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Enkidu and Gilgamesh Slay a Bull

You know that old comic book trope (I associate it mostly with Marvel Comics) where two heroes meet, fight, then team up?

It turns out that is literally the oldest trope in the book. That’s how The Epic of Gilgamesh starts.

As part of my Babylonian kick, I sat down and read Gilgamesh. It’s not long (you can’t do too much decompression when you’re forming the words one-by-one out of clay with a reed, and the trade had not been invented yet). When it opens, Gilgamesh is a mighty king, but kind of immature. The gods make a wild, shaggy man to oppose him: Enkidu. They fight, and then become bosom pals.

Actually, Gilgamesh’s opening gambit is to send a harlot out to seduce Enkidu. After that, Enkidu is too civilized and his animal friends refuse to help him. I never saw Spider-Man use that tactic on Ghost Rider, but I’m sure one Craig or Matt will correct me.

After that, Gilgamesh and Enkidu go kill a monster because the sun god Shamash tells them to. I didn’t quite catch the rationale there. The monster guards a pine forest, so I think Shamash wanted a big pine tree for the door to his temple … I didn’t follow that part very well.

There are more adventures. They piss off the goddess Ishtar and kill the Bull of Heaven, so the gods send Enkidu an illness and he dies. Then, Gilgamesh goes to the land of the gods to visit Ut-napishtim (the Babylonian Noah) and find the secret to immortality. Unfortunately, a snake carries it off.

I’m continually surprised at how human Gilgamesh is. At several points, he’s essentially ready to wus out, but Enkidu urges him to keep fighting. And he gets totally emo when he realizes that he, too, will die someday.

My Babylonian gaydar is not finely tuned enough to tell if Gilgamesh and Enkidu are lovers. Both of them have wives, although you never meet them. The only named women are Shamhat (the harlot) and the goddess Ishtar, who is explicitly described as a psycho hosebeast. I wasn’t expecting a 4,000-year-old folk tale to pass the Bechdel Test, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so completely G’s-Up-Hoes-Down.

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. The Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest stories in Western Civilization, is basically a buddy cop movie.

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