The Epic of Gilgamesh
Yep, it's important. (Shock.) Two of the major game-changing events in The Epic of Gilgamesh involve sex, or the refusal of it. (1) Shamhat uses sex as a way to civilize Enkidu. In Mesopotamian culture, sex with a gal like Shamhat connected her lover to the divine life-force, so to speak. This apparently explains how Enkidu becomes more man than beast (which, when you think about it, is a funny inversion of how we usually think about sex—that it makes us like animals). And then (2) Gilgamesh rejects the sexual advances of the goddess Ishtar. Big mistake. If Gilgamesh had gotten busy with Ishtar, this story may have had a very different outcome. So, the take-home point seems to be careful who you do it with. And that's a message we think everyone can get behind
Questions About Sex
- Why does Gilgamesh reject Ishtar? He says it's because she is a player, but is that the only reason? Is Gilgamesh rejecting anything else when he rejects Ishtar's advances?
- In the beginning of the poem, we're told that Gilgamesh is forcing all the young women of Uruk to have sex with him. Yet, once Enkidu appears, we no longer hear about Gilgamesh having sex with anyone; in fact, we see him reject an offer of sex from Ishtar, the goddess of love (and war). Why do you think Gilgamesh undergoes this transformation?
- In different ways, the lives of Shamhat, the temple-prostitute, and of Ishtar, the goddess of love (and war), center on sex. Sex also features prominently in Siduri's discussion of the good life in Tablet 10; there, she stresses the importance of Gilgamesh having an active sex life with his (future) wife, and giving her pleasure. Based on the poem's representations of these three female characters, how would you describe its attitude toward women's sexuality?
- Does the epic portray sex and love as going hand-in-hand, or are they two separate things?
Chew on This
Sex with Shamhat removes Enkidu from the animal world because it builds a close connection between him and another human being.
The Epic of Gilgamesh portrays women primarily as sex objects, or as characters whose most important activities involve sex.