Ancient works of literature often become a unique tool of gender analysis. The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Book of Genesis reveal the gender and sexuality complexities that existed at the time they were created. The goal of this paper is to reconsider the role, which women played in both stories and their gender implications. First, a brief summary of both stories is provided. The paper is focused on the analysis of the complex relations between Enkidu and the harlot in The Epic of Gilgamesh and the story of Adam and Eve in The Book of Genesis. Both are the stories of creation, and this paper attempts to prove that, while the story of creation in The Epic of Gilgamesh is male-oriented, creationism in The Book of Genesis positions woman as the crown of creation, whose superiority cannot be debated.
Keywords: Epic of Gilgamesh, Book of Genesis, Enkidu, harlot, Eve, Adam, gender, creationism, sexuality.
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Masculinity and Feminism in The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Book of Genesis
The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Book of Genesis remain the two most cited stories of creation in classic literature. The relationship between Eve and Adam is similar to that between Enkidu and the harlot. In this sense, both stories have far-reaching implications for understanding the role of women and men in societies that created those stories. In both stories, a woman is an agent of seduction and change: the unnamed harlot seduces Enkidu to bring him to the world of humans, while Eve persuades Adam to taste the apple of sin, thus causing their rejection by God. In both stories, sexuality plays one of the primary roles in the relationship between the man and the woman, and sexuality is primarily responsible for the events that follow the act of seduction. In both The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Book of Genesis, women are the carriers of negativity and even evil: by trusting themselves into the hands of women, men in these stories face isolation and rejection from those who used to be their support and assistance. However, while The Epic of Gilgamesh positions the woman as subordinate to the man, The Book of Genesis presents an entirely different picture, in which a woman is the center of the universe and the triumph of creation, whose role of the carer and mother enable her to retain this leading feminine position in the world of masculinity.
The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Book of Genesis: A Brief Insight
The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Book of Genesis reveal numerous commonalities. Their parallels and analogies have been profoundly explored. Unfortunately, the gender and sexual implications of both stories are often ignored. In this sense, of particular interest are the relationships between Enkidu and the harlot, as well as those between Adam and Eve. The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the most ancient stories of creation ever known to the humanity. In The Epic of Gilgamesh, Enkidu meets the harlot, who has been sent to him by gods to tame his wild habits with the help of her sexuality: “The trapper went, bringing the harlot, Shamhat, with him. They set off on the journey, making direct way. […] Then Shamhat saw him [Enkidu] – a primitive, a savage fellow from the depths of the wilderness!” (Anonymous, 1998). The relationship between Enkidu and the harlot is a story of Enkidu’s creation of transformation, which is much similar to the creation of Eve and the transformation Adam undergoes under her influence. As a reminder, God creates Eve after Adam, from Adam’s rib, to be Adam’s partner and soulmate: “And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof” (Gen.1:2). Enkidu’s encounter of the harlot and God’s creation of Eve from Adam’s rib set the stage for the subsequent evolution of their gender relations.
Enkidu, Shamhat, Adam, and Eve: Sexuality, Gender, Seduction, and Change
Two gender themes emerge in the course of reading The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Book of Genesis: in the relationships between Enkidu and the harlot and between Adam and Eve, the role of feminine sexuality and the weakness of masculinity in the face of female beauty become even more obvious. Both Shamhat and Eve are sent by Gods and seduce their men, bringing a serious change into their lives. However, while Adam’s main task is to remain strong and try not to taste the apple, the situation with Enkidu is quite the opposite: he must undergo a sexual change in order to join the society of humans. “That is he, Shamhat! Release your clenched arms, expose your sex so he can take in your voluptuousness. Do not be restrained – take his energy!” (Anonymous, 1998). As a result, women in both stories are created with a single goal of being an instrument of change for their men. The latter, in turn, implies that women are to play a secondary role in their relations with men. They are important only as long as they are accomplishing their mission. When Adam says, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Gen. 2:23), he automatically reaffirms his superior position against the woman.
In both stories, the function of a woman is that of seduction. While the harlot is seducing Enkidu and using her sexuality to turn Enkidu into a human being, Eve is using her sexuality to persuade Adam that they can taste the fruit, which will enable them to know the good and evil (Gen. 3:2). Yet, the most important is not the seduction but the change it brings into the lives of men. Throughout the two stories of creation, women are described as someone carrying negativity, undesirable changes, and troubles to men. This is one of the dominant gender themes that have transcended male-female relationships for centuries. In The Epic of Gilgamesh, Enkidu spends several nights with Shamhat, until he becomes part of the human, not animal society. Once back in the world of animals, Enkidu realizes that he is no longer its part. He is now a human, not an animal. He is a human hero (Anonymous, 1998). It is interesting to note that there are two different versions of The Epic of Gilgamesh – a Babylonian and Assyrian one. The latter version creates a better picture of what happens to Enkidu after his sexual transformation. At first, Enkidu does not realize that his relationship with Shamhat could change anything in his life (Bailey, 1970). Only with time, he sees that his animals have abandoned him, and he is no longer as fast and flexible as he used to be before he met the harlot. This is also what happens to Adam: seduced by Eve to taste the forbidden fruit, he faces God’s judgment and expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Upon seeing that Adam did not follow His command, God proclaims that, from now on, there will be constant enmity between the man and the woman, and the man will be set to rule the woman until her last days (Genesis 3:13). Like Shamhat in The Epic of Gilgamesh, Eve in The Book of Genesis becomes the main source of troubles for Adam. He cannot continue his life in the Garden of Eden. In this context, both the harlot and Eve are the malign figures, who have been in a plot against their men, used their sexuality to lead them astray, tore their men from the places they used to belong, and eventually doomed them to death (Bailey, 1970).
However, the main problem is not that the harlot and Eve seduce their men. The most problematic aspect of both stories it that both Enkidu and Adam, men in flesh and mind, trust themselves to women. Their failure and the subsequent rejection result not from the fact that they engage in a sexual intercourse with women but from the fact that they trust their women more than they trust their gods (Bailey, 1970). In The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Book of Genesis, the coming of a woman is the final point of creation. With the emergence of Shamhat and Eve on the scene, the act of creation is finally complete (Bailey, 1970). The moment Enkidu and Adam trust themselves to their women, these women become stronger in their striving to achieve gender superiority over men. For example, Eve is heavily influenced by the serpent, but the decision to taste the fruit is fully hers (Bailey, 1970). According to The Book of Genesis,
when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. (3:6)
Unfortunately, compared to Eve, the harlot in The Epic of Gilgamesh does not possess as much power and freedom as to rule Enkidu. From the very beginning of the Epic, she is merely a tool of sexual transformations that is guided by Gilgamesh. Everything the harlot accomplishes in the Epic of Gilgamesh is intended to bring Enkidu closer to Gilgamesh. However, she is also free to take decisions as long as they benefit her purpose. Again, like in case with Adam and Eve, Enkidu trusts the harlot. When he sees a man who has come for him, he asks Shamhat to have the man go away (Anonymous, 1998). Apparently, Enkidu feels the strength and power residing within the harlot’s heart, but the woman is not even close to the position of centrality and power given to Eve in The Book of Genesis.
The harlot and Eve are similar in their sexuality and seduction, but they differ greatly in the amount of power and influence in their hands. The Epic of Gilgamesh positions the woman as subordinate to the man, while The Book of Genesis presents an entirely different picture, in which a woman is the center of the universe and the triumph of creation, whose role of the carer and mother enable her to retain this leading feminine position in the world of masculinity. The harlot is just a secondary element of creation, not its center. At the center of the harlot’s sexuality is Enkidu, not the harlot herself. She leaves the scene as soon as her mission is accomplished. Moreover, she follows Enkidu, not vice versa (Anonymous, 1998). In the meantime, and despite the rejection faced from God, Eve manages to retain her leading power. She has been made of Adam’s rib, but she is not secondary to him. Eve, like Shamhat, leads Adam to the downfall. Her decision to taste the forbidden fruit is the curse for the entire humanity. However, as the mother of her children and the woman who gives start to the growth and development of the human society, she forever remains central to the story of creation. The harlot, who seduces Enkidu, is just an instrument in the hands of Gilgamesh, a means to achieve his goal. She is subordinate to Gilgamesh; she is neither a mother nor a wife. She is just an episode in the life of Enkidu, while Eve is ever present in the lives of all humans (Bailey, 1970). Even if Eve is doomed to occupy a position of inferiority in marriage, motherhood gives her the status and position, which not a single woman in the Epic of Gilgamesh can ever achieve.
The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Book of Genesis provide interesting accounts of the changes in the role of women and their implications for the development of male-female relations. The harlot and Eve use their sexuality and knowledge to accomplish their seductive missions. However, the most interesting is the fact that men willingly trust their fates into the hands of their women. Moreover, the role and position of Eve in The Book of Genesis differs greatly from that of Shamhat in The Epic of Gilgamesh. The Epic of Gilgamesh positions the woman as subordinate to the man, while The Book of Genesis presents an entirely different picture. Even despite the rejection that follows Adam’s failure, Eve manages to retain her superior position of mother and carer. While Shamhot is guided by Gilgamesh to accomplish her seductive mission, motherhood gives Eve the status and position, which not a single woman in The Epic of Gilgamesh can ever achieve.
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