The Epic of Gilgamesh

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Enkidu Character Analysis

Enkidu is a bold and strong man who was made by the gods to be Gilgamesh’s equal in strength. Living in the wild, Enkidu has a simple life and lives at peace with the wild animals. It’s only after he sleeps with Shamhat that Enkidu becomes “civilized” and loses his innocence. Enkidu’s friendship with Gilgamesh then becomes the foundation of the epic, as the two men love each other dearly with a love that seems to be based in a mutual respect for each other’s strength and courage. When dying, Enkidu first curses those responsible for taking him from his simple existence in nature, but then he realizes that without civilization, he never would have had his friendship with Gilgamesh.

Enkidu Quotes in The Epic of Gilgamesh

The The Epic of Gilgamesh quotes below are all either spoken by Enkidu or refer to Enkidu. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Civilization and the Fall from Innocence Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of The Epic of Gilgamesh published in 1960.
Part 1 Quotes

He was innocent of mankind; he knew nothing of the cultivated land.

Related Characters: Enkidu
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:

In response to Gilgamesh’s arrogance, the god Aruru creates Enkidu as Gilgamesh's equal. Here, the speaker reflects on Enkidu’s toughness and vigor—and the way his living in nature sets him apart from society.

The lines set up a striking binary between Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Whereas the first is, despite his despotic behavior, presumed to represent civilization, Enkidu is equated with the wilderness. Yet this division is not the result of Enkidu’s rejection of humanity, but rather the fact he has not yet come into contact with mankind and thus remains “innocent.” This line, then, presents civilization as something that can be taught or applied to humans who have previously lived only in nature. The text is thus subtly setting the stage for Enkidu’s assimilation into society, even as it describes him as fully apart from civilization.

The reference to “cultivated land” should not be glossed over. Agriculture, after all, was one of the foundational hallmarks of civilization, for it allowed cultures to remain in single locations and construct stable populations. The epic thus reveals a historical awareness of what specific knowledge granted man civilization, and it sets a high stock on the transmission of that knowledge to others.

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When next he comes down to drink at the wells she will be there, stripped naked; and when he sees her beckoning him he will embrace her, and then the wild beasts will reject him.

Related Characters: The Trapper’s Father (speaker), Enkidu, The Trapper, Shamhat
Page Number: 64
Explanation and Analysis:

Enkidu is first spotted by a trapper who strikes up a conversation with his father about how to approach this beast. The trapper's father recommends, here, that the trapper bring an Uruk temple prostitute on behalf of Gilgamesh, for once Enkidu has been with a woman, he will no longer be able to connect with the wilderness and the wild animals.

What is striking about these lines is that the trapper’s father recommends civilizing Enkidu instead of killing him. After all, we might expect in an epic that any beast would be treated with violence, especially considering that Enkidu is a test from Aruru of Gilgamesh’s brute strength. Yet instead, they seek to bring Enkidu into the fold of society through sexual attraction. Again, it is stressed that to be human is not to automatically be a part of civilization; rather, one must come into certain forces and social organizations that cause that assimilation.

That this assimilation will take place specifically through human sexuality sets a high stake on romantic interaction—implying that this was seen as a central facet of civilized human identity. It also can also be seen as a parallel to the Bible's Garden of Eden story, in which Adam and Eve leave the state of blissful nature to enter sinful human society after becoming aware of their sexuality. But whereas the tale is presented as a negative fall from grace in the Old Testament, here it is seen as a more ambiguous entrance into Uruk civilization.

And now the wild creatures had all fled away; Enkidu was grown weak, for wisdom was in him, and the thoughts of man were in his heart.

Related Characters: Enkidu (speaker)
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

After Enkidu sleeps with Shamhat, the animals leave just as the trapper’s father and Gilgamesh expected. As a result, Enkidu attains knowledge of civilization, but also becomes physically weaker.

That the speaker equates being “weak” and acquiring “wisdom” is provocative considering the earlier references to Gilgamesh’s impressive strength. Once more, the text asserts that pure power is not entirely desirable in human civilization. Indeed, that it equates “the thought of man” to weakness seems to imply that humanity itself is predicated on a certain type of physical frailty. The connection foreshadows the way Gilgamesh himself will have to learn the value of mortality—instead of relying arrogantly on his strength. In this way, we can see Enkidu as a foil for the more aggressive side to Gilgamesh’s personality, and his early conversion to humanity offers a model for Gilgamesh’s own personal development.

At the same time, there is a tragic element to this scene—Enkidu has lost his state of blissful innocence, and though he has gained all the advantages of human society and civilization, he has also gained their negative aspects, and has lost his companionship with the wild animals and his own wild strength. The gaining of knowledge as a kind of "fall from grace" again parallels the Old Testament's Adam and Eve story. Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden of Eden after eating of the Tree of Knowledge—and it is their new wisdom, as much as their disobedience, that requires they be expelled from paradise.

When Enkidu was thrown he said to Gilgamesh, ‘There is not another like you in the world. Ninsun, who is as strong as a wild ox in the byre, she was the mother who bore you, and now you are raised above all men, and Enlil has given you the kingship, for your strength surpasses the strength of men’. So Enkidu and Gilgamesh embraced and their friendship was sealed.

Related Characters: Enkidu (speaker), Gilgamesh, Ninsun, Enlil
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

After much foreshadowing and prophecy, Enkidu and Gilgamesh’s friendship finally begins in this scene. Enkidu had originally entered Uruk to challenge Gilgamesh’s tyranny, but after being defeated in the fight, he is awed by Gilgamesh’s strength and thus wishes to be his comrade rather than his enemy.

What is particularly poignant about this scene is the unusual way that Enkidu sanctions their friendship. It is marked first by being overpowered or “thrown,” which seems to imply that battle and a test of strength is a prerequisite to their comradeship. Then, Enkidu cites Gilgamesh’s uniqueness and his divine lineage. These lines do not only give a justification for Gilgamesh’s power, but also sanctify his position as ruler, for he is be “raised above all men.”

The scene also reaffirms how Gilgamesh’s strength is such that he can at times overpower even the wishes of a god: Remember that Anunu had originally created Enkidu in order to defeat Gilgamesh, but due to a mixture of cunning and power Gilgamesh foils that plan and instead adopts Enkidu as a friend. This first tale in the epic, then, does not yet teach Gilgamesh humility or wisdom. Instead it reaffirms his personal fortitude. Enkidu, however, will become a source of notable emotional investment for Gilgamesh, and their friendship is critical to his moral development.

Part 2 Quotes

The meaning of the dream is this. The father of the gods has given you kingship, such is your destiny, everlasting life is not your destiny. Because of this do not be sad at heart, do not be grieved or oppressed. He has given you power to bind and to loose, to be the darkness and light of mankind.

Related Characters: Enkidu (speaker), Gilgamesh
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:

Enkidu functions, here, as an oracle for Gilgamesh, using the dream to make sense of the the will of the gods. Here, he interprets the visions Gilgamesh had the night before as a sign of Gilgamesh’s mortality.

To explain the dream, Enkidu contrasts the gift Gilgamesh has been given to rule—“kingship”—with what has been withheld: “everlasting life.” Despite the power he has from being two-thirds divine, Gilgamesh remains one-third human and thus will die like all mortals do. Yet Enkidu cautions Gilgamesh not to be distraught at this realization, for he still maintains impressive abilities. “To bind and to loose” points to his dominion over other humans, whereas “to be the darkness and light of mankind” stresses the way he can be a symbolic leader—an inspiration for how other men should live. Note that Enkidu stresses both the positive and the negative sides of Gilgamesh’s power: “bind” is balanced by “loose,” “darkness” is contrasted by “light.” At this point in the story, Gilgamesh seems to have largely employed the harmful sides of his power, and Enkidu subtly points out that his mortality offers him a choice of how he will use these precious years and how he will be remembered.

Dreams are an important motif throughout this epic. They offer a way for the gods to connect directly to the characters, and they foreshadow events that are to pass. But they can also, we should note, function as plot devices that drive—instead of just narrating or foreshadowing—the action of the events. Here, Gilgamesh is impelled, because of the dream, to leave the city of Uruk and make a name for himself.

Gilgamesh replied: ‘Where is the man who can clamber to heaven? Only the gods live for ever with glorious Shamash, but as for us men, our days are numbered, our occupations are a breath of wind. How is this, already you are afraid!’

Related Characters: Gilgamesh (speaker), Enkidu, Shamash
Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis:

To rally Enkidu to hunt the giant Humbaba with him, Gilgamesh offers this inspiring speech on human mortality. He takes their eventual death as a justification for not fearing death due to any particular cause.

Gilgamesh here responds explicitly to the way that Enkidu differentiated him from an immortal god. He asks rhetorically if any man can “clamber to heaven”—that is, whether a mortal could somehow become equal to the gods. But he quickly answers his own question, vanquishing any potential for men to gain immortality. These observations could easily lead him to a state of hopelessness (as in fact they will later in the Epic), but a striking turn comes with the phrase “our occupations are a breath of wind.”

In that line, human endeavors are trivialized due to their transitory and small-scale nature. And in triviality, Gilgamesh finds solace rather than panic. The giant Humbaba need not be feared, because the fight against him is just a breath of wind, and even if Gilgamesh and Enkidu do die, they will have simply hurried an already eventual fate. The passage also foreshadows the importance of accomplishing deeds that will be repeated for future generations and written down: to have a historical legacy, Gilgamesh implies, would be one way to escape being just a breath of wind.

Here in the city man dies oppressed at heart.

Related Characters: Gilgamesh (speaker), Enkidu
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

Gilgamesh responds here to the god Shamash, who questions him on his motivation for leaving Uruk to seek adventure in the wilderness. His justification is that nature will provide a source of strength and adventure otherwise sapped by the leisure of the city.

This line further complicates the binary of city and nature that is at the heart of the epic. Earlier, Enkidu’s assimilation into the city was marked by wisdom and a new humanity in his heart—but also by physical weakness and a loss of innocence. Gilgamesh extrapolates that case and makes a universal claim on the way civilization subdues people. The wilderness, then, is not just a state from which man begins before graduating to superior civilization. Rather it remains an important developmental space particularly for heroes: a domain to reinvigorate the heart with hardship and power beyond the confines of civilization.

That Gilgamesh speaks explicitly on how a man “dies” as opposed to “lives” or “is” links his statement with the earlier discussion on immortality. The implication is that his fixation on death has brought new urgency to his need to leave Uruk. It’s worth mentioning that the line also all but inaugurates a literary tradition: characters who leave home in order to seek fortune in distant lands and who then return as wiser and more capable versions of themselves.

O my lord, you do not know this monster and that is the reason you are not afraid. I who know him, I am terrified. His teeth are dragon’s fangs, his countenance is like a lion, his charge is the rushing of the flood, with his look he crushes alike the trees of the forest and reeds in the swamp. O my Lord, you may go on if you choose into this land, but I will go back to the city. I will tell the lady your mother all your glorious deeds till she shouts for joy: and then I will tell the death that followed till she weeps for bitterness.

Related Characters: Enkidu (speaker), Gilgamesh, Ninsun, Humbaba
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:

Having finally arrived close to Humbaba’s lair, Enkidu and Gilgamesh are both beset by fear of the giant. Yet while Gilgamesh rouses himself and ignores these instincts, Enkidu gives in and expresses his wish to return to civilization.

This speech represents an important turn in the relationship of Enkidu and Gilgamesh. Before, Gilgamesh’s bravery was represented in purely positive terms, for it allowed him to overcome the fear of mortality and to journey into the wilderness. Yet here, Enkidu implies that his bravery may be the result of ignorance rather than wisdom: he claims that Gilgamesh is only “not afraid” because he does “not know this monster.” Enkidu, who had intimate access to the wilderness and can recount specific physical details and actions of Humbaba, seems more qualified to speak on the relative danger. Perhaps, the text implies, Gilgamesh's hubris will lead to his downfall.

Enkidu’s lines also give great import to the act of storytelling. He becomes here an emissary for and proponent of Gilgamesh’s deeds by promising to tell of both his triumphs and his death. This pledge reiterates how Gilgamesh’s legacy will be marked not by the acts themselves, but rather by the way they carve out a place for him in history.

Part 3 Quotes

‘Who is there in strong-walled Uruk who has wisdom like this? Strange things have been spoken, but why does your heart speak strangely? The dream was marvelous but the terror was great; we must treasure the dream whatever the terror; for the dream has shown that misery comes at last to the healthy man, the end of life is sorrow.’ And Gilgamesh lamented, ‘Now I will pray to the great gods, for my friend had an ominous dream.’

Related Characters: Gilgamesh (speaker), Enkidu
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:

Enkidu has just told Gilgamesh about a recent horrifying dream, which he has interpreted as his own impending death at the hands of the gods. Gilgamesh is deeply moved by the tale, and reflects on the terror of what it professes—but also on the value of that terror.

Gilgamesh’s response shows a striking shift in his character away from arrogance and toward personal reflection. He puts emphasis on the “wisdom” that comes from the dream by implying that it is poignant beyond the comprehension of those others in Uruk. There is an inherent strangeness to the dream that defies his understanding, and thus makes him humble enough to “pray to the great gods” to render the situation more coherent. The tone of Gilgamesh’s speech also focuses on his compassion as opposed to his previous bravado, demonstrating that his deep friendship with Enkidu is what has led him to be more reflective.

The exact content of that reflection also bears some consideration. When Gilgamesh claims that “we must treasure the dream whatever the terror,” he implies that negative, even deathly, consequences are not to be hated or feared. Rather, there is a poetic and philosophical significance that can be extracted from mortality, and thus an indication of that significance should be treasured. Here, the lesson is to reiterate the “misery” that comes even to the most vibrant man or warrior. And Gilgamesh’s response has notably shifted from taking mortality as the impetus to accomplish great deeds to instead reflecting on how it equates all men.

Part 4 Quotes

How can I rest, how can I be at peace? Despair is in my heart. What my brother is now, that shall I be when I am dead.

Related Characters: Gilgamesh (speaker), Enkidu
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

After Enkidu’s death and funeral, Gilgamesh enters the wilderness. There, he once more becomes consumed by grief and the fear of his own mortality.

Gilgamesh's return to the wilderness represents a rejection of the artifice of human civilization, and also renders him closer to Enkidu’s original state in nature. Yet having already experienced the human revelation of mortality, Gilgamesh can find no “peace” in the wilderness. The “despair” cannot be removed by changing his physical environment because it is lodged in his “heart.” Again, the text stresses the importance of the friendship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Whereas Gilgamesh responded bravely, even brashly, to his mortality before, watching Enkidu helplessly die has made him entirely shift his perspective. These lines show that it is the identification between the two men that is the main source of his anxiety: the fact that Gilgamesh will be “what my brother is now.” Thus the text presents Gilgamesh’s ensuing quest to pursue immortality less as an arrogant search for self-empowerment, but rather as a response to a personal tragedy.

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Enkidu Character Timeline in The Epic of Gilgamesh

The timeline below shows where the character Enkidu appears in The Epic of Gilgamesh. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1: The Coming of Enkidu
Civilization and the Fall from Innocence Theme Icon
Heroism in Nature vs. Comfort in the City Theme Icon
Friendship, Love, and Sexuality Theme Icon
The goddess Aruru, using water and clay, creates the man Enkidu in the wilderness. Within Enkidu is the spirit of the god of war, Ninurta. Enkidu... (full context)
Civilization and the Fall from Innocence Theme Icon
Friendship, Love, and Sexuality Theme Icon
Enkidu lives with wild beasts, eating grass and drinking from watering holes. For three days in... (full context)
Civilization and the Fall from Innocence Theme Icon
Heroism in Nature vs. Comfort in the City Theme Icon
Friendship, Love, and Sexuality Theme Icon
Pride and the Gods Theme Icon
The trapper travels to see Gilgamesh and tells him about Enkidu’s life with the wild beasts, destroying the trapper’s traps, and filling in his holes. Gilgamesh... (full context)
Civilization and the Fall from Innocence Theme Icon
Friendship, Love, and Sexuality Theme Icon
...a temple prostitute named Shamhat. They then wait three days for the herds to come. Enkidu joins the wild animals in drinking from the watering hole. The trapper tells the prostitute... (full context)
Civilization and the Fall from Innocence Theme Icon
Heroism in Nature vs. Comfort in the City Theme Icon
Friendship, Love, and Sexuality Theme Icon
Pride and the Gods Theme Icon
Enkidu accepts Shamhat’s invitation to come to Uruk, and she tells him that Gilgamesh has never... (full context)
Civilization and the Fall from Innocence Theme Icon
Heroism in Nature vs. Comfort in the City Theme Icon
Friendship, Love, and Sexuality Theme Icon
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...a counselor, and they are then relayed to the prostitute Shamhat, who retells them to Enkidu. Shamhat asks Enkidu why he wants to live in the hills with wild beasts. She... (full context)
Pride and the Gods Theme Icon
Living with the shepherds, Enkidu is happy. One day, a mysterious man appears and tells Enkidu that Gilgamesh has shut... (full context)
Civilization and the Fall from Innocence Theme Icon
Heroism in Nature vs. Comfort in the City Theme Icon
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All the townspeople admire Enkidu when he enters Uruk. That night, Gilgamesh is on his way to meet his bride,... (full context)
Part 2: The Forest Journey
Civilization and the Fall from Innocence Theme Icon
Heroism in Nature vs. Comfort in the City Theme Icon
Friendship, Love, and Sexuality Theme Icon
Mortality and Meaning Theme Icon
Pride and the Gods Theme Icon
...Gods, “Enlil of the mountain,” is responsible for Gilgamesh’s fate. Gilgamesh has a dream, and Enkidu interprets it: he says that though Gilgamesh is a king, he is not fated to... (full context)
Civilization and the Fall from Innocence Theme Icon
Heroism in Nature vs. Comfort in the City Theme Icon
Friendship, Love, and Sexuality Theme Icon
Mortality and Meaning Theme Icon
Pride and the Gods Theme Icon
Gilgamesh rouses Enkidu with a speech, saying that since all men must die eventually, he should have no... (full context)
Civilization and the Fall from Innocence Theme Icon
Heroism in Nature vs. Comfort in the City Theme Icon
Mortality and Meaning Theme Icon
Pride and the Gods Theme Icon
...Humbaba. They say that Humbaba is immortal and possesses powerful weapons. Gilgamesh laughs and asks Enkidu, “How shall I answer them; shall I say I am afraid of Humbaba, I will... (full context)
Heroism in Nature vs. Comfort in the City Theme Icon
Pride and the Gods Theme Icon
...Shamash not to forget Gilgamesh while he goes on the journey. She then says to Enkidu that he is like an adopted son to her. She asks him to serve Gilgamesh... (full context)
Heroism in Nature vs. Comfort in the City Theme Icon
Friendship, Love, and Sexuality Theme Icon
Pride and the Gods Theme Icon
Gilgamesh and Enkidu prepare to leave for the Land of Cedars. They arm themselves. The people ask when... (full context)
Heroism in Nature vs. Comfort in the City Theme Icon
Friendship, Love, and Sexuality Theme Icon
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Enkidu tells Gilgamesh to follow him—Enkidu knows the way—and not to be afraid. In three days,... (full context)
Heroism in Nature vs. Comfort in the City Theme Icon
Pride and the Gods Theme Icon
They sleep, and at midnight Gilgamesh wakes up from a dream. He tells Enkidu of his dream: it was terrifying and confusing. Gilgamesh dreamed that he took hold of... (full context)
Heroism in Nature vs. Comfort in the City Theme Icon
Pride and the Gods Theme Icon
Gilgamesh tells Enkidu of another dream he had. In a deep swamp, the two of them stood next... (full context)
Mortality and Meaning Theme Icon
...sets an offering of food on the ground, and prays to the mountain to send Enkidu an auspicious dream. Enkidu dreams of cold rain coming down on him. When Enkidu wakes... (full context)
Heroism in Nature vs. Comfort in the City Theme Icon
Friendship, Love, and Sexuality Theme Icon
Mortality and Meaning Theme Icon
Pride and the Gods Theme Icon
...overcome by weakness and sleep. He lies on the ground “as though in a dream.” Enkidu tries to wake him, but cannot. Eventually Gilgamesh hears Enkidu’s pleas and wakes up, armoring... (full context)
Friendship, Love, and Sexuality Theme Icon
Mortality and Meaning Theme Icon
Pride and the Gods Theme Icon
Gilgamesh says that he will not die or be mourned. He asks Enkidu to help him in the fight against Humbaba. He tells Enkidu that since all men... (full context)
Civilization and the Fall from Innocence Theme Icon
Heroism in Nature vs. Comfort in the City Theme Icon
Friendship, Love, and Sexuality Theme Icon
Pride and the Gods Theme Icon
...cuts the branches off, laying them down at the bottom of the mountain. He and Enkidu then cut down seven more cedars and assemble the branches at the bottom of the... (full context)
Civilization and the Fall from Innocence Theme Icon
Heroism in Nature vs. Comfort in the City Theme Icon
Friendship, Love, and Sexuality Theme Icon
Pride and the Gods Theme Icon
Humbaba says that Enkidu speaks out of jealousy and terror. Enkidu again tells Gilgamesh to slay Humbaba and his... (full context)
Part 3: Ishtar and Gilgamesh, and the Death of Enkidu
Heroism in Nature vs. Comfort in the City Theme Icon
Pride and the Gods Theme Icon
...Its “snort” creates fissures in the Earth, into which two hundred people fall and die. Enkidu leaps onto the bull and grabs its horns. Gilgamesh grabs the Bull’s tail and stabs... (full context)
Civilization and the Fall from Innocence Theme Icon
Heroism in Nature vs. Comfort in the City Theme Icon
Friendship, Love, and Sexuality Theme Icon
Mortality and Meaning Theme Icon
Pride and the Gods Theme Icon
...Lugulbanda. The horns themselves he hangs on the wall of his palace. Then he and Enkidu drive through Uruk, asking the people, “Who is most glorious of the heroes . .... (full context)
Civilization and the Fall from Innocence Theme Icon
Heroism in Nature vs. Comfort in the City Theme Icon
Friendship, Love, and Sexuality Theme Icon
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The next morning, Enkidu tells Gilgamesh of a dream he had: the gods gathered together and Anu said that... (full context)
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Shamash speaks to Enkidu, asking why he curses this woman who brought him into a lavish life with Gilgamesh... (full context)
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Enkidu complains bitterly to Gilgamesh: “It was I who cut down the cedar, I who leveled... (full context)
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Gilgamesh cries while hearing Enkidu’s dream. He says that Enkidu’s dream is both awe-inspiring and grim, and declares that he... (full context)
Civilization and the Fall from Innocence Theme Icon
Friendship, Love, and Sexuality Theme Icon
In his lamentation, Gilgamesh says that he weeps for Enkidu as “the axe at my side.” He says that the wild animals that raised Enkidu... (full context)
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Enkidu has died, and Gilgamesh lays a veil over him. Then Gilgamesh rages, tearing out his... (full context)
Part 4: The Search for Everlasting Life
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Gilgamesh wanders the wilderness, grieving for Enkidu. He declares that because he fears his own death, he will travel to find Utnapishtim,... (full context)
Heroism in Nature vs. Comfort in the City Theme Icon
Friendship, Love, and Sexuality Theme Icon
Mortality and Meaning Theme Icon
Pride and the Gods Theme Icon
...“Two thirds is god but one third is man.” Gilgamesh says he has travelled for Enkidu, to ask Utnapishtim about life and death. The Scorpion warns Gilgamesh that no mortal has... (full context)
Heroism in Nature vs. Comfort in the City Theme Icon
Friendship, Love, and Sexuality Theme Icon
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...looks gaunt and in despair, for he has made a long journey and his companion, Enkidu, has died. Siduri tells Gilgamesh that the gods will not allow him to achieve immortality,... (full context)