Posts Tagged ‘Ishtar’

Stories of Transformation

June 29, 2011

1. Enkidu, The Beast!

Man’s transformation by sexual love is in the first recorded piece of literature, The Epic of Gilgamesh, occurring around 2600 BCE, and “written” (on clay tablets) around 2100 BCE. Gilgamesh was the King of Uruk: handsome, mighty, 2/3 god, 1/3 human and not a nice guy! Essentially, he was an arrogant SOB who would take sons from their mothers for soldiers and their daughters for his pleasure. Uruk, was a walled city built around the Temple of Ishtar, a goddess of love.

The people of Uruk were like people everywhere: always bitching about something and expecting the gods to do something about it. They complained of their harsh treatment by Gilgamesh to Aru (Lord of Uruk) and he, in turn implored Aruru to create a guy that could handle Gilgamesh. Now, Aruru was the goddess that created men, so she was the right one to go to. She pinched off some clay and threw it into the wilderness. What follows is an interpretation of the tablets by Maureen Kovacks.

In the wildness(?) she created valiant Enkidu,
born of Silence, endowed with strength by Ninurta.
His whole body was shaggy with hair,
he had a full head of hair like a woman,
his locks billowed in profusion like Ashnan.
He knew neither people nor settled living,
but wore a garment like Sumukan. ”
He ate grasses with the gazelles,
and jostled at the watering hole with the animals;
as with animals, his thirst was slaked with (mere) water.

The story goes on that a trapper came face-to-face with Enkidu and was frightened. Enkidu was twice the size of most men. This is the first (recorded) human that Enkidu had seen, so he and his animals withdrew. The trapper went home and told his father who advised him to go to Uruk and tell Gilgamesh his tale of woe. He did, and

Gilgamesh said to the trapper:
“Go, trapper, bring the harlot, Shamhat, with you.
When the animals are drinking at the watering place
have her take off her robe and expose her sex.
When he sees her he will draw near to her,
and his animals, who grew up in his wilderness, will be alien to him.”

First, the term harlot is disputed. More than likely, Shamhat was a priestess in the Temple of Ishtar. She was probably a High Priestess because of her consorting with Gilgamesh, as we shall see later. The problem with this interpretation is one does not mess around with the gods or their representatives! They have awesome powers as we saw in the introduction. (Teserias angers the gods and is changed into a woman. After seven years, the gods relented and changed him back to a man.) It is doubtful even the arrogant Gilgamesh would have ordered second-hand, Shamhat to go with the trapper. Gilgamesh would have probably at least mentioned this act to Ishtar. At best, this is a misogynistic interpretation.

After a three-day journey, the trapper and Shamhat arrived at the water hole.

A first day and a second they sat opposite the watering hole.
The animals arrived and drank at the watering hole,
the wild beasts arrived and slaked their thirst with water.
Then he, Enkidu, offspring of the mountains,
who eats grasses with the gazelles,
came to drink at the watering hole with the animals,
with the wild beasts he slaked his thirst with water.

First, it is important to note the trigger for thirst originates from the same place in the brain as the trigger for sexual desire. The reference to water is not without merit. Did the writer of this epic know this? Certainly not consciously, but man has the ability to make amazing connections, later to be scientifically proven.

Then Shamhat saw him–a primitive,
a savage fellow from the depths of the wilderness!
“That is he, Shamhat! Release your clenched arms,
expose your sex so he can take in your voluptuousness.
Do not be restrained–take his energy!
When he sees you he will draw near to you.
Spread out your robe so he can lie upon you,
and perform for this primitive the task of womankind!
His animals, who grew up in his wilderness, will become alien to him,
and his lust will groan over you.”
Shamhat unclutched her bosom, exposed her sex, and he took in her voluptuousness.
She was not restrained, but took his energy.

Imagine poor Enkidu, arising that morning in his cave, stretching against whatever other furry creature was next to him and making his way to the water hole. He had no idea what would be waiting for him. We already know the trapper wanted nothing to do with Enkidu, so after instructing Shamhat, he probably beat a hasty retreat.

Enkidu now sees his second human being, a female, possibly of glowing beauty, offering herself to him with a primal signal of desire (primal, rather than primitive). The thirst center switches gears to sexual desire, yet this strange and beautiful creature before him inspires awe within him. He knows nothing of Ishtar, or of woman. But knows enough to know that this creature should be treated with respect as he admires her. This might be enough to activate the “love centers” of the brain, neatly sandwiching the center of sexual desire and softening his animalistic instincts.

She spread out her robe and he lay upon her,
she performed for the primitive the task of womankind.
His lust groaned over her;
for six days and seven nights Enkidu stayed aroused,
and had intercourse with the harlot
until he was sated with her charms.
But when he turned his attention to his animals,
the gazelles saw Enkidu and darted off,
the wild animals distanced themselves from his body.
Enkidu … his utterly depleted(?) body,
his knees that wanted to go off with his animals went rigid;
Enkidu was diminished, his running was not as before.
But then he drew himself up, for his understanding had broadened.
Turning around, he sat down at the harlot’s feet,
gazing into her face, his ears attentive as the harlot spoke.
The harlot said to Enkidu:
“You are beautiful, Enkidu, you are become like a god.
Why do you gallop around the wilderness with the wild beasts?
Come, let me bring you into Uruk-Haven,
to the Holy Temple, the residence of Anu and Ishtar,
the place of Gilgamesh, who is wise to perfection,
but who struts his power over the people like a wild bull.”

We “groan” in sexual love as well as in lust, and archeologists seem to prefer the latter. The word, “intercourse” is both minimizing and denigrating! We shall discuss the spectrum of sexual love later. Imagine, Shamhat is the first such creature Enkidu had ever seen. Imagine his awe and reverence for this priestess, as well as the act that not only brought him great pleasure but also ecstasy unknown. No, “intercourse” does not even begin to describe this event. “Sacred sex” is a better description, perhaps unknown to those who dig in the dirt.

But, the result was Enkidu was transformed from his bestial state into a divine human, “for his understanding had broadened.” Although Enkidu may have been “depleted”, Shamhat, too, probably had weak knees!

“Pillow talk,” even when there are no pillows, is a wonderful engagement of time. And in this case:

What she kept saying found favor with him.
Becoming aware of himself, he sought a friend.
Enkidu spoke to the harlot:
“Come, Shamhat, take me away with you
to the sacred Holy Temple, the residence of Anu and Ishtar,
the place of Gilgamesh, who is wise to perfection,
but who struts his power over the people like a wild bull.
I will challenge him …
Let me shout out in Uruk: I am the mighty one!’
Lead me in and I will change the order of things;
he whose strength is mightiest is the one born in the wilderness!”

Here we see Enkidu’s self-awareness, his ego, come into being. Along with it, his warrior archetype is engaged, and softened with love. Shamhat then says:

“Come, let us go, so he may see your face.
I will lead you to Gilgamesh–I know where he will be.
Look about, Enkidu, inside Uruk-Haven,
where the people show off in skirted finery,
where every day is a day for some festival,
where the lyre(?) and drum play continually,
where harlots stand about prettily,
exuding voluptuousness, full of laughter
and on the couch of night the sheets are spread (!).”


Enkidu, it is your wrong thoughts you must change!
It is Gilgamesh whom Shamhat loves,
and Anu, Enlil, and La have enlarged his mind.”
Even before you came from the mountain
Gilgamesh in Uruk had dreams about you.”

This last section of Tablet 1 paints a pretty picture of Uruk. However they manufacture and drink beer there. (Enkidu gets drunk on the next Tablet.) Possibly because they have no waste-water treatment, the wells are contaminated. “Mere” water doesn’t sound too bad now.

This commentary, of course, is based on knowledge of sexual biology, rather than ancient languages or in-depth knowledge of ancient history. But, it does paint a different picture than that we are saddled with today, though it took great restraint to avoid changing “harlot” to priestess.

copyright Art Noble 2011

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