The Epic of Gilgamesh

The Epic of Gilgamesh Summary and Analysis of Tablet II and Tablet III


Shamhat divides her robes and uses them to clothe Enkidu. These are the first clothes he has ever worn. She leads him by hand, as if he was a child, and they begin their journey. On their way to Uruk, they stop at a shepherd's camp, where the herdsmen are astonished by Enkidu’s size, strength, and beauty. They serve him plates of cooked food, and jugs filled with beer. Enkidu does not even recognize these items as food. Until now, he has eaten only grass and sucked the milk of wild animals. Shamhat encourages him to eat and drink. He drinks seven jugs of beer, and begins singing and dancing. He bathes and anoints himself with oil and dresses in fine new clothes. Shamhat shaves the hair from his body. Enkidu then offers to stand guard over the shepherds and their flocks, protecting them from the wolves and lions that normally threaten their safety.

One day a stranger comes into the camp carrying a highly decorated platter. Enkidu asks Shamhat to find out who he is and where he is going. The man tells them that he is going to a wedding ceremony in Uruk. Gilgamesh will be there and as the King, he will sleep with the bride before her husband does. Whatever Gilgamesh desires, the man explains, he takes—no one can withstand his power. Enkidu finds this to be unacceptable and decides to go to Uruk to challenge Gilgamesh, because he feels sure that he can defeat him. When he arrives in Uruk, the people of the city are amazed to see a man who is as strong and powerful in appearance as Gilgamesh. They crowd around him and hail him as their champion and savior. Enkidu stands on the threshold of the bride’s bedchamber and blocks Gilgamesh’s path.

The two men begin to wrestle in the street, and the city shakes as they do so. Gilgamesh eventually wrestles Enkidu to the ground and is victorious. Enkidu concedes his defeat and says that Gilgamesh is the rightful king of Uruk. Ninsun tells Gilgamesh that Enkidu has no family, that he has lived his whole life on the plains with the animals. She tells Gilgamesh that Enkidu is loyal and will not abandon his side. Both men forget their anger and declare their loyalty to each other. They kiss and embrace.

Shortly after, the two friends begin looking for a challenge to take on together. Enkidu tells Gilgamesh about a monster named Humbaba, sometimes called Huwawa. He is the guardian of the Cedar Forest, a place forbidden to mortals. Humbaba serves Enlil, who made Humbaba a terrible being whose mouth is fire, his roar is the floodwater, and his breath is death. Gilgamesh is intrigued by this creature and decides that he and Enkidu should meet Humbaba in battle.

Enkidu is frightened at first, telling Gilgamesh that Humbaba cannot be beaten. Gilgamesh dismisses Enkidu’s concerns, saying he has no fear of death, so long as he is able to gain fame. The two heroes go to the armor makers of Uruk and obtain axes and swords for the battle. Gilgamesh tells Enkidu that they can both cement their fame by defeating Humbaba.

The elders of Uruk echo Enkidu's concerns. They advise Gilgamesh to let Enkidu lead the way, as Enkidu has knowledge of the wilderness. They also advise Gilgamesh to make an offering to Shamash before embarking. Enkidu tells Gilgamesh that he has his loyalty and that he will lead Gilgamesh through the wilderness to the Cedar Forest.

Upon hearing of Gilgamesh's plans, Ninsun is distraught. She weeps and fears for her son's life. She bathes and dons robes before ascending to the ziggurat, where she makes an offering to Shamash as well. Ninsun prays to Shamash to help and protect Gilgamesh. Finally, she places a sacred pendant around Enkidu's neck and adopts Enkidu as her own son.


Please note that of the majority of Tablet II is missing in the Sin-Leqi-Unninni version, so translators have had to fill in the blanks with older versions of the story.

Enkidu’s transformation continues in this tablet as Shamhat clothes him, giving him the first garments he has ever worn. She introduces him to cooked food and to alcohol, uniquely human creations. Enkidu sings and dances after becoming drunk, also something that only humans do. That these events take place at a shepherd’s camp is not without relevance. The shepherd’s camp is the first sign of civilization that Shamhat and Enkidu encounter on their way to Uruk. As Enkidu is drawn physically closer to Uruk, he is increasingly civilized. The shepherd’s camp represents a sort of hybrid of the city and the wilderness. It is neither a city, nor the forest or the plains, but it embodies elements of both. Enkidu takes up weapons to protect the shepherds from the wild animals around them. This action demonstrates his new allegiance to humanity. He has turned away from the natural world he was once a part of it and now greets it with hostility and the threat of violence.

Enkidu is outraged when he hears about how Gilgamesh will sleep with a newly married woman on her wedding night, before her husband does. Despite having no knowledge of the human custom of marriage, Enkidu's sense of justice becomes apparent. He sees Gilgamesh's behavior as fundamentally wrong and immediately decides that he must be the one to right it.

The two giant men wrestle in the streets of Uruk, shaking the city. Though Gilgamesh wins the fight, he is changed because of it. He sees Enkidu not as an opponent but as a worthy companion. Essentially Enkidu tames him, just as Shamhat tamed Enkidu. This idea feeds theories among some scholars that Enkidu and Gilgamesh have more than a platonic relationship. Regardless, Gilgamesh, bolstered by the presence of his new friend, decides he wishes to move beyond Uruk and make his mark on the world.

Humbaba, or Huwawa in some translations, is a vague but terrifying enemy, presented differently depending on the translation. Most translations present him as a terrible monster who personifies evil. Enkidu describes him as a force of nature itself, with a “mouth of fire". Some scholars feel that Humbaba is a personification of an erupting volcano. Volcanoes may have been active in the Mesopotamia region during Gilgamesh’s time. The cedar trees guarded by Humbaba would have been very valuable in the relatively treeless region of Mesopotamia where Uruk is located. In any case, Humbaba is something to be feared, a creature of great strength. Despite concerns on the part of the Elders as well as Enkidu’s own warnings, Gilgamesh decides he wants to meet Humbaba in battle. He explains that death is not something he fears, as long as he is able to leave behind his mark on the world. This is a markedly different attitude towards death that will change over the course of the poem. Death becomes the predominant theme in the story from here onward.

Although Enkidu's civilization is now complete, the Elders still recognize his wild roots. They see that Enkidu still has knowledge of that world that Gilgamesh does not. Enkidu remains true to his word and tells Gilgamesh that he will not forsake him but will lead him into the wilderness, towards Humbaba. Tablet III ends with Enkidu's adoption by Ninsun, which makes him and Gilgamesh brothers. Ninsun prays for their safe return. This gesture demonstrates that Enkidu's appeal extends to all those he has met in Uruk, not just Gilgamesh. Though they are not blood relatives, they appear as if they are twins. Enkidu's adoption allows him to have a family, a human family that accepts him. When Gilgamesh first met Enkidu, he had no one "to cut his hair." Now, he has a brother whom he will follow into the most dangerous battles.