Gilgamesh And Enkidu, A Heroic Duo Bound By Intimacy

Are Gilgamesh and Enkidu in an intimate relationship? The Epic of Gilgamesh, translated by Herbert Mason, answers yes, and further uses their relationship as a means for the pair of protagonists to become human. The human condition is defined by the struggles and emotions men face throughout their life, and how it causes humans to differ from other species. Gilgamesh and Enkidu explore accepting the human condition once they enter into a relationship with one another. While the Gilgamesh does not explicitly describe a sexual relationship between them, the closeness illustrated suggests a relationship beyond comradery. This relationship is essential because it helps evolve the protagonists from animal and god into humans. In Gilgamesh, the pair of Gilgamesh and Enkidu share an intimate relationship that reveals the human condition as being an experience of intimacy with another.

The relationship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu reflects the same connection that exists between a husband and wife, proving both its profound nature and the importance of intimacy in the development of their relationship. In examining the characteristics of their bond in their actions and behaviors suggest Gilgamesh and Enkidu have the same type of relationship that is indicated through marriage. After killing Humbaba Ishtar comes to Gilgamesh and offers her hand in marriage, and Gilgamesh responds by saying:

We outgrow out naiveté

In thinking goddesses

Return our love.

He subsided in his insults

And turned away to his friend


When Gilgamesh talks about the outgrowing naiveté, this moment distinguishes itself as a critical point in Gilgamesh’s journey to become human. By separating himself from Ishtar, a divine figure, referring to the goddess as an entity unconnected to himself, he is accepting his mortality and humanity. The rejection of Ishtar also reflects Gilgamesh and Enkidu’s marital bond when Gilgamesh refuses to leave Enkidu for Ishtar. This action parallels a husband remaining faithful to his wife, proving the strength of their intimate bond and similarities to a married relationship. As Gilgamesh grows away from his divinity in his rejection of Ishtar, he furthers his association with humanity and Enkidu by using the words “our love. ” The author uses this diction to emphasize Gilgamesh and Enkidu’s process of becoming human by not associating them with their original identities, god and animal and instead unites them under the same status, humans. This language further exemplifies their relationship as being deeply rooted in intimacy with one another through the use of “our. ” Which reinforces the reader’s idea of depth existing in Gilgamesh and Enkidu’s connection. Gilgamesh uses his matrimonial-esque connection to Enkidu to disassociate himself with the divine, and to accept his humanity, further progressing Gilgamesh in the process of becoming human. Unlike most relationships bound my marriage, Gilgamesh and Enkidu aren’t intimate in a physical way.

While Gilgamesh and Enkidu don’t explicitly share sexual behaviors in the poem, their intimacy demonstrates more intimacy than they share with other women in Gilgamesh. The poem Gilgamesh expresses itself as a poem that does not treat sex as a taboo subject but instead uses it to develop characters such as Enkidu and the prostitute and when Gilgamesh sleeps with the virgin brides. Despite these sexual scenes only occurring between a man and women, the foundation of Gilgamesh and Enkidu’s relationship is instead intimacy rather than sex. Because their prior relationships with women, the prostitute and the brides, Gilgamehs and Enkidu did not experience the depth or intensity that their relationship introduced to them. Because of this, one can connect the development that occurred during Gilgamesh and Enkidu’s relation to the development of the process to become human. Women are used by Gilgamesh and Enkidu as tools for sex rather than for an intense companionship, when Gilgamesh and Enkidu are at the edge of Humbaba’s forest Enkidu expresses fear and turns to Gilgamesh for comfort, “Enkidu could not move… / His face turned pale like someone's witness a death / He. . . asked his friend for help” to which Gilgamesh responds by promising to protect Enkidu and going forward. Whereas Enkidu became conscious of death after sleeping with the prostitute, Enkidu’s expression of his fear of death only manifested after meeting and becoming close with Gilgamesh. Enkidu’s behavior suggests his intimacy with Gilgamesh as being an essential component to his becoming human by fearing death. Gilgamesh also demonstrates himself growing closer to his humanity by expressing intimate care for Enkidu and helping him. Prior to meeting Enkidu, Gilgamesh’s relationships were brief and purposeful, like sleeping with the virgin brides as the king. Once Gilgamesh develops a tender bond with Enkidu, he prolongs the time they spend with one another, which in turn develops his character. Even though this scene is not sexual between Gilgamesh and Enkidu, this intimacy allows for them to build their relationship and identities in a method that parallels their becoming human. While Gilgamesh and Enkidu aren’t don’t engage in sexual activities their physical contact is important in their relationship.

In Gilgamesh and Enkidu’s partnership, physical touch is an essential component that allows their identities to progress. This aspect of their bond is suggestive of their closeness and the importance of their relationship in their journey towards becoming human. Throughout the poem, there are many examples of physical contact between Gilgamesh and Enkidu that result in the development of their characters and their relationship. Some of the most advancing moments are when Gilgamesh and Enkidu fight upon their first meeting, Enkidu desiring to touch Gilgamesh in his dreams, and Gilgamesh moving to contact Enkidu after he dies. In the final example, Gilgamesh touches Enkidu after he was killed as punishment for the Bull of Heaven’s death, Gilgamesh sits “hushed as his friend’s eyes stilled. / In his silence he reached out / to touch Enkidu whom he had lost”. As an act of intimacy, Gilgamesh’s touches Enkidu one last time. As this is Gilgamesh’s first encounter with death, at this moment, Gilgamesh is forced to accept death as an unavoidable consequence since Enkidu, his equal whom he shared an intimate relationship, is gone. The tenderness of Gilgamesh's touch plays a vital role in Gilgamesh's acceptance of death because it connects himself to Enkidu, who experienced death, which Gilgamesh didn’t believe was possible before their relationship developed. As a result, physical contact gives intimacy in both the protagonist’s connection with one another and supports the idea of it being profound in the human experience for Gilgamesh. Intimacy for Gilgamesh and Enkidu gives their relationship and themselves more depth than would otherwise be possible without it.

Gilgamesh and Enkidu’s intimate relationship manifests itself in its husband-wife parallels, character development, and physical contact. All of these points lead to the human condition in Gilgamesh as being an experience of intimacy with another. While the LGBTQ+ community is becoming more recognized in modern literature, scholars often ignore it in ancient texts. This neglect occurs despite some primeval cultures such as ancient Greece having the LGBTQ+ community as apart of their mother culture story, especially in their relationships with others. Examining ancient texts such as Gilgamesh with an LGBTQ+ critical lens can give a higher or alternative understanding of the poem. In the same way, one uses a feminist lens to learn more about the roles of women and power, and an LGBTQ+ one can provide many benefits. In modern societies, people tend to overly focus on themselves in the world, which leads to missing lessons in ancient literature, a mistake that could easily be preventable by making it standard practice to take modern ideas, such as examining LGBTQ+ in the arts and applying them to ancient cultures.

10 October 2020
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