Power of Women in the Epic of Gilgamesh

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Anthony Sales Ierfino

The Power of Women

Imagine a woman so beautiful she had the power to tame wild beasts with one look at her voluptuous body. In “The Epic of Gilgamesh”, Gilgamesh’s temple priestess has the power to do just that, she tames Enkidu. Ishtar, when denied by Gilgamesh, threatens to “let the dead go up and eat the living” (10). In this epic, women represent great power, wisdom and finally temptation and evil.

In the epic, the woman symbolizes different things. One of these is how woman use the power of love (sex) and temptation to attain a certain goal or task. When the trapper’s son tells his father of Enkidu, his first and immediate instinct is to send for Gilgamesh’s temple priestess, Shamhat, so she can seduce him and “have her take off her robe and expose her sex” (3). Upon seeing Shamhat’s voluptuous body, Enkidu loses all his wild and animalistic instincts. He then makes love to her for six days and seven nights, as “she was not restrained, but took his energy” (4). Having had sex with the harlot, Enkidu is humanized and in turn is rejected by the animals he grew up with. Shamhat not only proves that sex and temptation are powerful tools (or weapons), but that the woman is even more powerful because she holds such “powers” (sex and temptation). Not only Are women powerful, but in the Epic, they are portrayed as evil.

Ishtar, goddess of love and war, is portrayed as a selfish and uses her power of seduction for evil. Princess Ishtar asks Gilgamesh to marry her, telling Gilgamesh “Be you my husband, and I will be your wife…” (8). Gilgamesh replies by not only insulting the princess but by recounting her past lovers and how she has loved them only to turn on them, “ You loved the colorful ‘little Sheperd’ [Tammuz] bird and then hit him, breaking his wing, so now he stands in the forest crying ‘My Wing’!” (9). He then, ends his reply by saying she loves him now, but she will only turn on him. Ishtar, embarrassed and deeply...
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