In the ancient Mesopotamian poem, The Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the most important elements of the story is the friendship between the protagonist Gilgamesh and Enkidu. The formed friendship was unlikely given the opposite nature of the characters, but the two supernatural men forge the bond based on their differences and use it to grow and defeat their opponents.
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King Gilgamesh was a demigod that was superior in all ways to humans and failed to meet anyone who could challenge him in the Mesopotamian society. This resulted in unsatisfied cravings and indulgence which greatly concerned his servants, the people of the city of Uruk feared greater oppressive rule which could potentially destabilize both the mortal and divine worlds. The gods created a plan of shaping Enkidu out of clay who was a mirror image of Gilgamesh but could challenge him. Enkidu was left to grow up in the wild, forging bonds and becoming the leader of wild animals until being drawn to civilization by a female relationship.
At the first meeting, Gilgamesh and Enkidu began to fight but found that for the first time in their lives they have met their match. In a way, their meeting marks a rebirth for both men. Enkidu joins human society by engaging in intimacy with a woman, after which he is rejected by wild animals symbolically. Meanwhile, Gilgamesh through his friendship with Enkidu realizes his own mortality and other human emotions that make him more understanding of regular humans. “Becoming aware of himself, he sought a friend” (The Epic of Gilgamesh 1.214). As their friendship prospered, the men drew courage from each other. When Gilgamesh suggests cutting down a forest protected by an ancient demon in order to build a monument to the gods, Enkidu is reluctant. However, he supports his friend and they defeat the powerful opponent despite numerous risks. “’A slippery path is not feared by two people who help each other.’” (The Epic of Gilgamesh 4.239). They find that as divine beings, their friendship brings a very human relationship to their dynamic, from which they share many benefits.
The bond between them was so strong that when Enkidu suddenly succumbed to a fatal disease, Gilgamesh made it his mission to find the secret to everlasting life. It is unclear whether he wanted to resurrect Enkidu or save himself, it was clear that the death touched him deeply.
“My friend, whom I love deeply, who went through every hardship with me,
Enkidu, whom I love deeply, who went through every hardship with me,
the fate of mankind has overtaken him” (The Epic of Gilgamesh 10.52-63).
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Despite encountering many obstacles and facing tests from Utnapishtam who held the secret of immortality, Gilgamesh ultimately failed. He no longer had the support and stability of the friendship. By the end of the story, Gilgamesh succumbs to illness just like his friend, despite still having a demigod nature.
Enkidu became a leveling point for Gilgamesh in his indulgence for power and more, but not in a way that anyone expected. Their friendship became a symbol of survival for both of them and they relied on each other in times of difficulty. Both being men with godly nature and supernatural abilities, they were able to challenge and hold each other back. Furthermore, it taught Gilgamesh about some of the fundamental human values such as love, respect, and most importantly, loss, that he never comprehended before. Their powerful synergy, however unlikely, became the central theme to this epic story.
The Epic of Gilgamesh. London: Penguin Books, 2000. Print.