Study Guide

The Epic of Gilgamesh Motif of Balance

By Sinleqqiunninni

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Motif of Balance

When the people of Uruk cry out to the gods for some relief from their outrageous King Gilgamesh, the god Anu has an unusual reaction: instead of doling out some impressive punishment that fits the crime, he simply instructs Aruru to create "a zikru (a 'response'?)": "Let him be equal to Gilgamesh's stormy heart, let them be a match for each other so that Uruk may find peace" (1.79-81).

And we see later that, amazingly, that is the solution: all Gilgamesh needed was an "equal," a "match." But, while they are equals, they aren't twins. They are more like yin and yang. Peanut butter and jelly. Brad and Angelina. Anyway, you know what we're getting at: there's a balance here.

Gilgamesh is two-thirds divine, one-third human; Enkidu is two-thirds animal, one-third human.

Gilgamesh is the king of the most bangin' city around; Enkidu is a naked wild-man living in the wilderness—kind of like Survivorman, but much, much hairier. Cool, huh?

But, we have to wonder, does this whole world in balance get thrown off course when Enkidu leaves the wilderness and ventures over into civilized life? Could it be that this is not at all what Anu intended?

When Enkidu seeks out Gilgamesh, he intends to fight him and thereby show his greater strength. What happens, though? The two "grappled with each other at the entry to the marital chamber […] Gilgamesh bent his knees, with his other foot on the ground, his anger abated and he turned his chest away" (2.100, 103-104). This is the moment just before Gilgamesh and Enkidu kiss and become best friends.

The interesting thing about this is that most scholars read this passage as an indication that as the pair were locked, grappling in the doorway, Gilgamesh was finally victorious in throwing Enkidu off balance. Get it? Gilgamesh is victorious because he tinkers with balance!

As an added bonus, let's look at some other examples of balance in twos: 

  • two major adventures (going to the Cedar Forest and the journey to see Utanapishtim)
  • two seductive women (Shamhat and Ishtar)
  • two serious monsters (Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven)
  • two monsters (both Scorpion-beings) guarding ...
  • ... the twin-peaked (that is two-peaked) mountain Mashu
  • two gods that champion our human heroes (Ea and Shamash)
  • two lost attempts at immortality (the failed no-sleeping test and the lost "stay young" plant)

We are positive there are more. But, we're exhausted, so you're going to have find the rest on your own.

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