The Epic of Gilgamesh: A Mesopotamian Blockbuster

Kane Khanh | Archeaology
November 13, 2023

King Gilgamesh of Uruk

Who Was Gilgamesh

Gilgamesh was the fifth king of Uruk, a major city in Sumer, but he was not just any king. He was the son of King Lugalbanda, the third king of Uruk, and his mother was Ninsun, a Sumerian goddess. So you may be thinking this has to be all mythology, right? The truth is that Gilgamesh and Lugalbanda appear on the Sumerian Kings List with the later ruling for an amazing 1200 years. How is that you ask. Lugalbanda had his own special story to tell. As a soldier in King Enmerkar’s army, Lugalbanda accomplished a couple of miraculous feats that earned him the praise of the gods. They were so pleased, in fact, that they made him a half-god. This could be why he attracted the attention of the lovely Ninsun, or Lady Wild Cow. Falling in love with Lugalbanda led her to live much of her life on Earth, as a wife and mother, even though her father, Anu, was the sky god and one of the big three in Sumerian religion, and her mother was Uras, a goddess of earth. With Lugalbanda and Ninsun as his parents, Gilgamesh was not just any hero like Hercules or Perseus. Gilgamesh was three quarters god, a fact of which he was extremely proud.

Map of Mesopotamia During Uruk Period

Gilgamesh Working the Men while Taking the Women

Neil Dalrymple

Tablet I: The Not-So-Good King of Uruk

When our story starts, King Gilgamesh has already taken the throne of Uruk, though his subjects are extremely unhappy about the way he is ruling. He is very arrogant, after all he is three parts god, and he towers above all men in the city. No one will dare say a word against him despite the fact that he is working his people to death. You see the king wants there to be a large wall around his city in addition to other building projects. They work every day with hardly time for meals, but this is not the only problem the people have with their mighty king. Gilgamesh, it seems, has an uncontrollable appetite for sex. He also likes a lot of variety in his women, so much so, that he sleeps with the daughters of his generals, girls barely old enough to be with a man and every bride on her wedding night. Imagine having your king have sex with your brand new wife before you even get the chance.

The people finally feel there is nothing for them to do but pray to the god Anu, who happens to be the king’s grandfather, for relief, and Anu listened. He knew that talking to his daughter Ninsun would be of little use, so he went to Aruru, the creator of mankind. He asked her to create a man who would be equal to King Gilgamesh. Someone who could knock some sense into the giant of a man. Aruru began working with her clay and fashioned it into the form of a man. When she was finished, she threw it into the wilderness. Aruru had created a wild man who knew no language, was covered with hair and ate with the wild animals. His name was Enkidu.

Now not everyone in the general area of Uruk lived within the city walls. The son of one such man was a young trapper who encountered the wild man during visits to the well. After several days of seeing this massive creature, the trapper went to his father and asked his opinion. He told his father that this creature was destroying his traps and rescuing the animals before he could catch them. His father explained that King Gilgamesh, who surely was as big as this wild man, would help. He recommended asking the king for one of the prostitutes from the temple of the goddess Inanna. When the wild man sees her naked body, he will be so excited he will forget all about the other animals.

The trapper took his father’s advice and went to speak with Gilgamesh in Uruk. He explained all that he had told his father about this wild man. Gilgamesh agreed to let him take Shamhat from Inanna’s temple and have her tame the wild man through sex. The trapper and Shamhat returned to the well and waited several days before Enkidu appeared. When he did, Shamhat did as she was instructed. She showed the wild man her body and captured his attention. She laid with him for six days and seven nights while Enkidu remained aroused. Once he had finally reached his fill, he turned his attention back to the animals, but they were now afraid of him. He had become a man like all the others who were out to capture them.

Enkidu was very upset because his entire world had changed, but Shamhat began to speak to him. She told him that he was now like the gods. He should return with her to Uruk. She told him that the city had a might king, but he was mean to his people. Enkidu agreed to go back with her. The city sounded like just the place he wanted to be, and he would take care of this business with the king, as he was surely more powerful. Shamhat then told him that she would take him back with her, but he was wrong if he thought he could defeat Gilgamesh. The king was young, strong and beautiful and she loved him. She explained that Gilgamesh had dreamed of Enkidu and would not fear him.

Gilgamesh had been having dreams, vivid dreams that he shared with his mother, Ninsun. The dreams were always about some object that Gilgamesh could not budge. Objects that his mother forced him to compete with. Each time his mother explained to him that the object represented a man who would come and save her son. A man who would be her son’s best friend. Gilgamesh had shared these dreams with Shamhat as well, and she now shared them with Enkidu. He was still determined to change the ways of the kin

Gilgamesh and Enkidu Fight

Neil Dalrymple