gilgamesh, the latter rejects her wisdom, a situation that results into Gilgamesh’s great suffering leading to failure in his attempts in making himself immortal. In societies such as the Epic of Gilgamesh, women usually have a role in ensuring that their families and the community at large have peace among themselves and within the community, this is to ensure that peace and tranquility prevails among the peace. Shiduri, therefore, is a perfect example of women offering guidance so as to ensure that peace prevails.
Ishtar demonstrates the role of women of offering companion to men in the society, she proposes to Gilgamesh to “Marry me, give me your luscious fruits, be my husband, be my sweet man. I will give you abundance beyond your dreams” (Sanders 130-131)., this is a clear demonstration of her willingness to offer companion to the king and that the union between the two would lead to benefits that are currently missing in the life of Gilgamesh. By promising to make the king wealthy, it appears that he has things to put in place and encourage the king to work harder than before. Surprisingly, Gilgamesh refuses to fall into her snares by quipping that “Your price is too high, such riches are far beyond my means. And what would happen to me when your heart turns elsewhere and your lust burns out?”. (Sanders 132) The response of the king shows that people have a duty to ensure that they interrogate the means that women will use in performing their roles in the society.
In conclusion, the Epic of Gilgamesh illustrates the various roles that women play in society. As demonstrated in the foregoing, societies have a duty of ensuring that women are granted a chance to positively participate in the affairs of the community. They have a duty to examine how these roles are performed and the means through which they are implemented to achieve the promises. Over and above, the role of women in the Epic of Gilgamesh cannot be gainsaid as has been mentioned above.