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The Epic of Gilgamesh

The Epic of Gilgamesh


by Sinleqqiunninni

The Epic of Gilgamesh Sex Quotes

How we cite our quotes: (Tablet.Line)

Quote #1

Gilgamesh does not leave a girl to her mother(?)!" (1.59-74)

Here, we get a look at Gilgamesh's tyrannical behavior before the goddess Aruru creates Enkidu as a match for him. The usual interpretation of these lines by scholars is that is tormenting the young women of Uruk by sexually exploiting them (that's the whole "does not leave a girl to her mother" bit). In the rigidly hierarchical Sumerian society in which the poem takes place, sex doesn't always occur as a matter of choice between two loving people. Sometimes, sex happens because one party (here, Gilgamesh) has more power, and is able to force the other party (the young women of Uruk) to make herself sexually available. That said, given that the people of Uruk disapprove of it and complain to the gods about it, maybe this bad behavior reflects more on Gilgamesh personally than it does on his society as a whole.

Quote #2

"Go, set off to Uruk,
tell Gilgamesh of this
Man of Might.
He will give you the harlot Shamhat, take her with you.
The woman will overcome the fellow
(?) as if she were strong.
When the animals are drinking at the watering place
have her take off her robe and expose her sex.
When he sees her he will draw near to her,
and his animals, who grew up in his wilderness, will be alien to him." (1.120-127)

Here, the trapper's father thinks Shamhat's sexuality makes her extremely powerful, "as if" she were strong. In fact, we think he could have gone even further in his language. After all, if Shamhat "were strong," as the trapper says, could strength alone really make him civilized? And yet, somehow, sex can. In this telling, it looks like love might really be more powerful than war.

Quote #3

for six days and seven nights Enkidu stayed aroused,
and had intercourse with the harlot
until he was sated with her charms.
But when he turned his attention to his animals,
the gazelles saw Enkidu and darted off,
the wild animals distanced themselves from his body. (1.172-180)

In these lines, we see the trapper's father's theory (and also the theory offered by Gilgamesh himself) being put to the test. Shamhat does offer herself sexually to Enkidu, Enkidu does have sex with her (setting some sort of world record for endurance), and, at the end of it, discovers that the animals don't want to play with him anymore. Does this strike you as strange? In modern culture, isn't sex often seen as an "animal" activity, quite different from "higher," more "civilized" human activities? And yet, here, sex is what separates Enkidu from the animals, and paves the way for him to become a human being. Can you think of any reasons why it might work this way?

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