The Epic of Gilgamesh

Mother, Goddess, Seductress, Harlot: Women in "The Epic of Gilgamesh" College

In The Epic of Gilgamesh, the female characters hold small roles, but they are in no way secondary to the male characters, as their roles are pivotal to the story. Through their roles as mothers, harlots, and goddesses, they manipulate the story according to their actions. The female characters in the tale are also shown to have great influence over the male characters, and appear to be capable of changing their decisions and even bringing about their deaths. Therefore, the centrality of their roles stems largely from their abilities to alter the roles of males.

It is tempting to argue that the roles of females in The Epic of Gilgamesh are secondary and serve simply to pave the way for male characters, such as Gilgamesh and Enkidu, to fulfill their more important roles. Rivkah Harris supports this view by saying that “Women are regarded positively only when they assist Gilgamesh (and Enkidu) in their activities, when they nurture, advise in maternal fashion”[1]. Indeed, the most obvious support for this argument is the role of the harlot, Priestess Shamhat. Her primary role is the taming of Enkidu, tempting him away from his feral ways using her sexuality and her maternal instincts, and bringing him into the civilized world to...

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