Sunday, April 5, 2015

Week 2: Origins

"He was made lush with head hair, like a woman/ The locks of his hair grew thick as a grain field/ He knew neither people nor inhabited land,/ He dressed as animals do/ he fed on grass with gazelles..."
(The Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet 1)

Questions for discussion, choose any one as an entry:

  1. Reading these three tablets, one can see how Enkidu hum-animal qualities enlarges the discussion around his relationship to Gilgamesh. How does Enkidu's and Gilgamesh's origins bond them? 

"Disguised as a woman, I forget what I want as a crane." (The Crane Wife)

2.  Can you offer a line from any of the primary texts we read ("The Crane Wife", The Epic of Gilgamesh, Genesis, "Animal Bride", "Creation Myth", "Everything was Created") that speak to how human culture's interrelationship to animal presence, or how humans encounter animals, "both entail the physical and psychological manipulation of animals" ("Animals as Domesticates" 115)?

The Epic of Gilgamesh isn't unlike other epics in which the hero's confidant, foil, and foe are animalized or depicted as non-human. For example, in The Odyssey (800 BCE), Odysseus has to contend with Circe, Calypso, and the Cyclops while his faithful dog Argos awaits his return home in Ithaca. There are other epics like Beowulf (700 AD) and Mahabharata (400 BCE) where we see the zoomorphic and bestial qualities of humans. I am also pressed to think about Staples/Vaughn's Saga and the relationship between The Will and Lying Cat...but let's postpone that conversation until we get to Week 9: Work, Trauma, Planetarity.
Please comment in the conversation thread. Length of post is 150-200 words.


  1. 1: Since she created the human race (and therefore Gilgamesh), the gods instructed Aruru, the goddess of creation, to make an equal for Gilgamesh; someone who is strong enough to stand up to him and who will save him. Aruru makes Enkidu, an incredibly hairy man who lives in the wilderness with the animals. He symbolizes the non-civilized world, and must tame the wilderness in him before he can meet Gilgamesh, a tyrant king who terrifies the people of Uruk, and described as being one-third man and two-thirds god. As Enkidu is mostly wild and beastly, and Gilgamesh is mostly god, they both need their humanity saved; Enkidu’s humanity is restored when he lies with the prostitute Shamhat, and then he must help Gilgamesh access his humanity. With Enkidu as his faithful ally (his animal-like qualities make him particularly well adapted for this slot in life), only then does Gilgamesh become the leader his people need, but at the cost of losing Enkidu when he dies. The platonic love the two have for each other helps Gilgamesh become a better leader to his people by allowing him to better understand them.

  2. This is a great observation in how Enkidu's combined animal and human qualities create a whole being that complements and deflects the brash GIigamesh. In this origin stroy, we can clearly see the valorization of "animal".

  3. 2: Since the social and morphological dichotomy between human and animal, humans have harnessed and harvested the products of animals for their own physical (and with the social construct of value) financial gain. Whether it be the milk of a cow, or the very skin the cow requires to sustain life, humans take from animals to benefit themselves. More often than not humans neglect the true toll that is taken when harvesting the products and livelihoods of animals, taking for granted the sacrifices that animals often unwilling make for human gain. The Crane wife produces a scenario in which this physical and emotional toll is made more palatable by explaining it through the societal construct of matrimony. In a quote where the wife is explaining the sacrifice she is making for her husband she says, "I do not think you understand, my husband, what you ask of me. The work (of making the sail) takes so much out of me. I was glad to do it as my dowry, as a gift from my heart, just as your dance was a gift from your heart. But if you want me to do this, I will do it for you this once" (pg. 40). In this quote the reader is given a verbal explanation of the physical and emotional stress that this process of appropriation takes on the wife, and more broadly speaking, nature itself. In this way the story is able to convey the true weight that is associated with the taking of another living being's health and livelihood. With the resolution of the story the reader is left with the feelings of pain, and regret felt by humans over the loss of something that was once taken for granted.

    Henry Vogt

  4. 1. I think it's interesting how Gilgamesh and Enkidu's relationship works. Gilgamesh is obviously the male dominant figure. He is strong, ignorant, selfish, and stubborn. Everything that men have been portrayed as since the end of time. Enkidu however, is was a vulnerable creature, majestic and attentive. He was manipulated much like Eve was by the serpent. He loses his animal like qualities and turns in the hunter rather then the hunted. However, he still playing the female role by having a heart towards the people and even Gilgamesh himself. Yet at the end of the story Enkidu turns into the masculine protector by being placed back into the wild life to protect Gilgamesh. Just shows that superiority depends on circumstance.

  5. 1. Though Gilgamesh is created two thirds divine and one third human, it is important to acknowledge that the God of Wisdom only contributed to his physical design, and not his inherent personality. This left Gilgamesh stupid enough to be vicious toward people, which is a common human characteristic. Also, his two thirds divine blood does not suggest that he is generally civilized or moral in his thoughts or actions, but rather that he comes from a civilized place, another common human characteristic.
    When considering Enkidu’s origin, we first learn that he is formed from clay, material that could most easily be associated with the natural earth and a lack of civilization. Then we are given a description of his appearance and behavior, both of which are animalistic, which of course is also associated with the natural earth.
    Enkidu’s lying with Shamhat symbolizes the ability of humans to manipulate nature to work for them, while Gilgamesh’s reformation symbolizes the nature’s equal ability to do the same to humans. This demonstrates how even though compromises and other peaceful outcomes may result when the two parties cross each other, they are destined to cross and influence each other forever.