July 23, 2013
GPS 210: Critical Essay
The Roles of Women in Gilgamesh and The Odyssey
Although men are the Epic characters of Gilgamesh and The Odyssey, women also play a very important role in both stories. In general, these two stories portray women as being overly sexual, deceptive, and having a power over men. Women use their sexuality to hold control over men, to confuse and deceive them.
One example of a female character using her sexuality to control a male character is Shamhat in her relations with Enkidu in Tablet I of Gilgamesh. Shamhat is a harlot sent from Uruk by Gilgamesh to assist a hunter to stop Endiku from keeping the animals from the hunter. Shamhat goes to the forest with the hunter and does as Gilgamesh ordered. She uses her sexuality to deter the man, Endiku, and in doing so the animals no longer trust him. Shamhat lays naked before Enkidu and he cannot help but to be drawn to her. Shamhat takes Enkidu’s “vitality” and they continue this for six days and seven nights. At this point in the tale, it is said that Shamhat “treated him, a human, to woman’s work” (line 192). This line shows how women were thought of in these times, as servants to men, that men could use them sexually. But also, shows that a woman, on her own accord, can use this same sexuality to control a man.
As a mother, Ninsun is depicted in a different light in Gilgamesh. Ninsun, mother of Gilgamesh, is called “the wild cow”, knowing and wise, who understands everything (lines 259-262). She is held accountable for the strength and perfection of Gilgamesh. She, in her knowledge, is able to explain to Gilgamesh the meaning of his dreams, and he trusts all that she tells him. This relationship shows the respect of a son to his mother, and is quite different then a man’s relationships with other women.
In The Odyssey, women are shown in a similar light as in Gilgamesh. To start, the goddess Athena has great power as shown in how her father,...