Study Guide

The Epic of Gilgamesh Friendship

By Sinleqqiunninni

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Bromance: as old as recorded history. (And we thought we'd invented it.) At the core of The Epic of Gilgamesh is the story of the powerful friendship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu. At the beginning of the story, Gilgamesh is a man possessed. It's hard to look at his relentless drive and not see it as an attempt by Gilgamesh to fill a void in himself. This, at least, seems to be the interpretation of the goddess Aruru—we think she's right. Along comes Enkidu and suddenly Gilgamesh stops acting like such a jerk. Apparently, all it took was the creation of a part man-part beast creature to help Gilgamesh realize that no man is an island.

Questions About Friendship

  1. Even though Gilgamesh and Enkidu become the best of friends, they start off as enemies: their first encounter is a fight. Is this just a coincidence, or is there something about that fight that actually makes it more likely that they will become best buds? 
  2. When Gilgamesh is heading off to fight Humbaba, Enkidu tries to prevent him from going, because he thinks it's too dangerous. Do you think Enkidu is acting like a true friend here? Or should true friends support each other's decisions no matter what?
  3. When Gilgamesh is lamenting Enkidu, he doesn't just feel grief because his friend is dead: he also feels grief at thinking that he, too, will die. Does this diminish Gilgamesh's grief for his friend, or are such self-centered feelings simply a normal part of friendship? 
  4. Many readers of The Epic of Gilgamesh have thought that the relationship between Enkidu and Gilgamesh is too intense to be just friendship, and must be something romantic instead. Based on your reading of the text, do you think that Enkidu and Gilgamesh have a romantic relationship, or is that just us imposing our modern categories on an ancient story?

Chew on This

Enkidu is the "rational" part of the friendship; once he is gone, it is not necessarily his death, but his absence and inability to counsel Gilgamesh, that leads Gilgamesh to go off on such an irrational quest.

When Gilgamesh goes from lamenting the death of his friend to lamenting his own future death, his feelings for his friend don't diminish. Gilgamesh and Enkidu are so close that, when Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh is basically losing a part of himself anyway.

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