Mesopotamian Views of Culture and Civilization: Enkidu and the Harlot
What does the story of Enkidu’s education by the prostitute tell us about Mesopotamian views of culture and civilization?
Sex is like a rite of passage for Enkidu. It is the harlot that introduces him to the society and the civilization. She educates Enkidu about several things and not just sex. The prostitute tells him about the Uruk society and how it is controlled by a mighty king. The first thing that gets clear from the prostitute’s education of Enkidu is that the royalty held enormous power in the Mesopotamian society and that it could act unrestrained. It shows how the ancient Mesopotamian culture equated the royalty with God. The harlot brings Enkidu to challenge Gilgamesh.
She says, “‘Let us go, and let him see your face. I know very well where Gilgamesh is in great Uruk. O Enkidu, there all the people are dressed in their gorgeous robes, every day is holiday, the young men and the girls are wonderful to see. How sweet they smell! All the great ones are roused from their beds. O Enkidu, you who love life, I will show you Gilgamesh, a man of many moods; you shall look at him well in his radiant manhood. His body is perfect in strength and maturity; he never rests by night or day. He is stronger than you, so leave your boasting. Shamash the glorious sun has given favours to Gilgamesh, and Anu of the heavens, and Enlil, and Ea the wise has given him deep understanding. f tell you, even before you have left the wilderness, Gilgamesh will know in his dreams that you are coming”.
In the Mesopotamian view of culture and civilization, the divinity was at the top, then were the royalty. The common man was at the lower rung and at the lowest step were the poor and the outlaws. There are three very important things that the Prostitute educates Enkidu about. The first is the enormous clout of the royalty. She tells Enkidu how Gilgamesh lords it over all the others. Next is the divinity. She tells of the Gods and Goddesses that were worshiped and revered by the Mesopotamian society. In this way she also clarifies the special relationship between divinity and royalty to Enkidu. The royalty is blessed by the divinity and exercises the special powers granted to it. The ancient Mesopotamian culture and civilization as they reflect in her words show a strong faith in the Sun God and a depiction of the heavens and other minor Gods and Goddesses that serve as a link between humanity and the higher divinity.
Readers also get some demonstration of the way of life in ancient Mesopotamia and that of its colorfulness. People wear colorful robes and lead happy lives. It shows that ancient Mesopotamia was wealthy where people wore perfumed clothes and led cheerful lives. Both culture and civilization were flourishing in ancient Mesopotamia and this picture gets clear from the advice the harlot gives to Enkidu. Moreover, this culture revered the divinity greatly and royalty was considered to have divine rights. The rest of the society was inferior to it and therefore under its control. The strong walled Uruk and the blessed temple of Ishtar and Anu are examples of great Mesopotamian architecture. Gilgamesh’s palace has been compared to heavens. It all shows that as a culture and civilization Mesopotamia was flourishing where people were happy signifying economic strength. The temples and palaces depicted in the story show a culture rich in arts and architecture.
Suggested Reading: Role of women in Othello