Last Updated 13 Jan 2021

Text Analysis of the Epic of Gilgamesh

Category Games, Gilgamesh
Essay type Analysis
Words 1138 (4 pages)
Views 379

Jill Seymour HST 197 Dr. Smith September 17, 2012 Text Analysis of The Epic of Gilgamesh The question I thought about while reading this text was what the role is for women, and how their actions and descriptions reveal Mesopotamian attitudes concerning gender. The female gender was not highly looked upon during these times. The only time you see a respected female figure is when the mother of a son is being talked about. Any other time females are being talked about, they are portrayed with vulgar characteristics and seen as simply being there to serve the man.

I will go through both ways the women are being portrayed, and relate them back to how they reveal Mesopotamian culture. The main woman character in this story is Ishtar. Ishtar is the goddess of love, fertility, and war; the Queen of Heaven. Normally when you think of the word goddess, a majestic and noble type of being comes to mind. Ishtar is portrayed as the complete opposite in The Epic of Gilgamesh. The first time she comes into play she uses the characteristics of a prostitute to lure in the man that she wants, which at the time is Enkidu. Ishtar is told “make your breasts bare, have no shame.

Let him see you naked, let him possess your body” (Sandars, 3). It then goes on to say that “she was not ashamed to take him, she made herself naked and welcomed his eagerness” (Sandars, 4). Before she is told to lay with Enkidu, the story explains that this is not the first man she has done this to. Ishtar is being used for this, because she is known to have her way with the men and they don’t know how to tell her no because of her beauty. The way Ishtar is seen relates back to Mesopotamian culture in showing that women were not very important in society.

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They were mainly there to serve the man and to reproduce. They were looked at in two ways; the daughter of her father, or the wife of her husband. At an early age girls were trained to do the roles of a good wife and mother. It was not frowned upon in their culture for women to be at the mercy of the men. Women were able to own property and have jobs outside of the home, but that decreased when more distinct social classes arose in the second millennium. “Husbands gained authority in the household and benefited from the marriage and divorce laws” (Bulliet, 18).

Even the law was against women and helped out the male gender in almost every situation. The next time she comes into play, we are seeing similar characteristics of her trying to lure in the man she wants when she is trying to get Gilgamesh to marry her. “Come to me Gilgamesh,” she says, “make me your bridegroom; grant me seed of your body” (Sandars, 25). She tells him she will give him anything he can possibly imagine if he would only marry her. When Gilgamesh refuses the offer we see a different side of Ishtar.

She starts being portrayed as evil and self-centered. Ishtar goes to her father in tears saying to kill Gilgamesh for refusing her proposal or she will let all of hell break free, literally. Even marriage in the Mesopotamian culture benefitted the man more than the woman. “A man normally took just one wife, but he could obtain a second if the first gave him no children” (Bulliet, 18). The woman was to be a servant, of sorts, to the husband, and was expected to give him children. Later they became a way to keep wealth in the family by arranged marriages. Kings and rich men had several wives. Marriage alliances arranged between families made women instruments for preserving and enhancing family wealth” (Bulliet, 18). Even here they are referred to as “instruments”, and not given the respect of a human being. If the woman didn’t bare children, she was easily replaceable. If the woman came from a wealthy family, or her family wanted to become wealthy, they would arrange a marriage for her to gain or keep wealth in the family. On the other hand, women weren’t always looked at in this manner.

Gilgamesh respected his mother very much so, and would go to her for advice. His mother, Ninsun, is said to be a minor goddess, but she is noted in a couple different places for her wisdom. “Now Gilgamesh got up to tell his dream to his mother, Ninsun, one of the wise gods” (Sandars, 5). In Mesopotamian culture, even the women gods were respected by the people. They thought them all to be wise and would seek their guidance in certain situations. Their religious beliefs brought this respect, and in some ways fear, to honor the gods so they would be gracious in return. Religious beliefs instilled fear of the gods, who could alter the landscape, and desire to appease them” (Belliet, 19). The Mesopotamians believed that the gods were human like in form, but that if they were to be unhappy by something the people did, they could alter anything in their lives, and in some cases even kill them. Overall, women were not looked at then the same ways they are looked at today. The cultural norm for women was to serve the men with their bodies and in their actions. If they did not give the man the children he wanted, she could be replaced.

At an early age they were being trained to have the skills of a good wife and mother. It was not frowned upon for a man to have more than one wife. This did not happen often until around the second mullinium, but was quite oftenly seen with the kings and rich men. The another way the women were used in this society was to keep or gain wealth for her family. The families would arrange the marriages for her daughter, and she would have to make sure to keep her husband happy so she was not replaced. The gods and goddesses were feared and respected on the other hand.

They were able to manipulate what would happen in the people’s lives, so they made sure to keep them happy; even the women were kept happy in this sense. Mesopotamian culture wasn’t too far off from how some things are looked at in today’s society, but women were not very important in their society. They were only there for few reasons, and if they didn’t meet those expectations they were replaceable. Today we would say that is unjust and against our rights, but that is a privilege we now have in our country that those women were not able to achieve. Aren’t we glad to live in today’s society where men and women have equal rights?

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