How does the death of Enkidus change the Gilgamesh story?

The Epic of Gilgamesh. Summary of contents and interpretation of Enkido's death

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2. Summary of the content:
2.1 Plates I - XII of the Ninivite version
2.2 Brief interpretation, meaning of the epic

3. Free part: Enkido on the deathbed
3.1 Question
3.2 the 5 stages of dying in theory
3.3 Application to Enkidos Die
3.4 Conclusion


The Gilgamesh epic is one of the oldest traditional poems known to man. It consists of many individual stories that were only combined into a larger narrative under King Assurbaniap (669-627 BC) in Nineve. The individual narratives are up to the third millennium BC. BC, to the time of the Sumerians, traceable. According to Babylonian sources, the scholar Sinequeunnini wrote this summary of the individual stories that have come down to us. The main text of the translation, the Ninivite version, consists of twelve panels, whereby the content of the twelfth panel is not directly linked to that of the previous one. (Röllig, W, 2009: 9-13) The individual tables are described and briefly interpreted below:

Panel I.

The first panel introduces the protagonist Gilgamesh and the antagonist Enkidu. While Gilgamesh rules the city of Uruk as king, Enkidu lives among animals as a savage in the steppe.

Gilgamesh, son of the wild cow Rimat-Ninsun, is two-thirds clearly superior to God and his fellow human beings in size and strength (cf. panel 1, lines 51-58). In addition to his "superhuman" physique, he also seems to be overly cunning and wise (see Table 1, lines 2-7). He is the builder of the city walls of the city of Uruk, a comparatively gigantic city in the south of Mesopotamia. In view of the fact that he removes young warriors and women from their family associations there, it can be assumed that Gilgamesh exercises tyranny in Uruk and suppresses his subjects with the help of his physical superiority (cf. Table 1, lines 82-83). So it happens that the women of the city ask the gods for help, whereupon the goddess Aruru creates the king Enkidu as a physically equal rival in the steppe.

Enkidu represents the opponent to the arbitrarily brutal king. Although he lives among murderous animals and behaves accordingly, his wild, "murderous" attitude can be traced back to his natural, animal instinct. Gilgamesh learns of Enkidu through a hunter whose craft is disturbed by Enkidu's presence and sends the prostitute Shamchat to distract him and bring him to the city of Uruk. This process of alienation can be interpreted as a kind of civilization or taming of the wild man.

Plate II

The second panel tells of Enkidu's arrival in Uruk.

During the journey to Uruk, Enkidu watches over Shamchat day and night, to which he has previously fallen for. Arriving in Uruk, there is first contact and at the same time a fight between Gilgamesh and Enkidu, who wants to stop the king from taking advantage of the Ius Primae Noctis. Gilgamesh cannot defeat him in battle, and for the first time comes up against his physical limits, whereupon the two become friends in an enlightening conversation with Rimat-Ninsun. At this point, the function of Enkidus can already be determined, who in the role of companion and advisor represents Gilgamesh's "better" half. This thesis is reinforced in the course of the table when Gilgamesh decides to defeat the guardian of the cedar forest, Chumbaba, in order to give his name immortality. Enkidu wants to counter the excessive arrogance and folly of the king by trying in vain to persuade the elders of the city to stop Gilgamesh.

Plate III

In the third panel, Gilgamesh and Enkidu prepare for the procession to the cedar forest. Gilgamesh asks for his mother's blessing, the wild cow Rimat-Ninsun, who begs the god Shamash for help. This seems particularly suitable for supporting the adventure, as it not only watches over Gilgamesh over the sun during the day, but also over Gilgamesh by means of the “watchmen of the night” (panel III, line 57), ie the stars, and takes him in battle can protect against strong winds. At this point the reader already learns the future fate of Gilgamesh, which is reflected in Rimat-Ninsun's concerns: “Shouldn't he live with the underworld god Ningishzida in the land of no return?” (Plate III, lines 106-107). Then the union between Enkidu and Gilgamesh is institutionalized, with the wild cow, Rimat-Ninsun, ceremonially adopting Enkidu as a son. Although Gilgamesh as king is the only one at the top of the hierarchy, Enkidu is no longer just a physical equal to him as a brother.

Plate IV

The fourth panel describes the 45-day trip to the cedar forest, which is shown in a time lapse of 3 days.

If the cedar forest is in today's Lebanon, the path leads there through a mountain landscape, on the hills of which the two protagonists take five breaks. While resting, they perform a dream ceremony in which Gilgamesh takes on the function of the dream recipient, while Enkidu supervises the ceremony and guards Gilgamesh. The dreams that Enkidu interprets always conjure up a disaster scenario, so that the two are mentally attuned to the extent of their struggle with Chumbaba at an early stage. Enkidu repeatedly encourages Gilgamesh after he is increasingly intimidated. When Shamash suddenly appears and asks them to act quickly, Enkidu is overcome by fear.

At this point, Enkidu seems to show weakness for the first time, whereupon Gilgamesh can spur him on. So this grows with the challenge and through the interrelationship with Enkidu beyond itself. The ideal of the faithful companion, which Enkidu embodied before, is transferred here to Gilgamesh, who seems to overcome his egocentric perspective.

Plate V

In the fifth panel, Gilgamesh and Enkido fight the demon Chumbaba.

After the two have reached the cedar forest and placed its guardian Chumbaba, the latter begins to curse Enkidu in a comparatively vulgar way. This attitude suggests that Chumbaba is very uncultivated, a “wild beast”, just like Enkido before he was “tamed”. Thereupon Gilgamesh overcame fear again, whereupon Enkido inspires him again and reminds him of his mission. The fierce battle that followed, which can be decided with the support of the god Schmasch, is described briefly and without detail. This abbreviated representation is understood as an emphasis, a stylistic device in the Mesopotamian age. With his last breath, Chumbaba curses the two heroes, whereby the curse is actually supposed to conjure up Enkidu's future fate, death as an unknown (cf. panel V Z.255-256). As proof and booty of their triumphal march, the two of them beat a mighty cedar tree, a building material that cannot be found in southern Mesopotamia and is therefore of great value.

Plate VI

The sixth panel reports Gilgamesh's contact with the goddess Ishtar and the fight with the heavenly bull.

Once in Uruk, Gilgamesh performs a purification ceremony during which he does not go unnoticed. The goddess Ishtar has succumbed to his beauty and asks Gilgamesh to take her as his wife. The latter, in turn, displays their bad, blood-draining character by listing rhetorical questions (panel 6, lines 24ff.). Furious, she blackmailed her father Anu into sending the heavenly bull to earth to kill Gilgamesh (see Plate VI, lines 96-97). When the heavenly bull begins to rage on earth, the two heroes fight him. Although Enkidu takes the initiative and initially fights alone, it is Gilgamesh who, at Enkidu's encouragement, gives the heavenly bull the fatal blow. Here it can be seen again that Enkido only takes on the role of the “heroic helper”, although he himself first has the courage and takes action.

Plate VII

The seventh panel deals with Enkido's struggle with death.

As a result of the seventh table, Enkido goes through various stages of dying, which are discussed in more detail in the second part of the housework. At the end of this table, Enkido dies.

Plate VIII

The eighth panel describes the lamentation and burial of Enkidus.

In his mourning for the dead, Gilgamesh turns to all those things with which Enkidu has come into contact. This implies humans, animals but also nature. He lays a grave in the previously dammed river to protect it from looters. He equips the grave itself with stately gifts, especially for the important (gods) creators of the underworld.

As a result of Gilgamesh's efforts for Enkido's afterlife and a social lament for the dead, a metamorphosis of the king from a narcissistic tyrant to a sensitive companion can be recognized.

Plate IX

In the ninth table, Gilgamesh travels to the end of the world.

For fear of death, Gilgamesh decides to seek eternal life and sets out for the passes of the Maschu Mountains, which are guarded by a pair of scorpions. These describe the way for the king through the mountains, a twelve-mile long path of complete darkness, to the place of the sun, a gemstone garden.

The mountain path is a kind of test to overcome earthly fears, at the end of which the gemstone garden stands as a magical, untouched place.

Plate X

The tenth tablet tells of the journey over the waters of death and the first contact with Uta-Napishti.

If the gem garden already represents the end of the world, there is a mythical world behind it, which is enclosed by a sea and the waters of death that can only be overcome by a ferryman named Ur-Shanabi. At the edge of the water there is a place that is only touched by the sun. This fact suggests that the place is characterized by enlightenment and superhumanity. On the advice of a pub near the gem garden, Gilgamesh went to Ur-Shanabi in the forest. This, like the Chumbaba full of "horror" (panel X, line 98), storms wildly towards Gilgamesh, who manages to put the demon out of action for a short time. Shortly afterwards, the two cross the water to the immortal Uta-Napischti, who notices Gilgamesh's presence early on. When he registers Gilgamesh's wistful complaints about his restlessness, his physical exhaustion and his mortality, he reminds Gilgamesh of his duties as king and the transience of earthly life. Gilgamesh also has to submit to his fate, which the gods have determined for him as well as for everyone else. The stages of life and death are determined, but not their point in time.

Plate XI

The eleventh panel deals with the story of the Flood and Gilgamesh's return to Uruk.

If Gilgamesh is still in the dark about how Uta-Napishti was able to achieve sub-mortality, he tells him about a deluge of the gods in which all people were to be destroyed. The wisdom god Ea let Utanapishi know this, however, so that he could save himself to the end of the world by ship. In the following, Utanapishti presents Gilgamesh with the test of staying awake seven days and nights in order to conquer sleep, as death's little brother. But when Gilgamesh fails to do this, Uta-Napishti reveals the location of a rejuvenating herb, which Gilgamesh finds, but then lets a snake steal it. Gilgamesh returns sadly to Uruk to complete the construction of the wall of Uruk.

On the basis of the tests, the prophecy of Uta-Napishti can be recognized, especially since Gilgamesh can separate himself from the unearthly thought and devote himself to the expansion and rule of Uruk.

Plate XII

Although the story actually ends after the eleventh tablet, a twelfth tablet was added to complete the epic, in which Gilgamesh familiarizes himself with the rules of the underworld after his wooden toy has fallen into the earth.


The Gilgamesh epic, as the oldest story of mankind, encompasses the basic themes of poetry that are still valid today: nature, love, death, power and self. The protagonist of the story, Gilgamesh, goes through these basic problems of existence, which often overlap.

The epic describes human wrestling with the forces of nature, for example in Uta-Napischti's tale of the flood. The nature and the natural instincts stand in contrast to the cultured city dweller. In this way, enkido emerges as a contest in the middle of the steppe, which can only be civilized through human love or lust. Another rather marginal topic taken up is the social power struggles, which are reflected in the revolt of the people against Gilgamesh's tyranny. The power struggle with the supernatural, the gods, also plays a role insofar as Gilgamesh tries to save the enkido who was destined to die by the gods (cf. panel VII, lines 83-84). But at the center of the epic is death and Gilgamesh himself. The motif of transience as well as that of dying runs through the entire story (cf. panel X, lines 301-310). The death of Enkido seems to be the turning point in Gilgamesh's perception of life, which then searches for immortality. The journey to the end of the world can be described as a journey to the self, at the end of which Gilgamesh finds the sobering answer that human fate is also predetermined for him. So Gilgamesh tries, if he cannot achieve immortality, to let his name continue to live on earth through his deeds, such as the building of the wall of Uruk, and thus to make it “submortal”.

Free part

Beginning of the endIt's just a point, hardly a pain, just a vesselühl, just felt; And yet it always speaks in it, And yet stödont you live.

If you want to complain to others, you cannot put it into words. You say to yourself: "It's nothing!" And yet it does not want to leave you.

The world becomes so strangely alien to you, And quietly loses itÄIf you all hope you are finally, finally knowßt That death's arrow hit you

Storm Theodore

Since people in the ancient Orient have a different perception of death and afterlife than modern people in the Western Christian hemisphere, it is interesting to examine the emotional stages that ancient people go through on their deathbed. Therefore I would like to compare Enkidus Die in the Gilgamesh epic, in which death and transience are central motifs, with the modern theory of dying according to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.

According to the theory, the mental development of a dying person is divided into five phases (Kübler-Ross, 1979):

1. Not wanting to be true
2. Anger
3. Negotiate
4. Depression
5. Consent

The order of the phases is not determined, on the contrary, they can even occur next to each other.

Dont want to believe it:

In the first phase, the dying is overcome by the shocking news of death. They do not want to admit their fate and “signal with every fiber of their being” (Christoph Student, 2006: 2) their distance from the diagnosis. Not wanting to be true is a first protective mechanism of the soul, which protects those affected from emotional overload. Repression can be a helpful measure to enable conscious reflection at a later, selected moment. The first phase can recur as the dying progresses, especially when those affected receive new negative news.


In the next phase, the dying use their anger as an outlet to calm down and relieve themselves. The dying question worldly justice and float in a lack of understanding as to why they in particular have to die. Often they are looking for someone to blame for their death, which grows out of their envy of the survivors. They are also afraid of being forgotten and therefore seek attention.


The negotiation phase, which occurs rather fleetingly, describes a state of the dying person in which he succumbs to childlike behavior and begins to negotiate with God or a comparable supernatural authority. The goals of secret cooperation can take on different dimensions: from a longer life to the moral legitimation of one's own actions.


In this phase the dying person falls into a sad, lamentable state of isolation. At this point, Kübler-Ross divides it into two different perspectives. On the one hand, a depressive state as a reaction to opportunities not seized, the loss of physical integrity and the inability to repeat beautiful moments. The second perspective describes a preparatory depression that deals with the future loss of earthly existence.


This final phase occurs in most dying people, but does not have to be. The person concerned has come to terms with his fate and goes into a lethargic state.


End of the reading sample from 13 pages