In ancient societies, such as Ancient Mesopotamia, the roles of women were strictly defined. Hidden in the shadows of their male counterparts, there was little opportunity for individuality. Women were either the daughters of their fathers or the wives of their husbands. However, women who were considered royalty or were wives of men who had power and status had more individuality than women who weren’t.
Most young girls were trained from childhood to perform the traditional roles of a mother, wife, and housekeeper. Soon after puberty, girls were considered to be ready for marriage. Virginity of the bride was very important in the law codes of ancient civilizations. It was the only way to ensure that the groom married an unmarried virgin. Once married, women were required to wear veils in public according to the law. Prostitutes were strictly forbidden to take part in the practice. Should a prostitute be veiled, she would be severely punished.
The Epic of Gilgamesh is set in the city of Uruk, modern-day Iraq. At the time sacred prostitutes were avatars of divinity and were held in high regard. It was believed that the act of sex physically and mystically connected people to the goddess, the life force. Sex played a different role in ancient societies than it does today. Enkidu was introduced to the world of prostitution in this novel, when Shamhat, the temple prostitute, tempts Enkidu from the wild.
Enkidu’s growth into a man began with his sexual interaction with Shamhat. This interaction essentially comes about for the best because as a result, Enkidu and Gilgamesh built a strong companionship. She is called on to disciple Enkidu and to teach him the arts of civilization. “Eat the bread, Enkidu, essential to life, drink the ale, the lot of the land!” (George 14) Her presence is a crucial part of Enkidu’s transformation from a wild man to a civil man. Shamhat gives him knowledge, teaches him understanding, reason, and self-consciousness. Shamhat...
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