Study Guide

The Epic of Gilgamesh Chapter 2, Tablet 2

By Sinleqqiunninni

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Chapter 2, Tablet 2

  • Much of Tablet 2 of The Epic of Gilgamesh is broken. Remember, this is written on clay tablets and clay tablets have a tendency to break. So, much of this chapter is just not readable. So what do we do? Do we just have to skip this section of the story?
  • No, and here's why: (1) Some of the Standard Version is preserved from Tablet 2. (If you don't know what we mean by the Standard Version, check out the "In A Nutshell" section of this learning guide.)
  • (2) Scholars can still rely on an older Babylonian version of the story to fill gaps in the Standard Version when the Standard Version breaks down (so to speak).
  • So, by piecing together the surviving fragments of the Standard Version and of the Old Babylonian version, scholars have figured out what's going on in this part of the story.
  • Now, you might be wondering: what's all this got to do with me? Well, maybe not much. We only mention it because, as you can imagine, scholars sometimes disagree over how exactly the two versions fit together. Thus, you might end up reading a translation that gives a slightly different story from the one we're about to give (probably not by much, though).
  • Got all that? Cool. Let's get back to the story.
  • At the beginning of Tablet 2, Enkidu is still hanging out with Shamhat, who is still initiating him in … uh, the ways of humans.
  • First, she gives him one of her robes to wear. Then, she takes him to see some shepherds.
  • The shepherds are all impressed by Enkidu's ample physique. They give him some food and some beer.
  • At first, Enkidu doesn't know what to do. But then Shamhat encourages him. She tells him that this is what humans do: they eat food and drink beer. (This civilization stuff sounds like fun, huh?)
  • Without further ado, Enkidu stuffs himself with food, and gulps down seven jugs of beer. This makes Enkidu very happy, and he sings for joy. (We are guessing he probably stumbles around some, too.)
  • After dinner, he washes himself and rubs oil on himself, and thus becomes human. WAIT! Did you catch that? Enkidu is part man and part beast—but mostly acts and thinks and identifies with the beasts.
  • Then, he has sex, eats food, drinks beer, has a bath, rubs himself with oil, and—voilà—he is a man. Yep. We thought that was rather odd too.
  • That night, he takes a weapon, and guards the flocks so that the farmers can sleep in peace. (Even more evidence that he doesn't identify with the beasts any more?)
  • The next day, Enkidu is hanging out with Shamhat, when he sees a young man go by in the distance. Enkidu is curious about him, and sends Shamhat after him to find out who he is.
  • The young man is going to a wedding in Uruk. But don't think that this is going to be like your Disney princess wedding. The catch is that before the groom gets to sleep with his new bride, Gilgamesh, the king, has first dibs at the bride.
  • (Same deal as in the Mel Gibson film Braveheart, but we digress.)
  • According to the young man, this is according to the will of the god Anu.
  • Divine permission or not, Enkidu doesn't like what he hears. He blushes crimson with anger. (Seems a very human thing to do, huh? Get angry?)
  • Enkidu marches off to Uruk, with Shamhat scurrying after him.
  • Once he gets to the city, Enkidu heads straight for the house of the bride and blocks the entrance to the marriage chamber.
  • Then Gilgamesh shows up. As you might imagine, he doesn't like what he sees.
  • Enkidu and Gilgamesh engage in some epic fisticuffs. The fight is closely matched—but in the end, Gilgamesh is victorious.
  • Enkidu recognizes that Gilgamesh has beaten him, and praises the stronger man. There are no hard feelings between them: instead, they embrace each other and become the closest of friends.
  • (And … presumably Gilgamesh has his way?)
  • Time passes. At some point, Gilgamesh suggests to Enkidu that they should go together into the Cedar Forest and kill the one who inhabits it—the monster Humbaba.
  • You know, just for kicks.
  • Enkidu thinks this is a horrible idea. He tells Gilgamesh that it was the god Enlil who placed Humbaba in the Cedar Forest to keep humans from going into the Cedar Forest. (How does Enkidu know all this? We guess it has something to do with his having been a beast until like two weeks ago.)
  • In any case, Humbaba is extremely powerful and frightening; they wouldn't stand a chance against him.
  • Gilgamesh tells Enkidu he's only saying that because he's chicken. He says something along the lines of: "Look, we've all got to die sometime, so we might as well earn some fame for doing great deeds. We can get the blacksmiths to make us some really killer weapons. Plus, then we can put it on YouTube and maybe it'll go viral."
  • The mention of YouTube—er, fame and honor—clinches the deal, and the two friends head over to the forge to place their order. The craftsmen agree to make some gigantic axes, sweet swords, and massive armor for them.
  • After that, Gilgamesh announces to the wise men of Uruk his plans to go to the Cedar Forest and do battle with Humbaba. He explains that his goal is to win undying fame.
  • Enkidu tries to get the wise men to talk Gilgamesh out of it. The wise men tell Gilgamesh that he is young and foolish; he is letting testosterone addle his brain. They say that Humbaba is simply too powerful; Gilgamesh will not be able to defeat him.
  • Gilgamesh listens patiently to the wise men.

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