Power of Women in the Epic of Gilgamesh

Anthony Sales Ierfino The Power of Women Imagine a woman so beautiful she had the power to tame wild beasts with one look at her voluptuous body. In “The Epic of Gilgamesh”, Gilgamesh’s temple priestess has the power to do just that, she tames Enkidu. Ishtar, when denied by Gilgamesh, threatens to “let the dead go up and eat the living” (10). In this epic, women represent great power, wisdom and finally temptation and evil. In the epic, the woman symbolizes different things.
One of these is how woman use the power of love (sex) and temptation to attain a certain goal or task. When the trapper’s son tells his father of Enkidu, his first and immediate instinct is to send for Gilgamesh’s temple priestess, Shamhat, so she can seduce him and “have her take off her robe and expose her sex” (3). Upon seeing Shamhat’s voluptuous body, Enkidu loses all his wild and animalistic instincts. He then makes love to her for six days and seven nights, as “she was not restrained, but took his energy” (4).
Having had sex with the harlot, Enkidu is humanized and in turn is rejected by the animals he grew up with. Shamhat not only proves that sex and temptation are powerful tools (or weapons), but that the woman is even more powerful because she holds such “powers” (sex and temptation). Not only Are women powerful, but in the Epic, they are portrayed as evil. Ishtar, goddess of love and war, is portrayed as a selfish and uses her power of seduction for evil.

Princess Ishtar asks Gilgamesh to marry her, telling Gilgamesh “Be you my husband, and I will be your wife…” (8). Gilgamesh replies by not only insulting the princess but by recounting her past lovers and how she has loved them only to turn on them, “ You loved the colorful ‘little Sheperd’ [Tammuz] bird and then hit him, breaking his wing, so now he stands in the forest crying ‘My Wing’! ” (9). He then, ends his reply by saying she loves him now, but she will only turn on him.
Ishtar, embarrassed and deeply angered, goes up to the heavens going to her father Anu asking for him to let her unleash the Bull of Heaven so he go down and kill Gilgamesh. When Anu simply states that Gilgamesh did nothing wrong, Ishtar threatens that if she does not get what she wants she will “knock down the Gates of the Netherworld…and will let the dead go up to eat the living! ” (10). Despite a warning from her father that no crops will grow for 7 years Ishtar is undeterred. This shows how, Ishtar, is selfish uses her power of seduction on Gilgamesh.
But when rejected, she is blinded by her fury and willing to do anything to get revenge even if it means the deaths of innocent men. It is clear that women are portrayed in a certain way in the Epic of Gilgamesh. This is due to the position they held the social hierarchy of the day. They were portrayed as beings with the power of seduction whether they had good intentions or evil intentions were completely up to them. This is why they were treated as mere objects that must be controlled by man.
The temple priestess, for example, held much power, she was the representative of God on earth, not only this but it is she who ensures there will be a good crop, whether or not the king will be successful in battle. In this instance the Temple Preistess, Shamhat, sent by Gilgamesh to tame and eliminate the threat that is Enkidu. Secondly how Ishtar, after attempts to seduce Gilgamesh and fails, blinded by rage and selfishness, wreaks havoc on the innocent people of Uruk as she attempts to get revenge on Gilgamesh.

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