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Graphic Descriptions of Womanhood in The Epic of Gilgamesh - Essay Example

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This essay "Graphic Descriptions of Womanhood in The Epic of Gilgamesh" will look at the more graphic descriptions of women in the epic, namely the images of appearance, sex, and birth, to suggest some ideas about a lot of women in ancient Mesopotamia…
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Graphic Descriptions of Womanhood in The Epic of Gilgamesh
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"Graphic Descriptions of Womanhood in The Epic of Gilgamesh"

Women were expected to have long hair, and to act as a hairdresser, and presumably general caretaker, for their family. Shamhat, the prostitute, plays a dual role as a fount of sexual pleasure and as a maternal figure to Enkidu: “Enkidu is untaught … and Shamhat teaches him the basics that every child must learn: eating, drinking, dressing himself” (Harris, 83). Slightly more graphically, Enkidu's dying curse of Shamhat includes such lines as “may a drunk soil your festal robe with vomit” (Tablet VII). The inclusion of this amongst such threats as “may you … not be able to love a child of your own” implies that, for women, the dirtying of a dress was comparable to infertility. Combined with the third tablet's description of Ninsun's clothing (“she donned jewels worthy of her chest”), this suggests that men believed that dress was an integral feature of womanhood. This essay will now delve into the more anatomical definitions of 'graphic depiction': primarily, sex. The first reference to sex in the epic is in the very first tablet: Shamhat, the harlot, exposes herself to Enkidu and then has sex with him “for six days and seven nights.” Sex between a man and a woman is “the task of womankind” and seems to be the only defining aspect of some women's lives: the scorpion-beings who guard Mount Mashu are named as “the scorpion being [and] his female” (Tablet IX), and Utanapishtim's wife is never named, even though she is one of only two immortal humans (Tablets X, XI). Simultaneously, and somewhat conflictingly for the women, sex is high on the list of male priorities. When the Elders entreat Enkidu to protect Gilgamesh on their journey to Humbaba, they phrase it thus: “Let [Enkidu's] body urge [Gilgamesh] back to the wives” (Tablet III). Somehow wives symbolize both bait and servitude. Also, the courtesies, for want of a better word, about sex seem to be less rigid than those with which we are familiar. Enkidu famously blocks Gilgamesh from a marital bed in Tablet II, in a situation which has echoes of polyandry: “he [Gilgamesh] will have intercourse with the 'destined wife', the first, the husband afterward.” Similarly, Shamhat tells Enkidu “It is Gilgamesh who Shamhat loves”; yet “after the harlot recounted the dreams of Gilgamesh to Enkidu the two of them made love” (Tablet I). Read More
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