Friendship Theme in Gilgamesh
True friendship is egalitarian. Everything is shared, loyalty to the friendship is equal, and the basis of the camaraderie is wholly altruistic. The friendship between the king Gilgamesh and the man of the steppe, Enkidu, was not a true and equal friendship. Loyalties and sacrifices to that friendship were disproportionate.
Friendship is conveyed in more than one way in Gilgamesh. The companionship between Enkidu and the animals of the steppe is the first example of friendship. Enkidu lived with the animals, as one of them:
He freed them from the traps / The hunters set. / A hunter’s son one day /
Saw Enkidu opening a trap: / The creature was all covered with hair /
And yet his hands had the dexterity of men’s; / He ran beside the freed gazelle /
Like a brother / And they drank together at a pool / Like two friends /
Sharing some common journey / Not needing to speak but just continue. (p. 16)
Enkidu’s friendship with the animals was one of equivalence. Neither Enkidu nor the animals knew that he was any different from them. Enkidu’s appearance was that of an animal, and he knew nothing of the world of man. In this sense, Enkidu was an animal, not a man. It was only until he slept with a prostitute, shaved his body, and went into a civilized town that he became a man. This companionship between Enkidu and the animals seems more genuine, as it was cultivated over Enkidu’s lifetime on the steppe.
Neither Gilgamesh nor Enkidu had ever had a friend that was a man before. Enkidu knew only of the steppe animals, and Gilgamesh, a tyrannical king, had never treated anyone as his equal. Both men had been informed of the future friendship from the prostitute and Ninsun, respectively. When Gilgamesh heard this premonition from his mother, he was taken aback.
It will be a person, she continued / Speaking in her somber monotone, /
A companion who is your equal / In strength, a person loyal to a friend, /
Who will not forsake you and whom you / Will never wish to leave. /
Gilgamesh was quiet at this interpretation / Of his dream. (p. 19)
Ninsun was right, and the friendship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu was one of great loyalty and trust. The formation of the friendship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu was very abrupt. Upon meeting, they fought fiercely, stopped, and embraced. This pithiness gives an air of ingenuity to the relationship, but that is later shattered by their loyalty to one another in following scenes.
And they were friends: / They had embraced and made their vow /
To stay together always, / No matter what the obstacle. (p. 27)
The most supporting aspect of their companionship was their encouragement to one another. When one of the friends faltered or showed weakness, the other reinforced fearlessness and reminded them of their...