The Epic of Gilgamesh

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Enlil Character Analysis

As he is presented in the epic, Enlil is a proud and impulsive god. Irritated by the noisiness of human cities, he convinces the other gods that mankind should be destroyed by a flood. Only after the other gods feel regret does Enlil learn to accept his place—he is superior to mankind, but doesn’t have the authority to destroy it.

Enlil Quotes in The Epic of Gilgamesh

The The Epic of Gilgamesh quotes below are all either spoken by Enlil or refer to Enlil. 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

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.

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Part 5 Quotes

In those days the world teemed, the people multiplied, the world bellowed like a wild bull, and the great god was aroused by the clamour. Enlil heard the clamour and he said to the gods in council, “The uproar of mankind is intolerable and sleep is no longer possible by reason of the babel.” So the gods agreed to exterminate mankind.

Related Characters: Utnapishtim (speaker), Gilgamesh, Enlil
Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:

Utnapishtim concedes to tell Gilgamesh how he acquired immortality, and he begins to recount a story from the days of old. This tale, we should note, is the one that Gilgamesh will transmit back to Uruk, so it is considered to hold deep significance for future generations. It also bears many similarities to the Biblical story of Noah's Ark, indicating that one may have stemmed from the other, or that they came from a common historical source.

Utnapishtim’s opening description of the old Mesopotamian society stresses the hubris and grandeur of human civilization. Not only are the people numerous in quantity, but they are also distinctly loud—loud enough to frustrate the god Enlil. This “clamour” can be taken as a broader metaphor for human activity and the way it became an affront to the gods. Thus Utnapishtim’s tale intersects closely with Gilgamesh’s own opening adventures, in which his arrogance caused the gods to send first Enkidu and then the Bull of Heaven to quiet him. Yet in this ancient story, the gods’ reaction is far more dire, for they decide not just to kill one man, but rather to end civilization altogether. So the story opens with a warning against not just Gilgamesh’s pride, but a more general pride of mankind. The implication is that Gilgamesh must bring back the story in order to teach the people of Uruk humility so that they do not create a “babel” that would anger the gods again.

Part 7 Quotes

In those days the lord Gilgamesh departed, the son of Ninsun, the king, peerless, without an equal among men, who did not neglect Enlil his master. O Gilgamesh, lord of Kullab, great is thy praise.

Related Characters: Gilgamesh, Ninsun, Enlil
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:

These final lines of the epic come after Gilgamesh has died and been honored by gods and men alike. They return to the laudatory tone of the opening, but shift the emphasis from Gilgamesh’s physical prowess to his comportment toward others.

Many of the features of the opening are repeated here. We are told once more of Gilgamesh's divine heritage through Ninsun, as well as his complete uniqueness within humanity. Yet it is also noted that he “did not neglect Enlil his master,” indicating that Gilgamesh has learned the lesson on how to respect the gods. In particular, Enlil was the god in Utnapishtim’s tale who found the humans too raucous and thus sentenced them to death. The fact that Gilgamesh has learned to pay heed to this master in particular demonstrates that he has both controlled his own hubris and ensured that the events before the flood will not be repeated. For by inscribing them in stone, Gilgamesh has ensured that other humans will have access to his wisdom and not make similar mistakes. Gilgamesh’s “praise” as an epic hero and lord is thus ultimately earned by humility and wisdom—as well as by the way he can transmit these qualities to future generations.

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Enlil Character Timeline in The Epic of Gilgamesh

The timeline below shows where the character Enlil appears in The Epic of Gilgamesh. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
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
The father of the Gods, “Enlil of the mountain,” is responsible for Gilgamesh’s fate. Gilgamesh has a dream, and Enkidu interprets... (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’s body as an offering and kiss the ground. But when he sees Humbaba’s head, Enlil is angry. He curses them, declaring “may the fire be on your faces, may it... (full context)
Part 3: Ishtar and Gilgamesh, and the Death 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
Mortality and Meaning Theme Icon
Pride and the Gods Theme Icon
...of the two (Enkidu and Gilgamesh) must die. Shamash argues with the others, saying that Enlil ordered them to kill the Bull of Heaven and Humbaba, so there is no reason... (full context)
Part 5: The Story of the Flood
Civilization and the Fall from Innocence Theme Icon
Heroism in Nature vs. Comfort in the City Theme Icon
Pride and the Gods Theme Icon
...Shurrupak, a city built along the Euphrates river. The city was growing quickly. The god Enlil hears the sounds of the city and complains that it’s impossible to sleep because of... (full context)
Civilization and the Fall from Innocence Theme Icon
Heroism in Nature vs. Comfort in the City Theme Icon
Pride and the Gods Theme Icon
...asks how he will explain himself to others, and Ea tells him to say that Enlil was angry with him, so that he may no longer live on land or in... (full context)
Civilization and the Fall from Innocence Theme Icon
Pride and the Gods Theme Icon
...she will remember the flood and all that happened. She tells all the gods but Enlil, who was responsible for the flood, to gather around the offering. When Enlil does arrive,... (full context)
Civilization and the Fall from Innocence Theme Icon
Mortality and Meaning Theme Icon
Pride and the Gods Theme Icon
...who told Utnapishtim how to avoid his fate; Utnapishtim learned it from a dream. Then Enlil enters the boat and takes Utnapishtim and his wife below-deck, and he makes them kneel... (full context)
Part 7: The Death of Gilgamesh
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
Enlil speaks of his destiny for Gilgamesh, which has now been fulfilled: “in nether-earth the darkness... (full context)