Close reading: Epic of Gilgamesh
When Shamash heard the words of Enkidu he called to him from heaven: 'Enkidu, why are you cursing the woman, the mistress who taught you to eat bread fit for gods and drink wine of kings? She who put upon you a magnificent garment, did she not give you glorious Gilgamesh for your companion, and has not Gilgamesh, your own brother, made you rest on a royal bed and recline on a couch at his left hand? He has made the princes of the earth kiss your feet, and now all the people of Uruk lament and wail over you. When you are dead he will let his hair grow long for your sake, he will wear a lion's pelt and wander through the desert.' When Enkidu heard glorious Shamash his angry heart grew quiet, he called back the curse a (Sandars, N. K., trans. The Epic of Gilgamesh. London: Penguin, 1972. p. 91).
This essay proposes that civilization is preferable to the primitive or innocence of an untamed wild existence. On his death bed, Enkidu curses Shamhat the temple priestess or harlot who has brought him from the wilderness into the civilized world– thus leading to his eventual death by the curse of the Gods. Enkidu embodied the pristine/primitive man living in harmony with nature, like the wild creatures he dwelt among. Created of clay and water and dropped into the wilderness, Enkidu is "innocent of mankind," knowing "nothing of cultivated land" (Sandars 63). After meeting Shamhat, Enkidu loses this innocence both in the biblical and social sense. He is corrupted and civilized by his association with her, following which the animals in the forest reject him, but he is accepted by mankind as one of their own.
In this passage Shamash elucidates the positive metamorphoses between the primitive life of the land and the civilized life of the city when Enkidu curses the prostitute. The God insists that Shamhat should not be cursed because she brought him to civilization. Shamash reminds Enkidu of the enormous joy and sense of purpose that...