In the tale of The Epic of Gilgamesh women play a prominent role throughout the book. They give advice and help guide our main characters Gilgamesh and Enkidu on their adventure. In the tale women play multiple impactful roles such as a maternal advisor, a harlot, and a goddess. At this time in history in Ancient Sumeria, women were not equal to their male counterparts. In most cases women stayed at home, did household tasks, and took care of their children and families while the men went to work. In Ancient Sumeria they had more respect for women, they were given more rights than other ancient civilizations at the time. That may be due to the ancient sumerians being polytheistic and having goddesses which they worshipped the same as the male gods. In this tale it shows the importance and the impactfulness that women have and gives a glimpse of equality between men and women.
In the epic Ninsun is the mother of Gilgamesh and is also the maternal advisor that helps guide Gilgamesh throughout his adventure. At the beginning of the tale Ninsun gives Gilgamesh guidance with the two dreams he had the days before. In those dreams he dreamt of an axe and a meteor and seeks guidance from Ninsun, she tells him that those dreams mean something good will soon come into his life, this foreshadowed Gilgamesh and Enkidu becoming friends. “The axe, which you saw, which drew you so powerfully like the love of a woman, that is the comrade whom I give you.” When Gilgamesh and Enkidu venture to the cedar forest to fight Humbaba, Ninsun prays to Shamash, the sun God, to protect Gilgamesh and Enkidu on their adventure. This shows the motherly role in the epic. Without Ninsun role in the epic Gilgamesh would have never known about Enkidu and they would have never gone on their adventure.
Shamhat is the harlot in the epic who was the one that had sex with Enkidu for six days and seven nights, after Enkidu was spotted by trappers in the forest. After the six days and seven nights Enkidu could not return to other animals and had to learn how to act like a normal man. Shamhat was the one who taught Enkidu how to act like a normal man and opened his eyes to see what the real world was like. During the story Enkidu grew angry at Shamhat for opening his eyes to the real world and introducing him to Gilgamesh, Enkidu wanted to place a curse on her but he was reminded by Shamash that she was the one who clothed him, took care of him, and taught Enkidu how to act like a normal man. Enkidu then placed a blessing on Shamhat for everything she has done for him and he blessed her. ” Woman, I promise you another destiny, The mouth which cursed you shall bless you! Kings, princes and nobles shall adore you” Shamhat role in the epic may have not been that long but it was very impactful to story, without her role in the epic Enkidu would have never became a man and would have never met Gilgamesh.
Ishtar the goddess of love and war plays an important role in the classic epic. After Gilgamesh and Enkidu returned from defeating Humbaba, she came to Uruk to ask Gilgamesh to marry her, she offers him wealth and respect. Gilgamesh declines to marry Ishtar, afterwards Ishtar asks her father to send the Bull of Heaven to destroy Gilgamesh. “My father give me the Bull of Heaven to destroy Gilgamesh.” Anu compromises with Ishtar saying that there would be a drought in Uruk for seven years. This shows that Ishtar is self-loathing but also she watches over and protects the people in Uruk by making sure the have the resources the need to survive when the time comes. Gilgamesh and Enkidu defeat Ishtar’s Bull of Heaven but in the process it kills Enkidu. Ishtar’s role in the book may have been temporary but she made a very impactful choices that affected the main characters dramatically. This shows the power that Ishtar has and shows what she can do with it. Without Ishtar the story would have gone in favor for Gilgamesh and Enkidu.
The women’s prominent roles in this classic tale show what guidance and advice they gave to our main characters Gilgamesh and Enkidu. They looked up to these characters in high respects in their culture and in their religion. This epic’s main characters may have been males but without the female roles in the story they would have not been able to endure their adventure.