In his epic poem called “Gilgamesh,” Stephen Mitchell utilizes the theme of sexuality by portraying how different characters addressed their sexual desires and general sexual orientation of the people in the Uruk Kingdom. When reading the poem, one can easily note that the poet used the main characters in order to promote the theme of sexuality. Apparently, the author pictures sexuality as individual characteristic by showing the extent to which different characters, such as Gilgamesh and Shamhat, went just to satisfy their sexual desires. For example, Gilgamesh is shown to actively encourage sexuality through wicked activities. He dishonors the vows of new spouses by spending night with the maidens one day before their wedding with their future bridegrooms. On the other hand, Mitchell portrays the idea of sexuality as a collective activity while demonstrating the important role that the society plays in promoting sexual orientation. He shows not one or two people to have more interest in sexual activities, but the entire society is revealed to be on frontlines regarding sexual matters. For example, Uruk Kingdom, as described by Shamhat, has “lovely priestesses standing before Ishtar, chatting and laughing, flushed with sexual joy…” The author, therefore, tries to show how the society impacts the sexuality and, as in the case with Uruk Kingdom, the priestesses were willing to satisfy men’s sexual desires as a way of honoring the goddess.
The power of sexuality is present in the poem from the introductory stanza to the last one. However, it is imperative to note that the type of sexual interaction depicted in this book is heterogeneous, and all the relationships revealed in the poem are between the characters of the opposite sex. Moreover, some people question the interaction between Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Despite their ability to battle against mighty beings, such as the king of the Cedar Forest, Humbada and supernatural creatures, such as the bull of heaven, Gilgamesh fails to resist the influence of sexual desires. From his experiences and conduct, one can deduce that Stephen Mitchell used sexuality alongside the themes such as power to show how the characters failed to resist unnecessary eroticism. First and foremost, Enkidu, who is transforming his life from an animal to a human, is portrayed by the author to actively take part in sexual activities based on the sexual idea. When approached by a beautiful goddess, Enkidu does not resist her sexual advances. He is quickly cajoled into making love with her despite the differences they have in their lives. Enkidu had been living as an animal and was being transformed slowly into learning the lifestyle of the human race.
On the other hand, Shamhat is a priestess, and her lifestyle in neither human nor that of an animal. They both only manage to continue their relationship due to the power of sexuality. When she saw Enkidu, a primordial being she had never seen in her life before, she was defeated by her sexual urge towards him. As soon as she saw Enkidu, she felt immediately sexual urge stir in her loins and felt her break quicken. She followed the instructions given to her by the trapper so that she could take advantage of Enkidu’s lust. “She stripped off her robe and lay there naked, with her legs apart, touching herself. Enkidu saw her and warily approached.” Furthermore, Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk, is used by the author to explain how sexual advances can be very influential even to the wise and powerful leaders of the society.
According to the book, the power of sexuality is depicted to correspond to Gilgamesh’s strength to conquer his enemies and rule many kingdoms of the world. Even though Gilgamesh is portrayed as a well-disposed person with excellent leadership skills, he is not actually a perfect leader. Evidently, he is the reason behind the people’s cry about sexual humiliation and harassment. Considering him as a wise leader, the readers might expect him to demonstrate exceptional administrative and managerial skills while, at the same time, ensuring protection to all the people who supported and opposed him. On the contrary, Gilgamesh also failed to overcome his sexual desires whose outcomes created a group of enemies who opposed him. As explained by Stephen Mitchell, Gilgamesh had developed a culture of having sex with maidens on their wedding day before their husbands. He does not resist his sexual desires.
However, the way the theme of sexuality is illustrated in the poem is contrary to the ordinary understanding of sexuality. Conventionally, the theme involves the people’s orientation about sex and how they react towards the opposite partner. The men engage with women to satisfy their sexual desires and there is no observable case of homosexuality. Women and men pursue their sexual desires towards the partners that they feel affectionate toward. Instead, the irony of the situation is that some people are simply the victims of other people’s actions to satisfy themselves. Many of them are just innocent and, for this reason, other people capitalize on their innocence because it is perceived to be a weakness. For example, Gilgamesh forcefully sleeps with innocent women that have invested more in marriage institutions. The women hope to have a happy marriage but their dreams are lost on their wedding day. The famous hero jeopardizes their dignity especially, when he lays them before their bridegrooms. In contrast, Enkidu did not know much about sex until he met Shamhat, a priestess in Uruk’s temple. Unlike Gilgamesh, who had spent time sleeping with women, Enkidu had never understood the sexual subjects. He is also cajoled and trapped by Shamhat who is regarded to as a prostitute in Uruk. “…he knew things now that an animal can’t know.” After sleeping with Shamhat, Enkidu learnt more about sex and his knowledge increased.
Unlike Shamhat, all other women who lived in Uruk cried and prayed for the gods and goddesses to rescue them from Gilgamesh’s sexual harassment. The women were not willing to disrespect their bodies by easily giving themselves to the heroes and handsome men. Due to fear of persecution, men and women, who had no power to fight the hero of Uruk, gave a blind ear even though they continued to pray silently to the gods. “He is King, he does whatever he wants … he takes a girl from her mother and uses her…” On the other hand, Shamhat finds more fun in using her sexual powers to lure heroic men. She is known as the prostitute in Uruk who is used by people to trap innocent and handsome men. When people are informed about the existence of Enkidu, they feel some relief that they will finally get freedom from Gilgamesh’s persecution. Shamhat quickly agrees to use her beauty and sexual powers to trap him, which she managed to do. Moreover, she willingly gives herself up to be used as a way of defeating heroic men. “He drew close, Shamhat touched him on the thigh, touched his penis, and put him inside her.”
In the story “When Heroes Love” written by Susan Ackerman, she tried to explain the relationship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu by using a claim from Thorkild Jacobsen that the relationship between these two heroes was sexual in nature. Actually, Gilgamesh and Enkidu showed the strongest bondage that a relationship can ever have. Although the two heroes fought each other during their first meeting event in Uruk, their post interaction could raise some questions. It appeared that Enkidu was extremely caring about Gilgamesh and used to discourage him against pursuing risky activities and engaging in grave wars. For example, when Enkidu revealed Gilgamesh’s plan for a journey to Cider Forest in order to confront Humbada, he was so frustrated by the news about this plan. He even attempted to dissuade him and begged him not to go there. In a real life scenario, this can only happen between friends whose relationship is directly sexual or their actions insinuate some aspects of sexuality.
Enkidu’s decision to risk his life while accompanying Gilgamesh to the Cedar Forest to battle with Humbada also suggests a controversial aspect concerning the power of sexuality. When reading the poem for the first time, one can easily be awed by the behavior of these two characters. Ordinarily, it is very unusual for a man to be so close to another boy for the obvious reason of being a friend. Furthermore, it is more surprising how these two men follow each other’s instructions. Gilgamesh did not disobey anything said to him by Enkidu and vice versa. A reader born and raised among the contemporary groups of hetero- and homosexuality might have endless questions about the kind of relationship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu. The reason is that the mutual love and bondage between these two male friends was greater than the love they had towards women. In addition to the attempts directed toward him by Enkidu to dissuade him from fighting his enemies, Gilgamesh remained obedient to him. When he defeated Humbada, he was called by Enkidu to slay the king of Cedar Forest and carry with them his head as trophy for winning the battle. Consequently, Gilgamesh obeyed this call.
In contrast, it would be wrong to perceive the fact that the relationship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu was sexual in nature. While reading the poem, it is evident that both of these men had more attraction towards women for the purpose of satisfying their sexual desires. Basically, heterosexuality is the only apparent and common relationship category depicted in the poem. Personally I could support their union but not on sexual basis. In order to justify this fact, Enkidu failed to defeat Gilgamesh although his initial intention to come to Uruk was to fight him and defeat his heroism. However, it was evident that Gilgamesh was more capable and nobody could challenge him. In this case, supporting him was the only way to bring peace between them both. As much as Susan tried to explain the sexuality idea by questioning the power between them, I would disagree that Gilgamesh depicted homosexuality.
In the story “Ishtar’s proposal and Gilgamesh’s refusal,” Abusch tries to discuss the themes of power, sexuality, and tragedy. In this book, the author attempts to explain the sexual orientation between mortals and immortals. It is difficult to imagine sexual relationship between a goddess and an ordinary earthly being. Despite the fact that Ishtar’s proposal is incredible it could be reasonable. For example, due to the story one reveals Gilgamesh’s desire for immortal powers. He travels across the oceans to search an old person because he believes that such a man has the power to live forever. Only supernatural beings are said to be immortal and have extraordinary powers to do miracles. Therefore, the sexual orientation that the author of this article attempts to explain is considered feasible. The power of sexuality is revealed in such a way that supernatural creatures can easily interact sexually with ordinary beings.
In contrast, Gilgamesh’s refusal to approve Ishtar’s proposal provides the message that sexuality has no power to influence one’s decision regarding entering any relationship. As a wise leader and hero, Gilgamesh had the power to decide whom to engage with. According to the available information about him, it is difficult to agree that he could refuse a sexual proposal from any female. It is expected that he will quickly assent to the proposal to make love to Ishtar. He is strong, handsome and admirable by everybody who lived in Uruk. Furthermore, it is unbelievable for one to agree to that a sexual relationship may be feasible between a human being and supernatural creature. Even though the author tried to emphasize the importance of the interaction between Ishtar and Gilgamesh, it becomes very challenging to imagine this possibility. Therefore, basing on the fact the Gilgamesh refused this proposal, it is perfect illustration of the extent to which power of sexuality can influence the conduct of people. Although, many people engage in relationships from time to time, especially Shamhat, who is known to be a prostitute, there is a clear line between homosexuality and heterosexuality.
Stephen Mitchell tried to illustrate the theme of power of sexuality by examining the conduct of two main characters of the story, namely Gilgamesh and Enkidu. They both promote the theme of sexuality by engaging in sexual relationships with the women in Uruk. For example, Gilgamesh uses women and girls to satisfy his sexual urge. When approached by Ishtar, a goddess of Uruk, with a proposal to have sex and start to interact sexually, he declines the offer. In addition, both Enkidu and he maintain a close relationship by creating a bond that some people may misinterpret with sexual relation between men, namely homosexuality.
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