Sample Literature Research Paper on Epic of Gilgamesh

Epic of Gilgamesh

Every historical tale is a reflection of modern society; and the Epic of Gilgamesh is no exception. The poem is a tale regarding the adventures of Gilgamesh, a Sumerian King ruling the land between the Tigris and the Euphrates during the second and third millenniums B.C (Sanders). Gilgamesh is a hero even though he commits atrocities on women, and throughout the story we see instances of gender inequality and incidences of women being mistreated. Women come out as having many diverse roles, but what is evident is that male characters have been given more privileges than their female counterparts. Many critics have written on this apparent mistreatment of the woman folk in the Sumerian society, and this paper will explore the ideas contained in four such articles. This paper will thus look at the roles given to women in the Uruk community and how they are overshadowed by men with the notion that despite their status in society, women emerge as the stronger species.

The first sign that men have more power over women is that all rulers and holders of dignified positions are men. The Sumerian gods mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh have no hierarchical order of authority, but they have a leader in Anu. Anu is considered the father of the gods and subsequently the most powerful of them all (Sanders). On the human realm, Gilgamesh is also considered the conqueror who is unmatched in strength and power, and subsequently becomes the ruler. When the people demanded another king to succeed Gilgamesh who had become a tyrant, the goddess Aruru fashioned another man named Enkidu (The Saylor Foundation). In the Epic of Gilgamesh, no woman ascends to any position of high power or is considered as having the same strength as men.

Women have also been portrayed as sexual symbols with intense sexual appeal. Shamhat, the temple prostitute who civilizes Enkidu and brings the friends together is perhaps the best representation of women’s power of sex appeal (Margesson). Shamhat enticed Enkidu at the watering hole with her naked body and after laying with her for seven nights, Enkidu did all that Shamhat wanted. The goddess Ishtar- the goddess of love- is able to not only manipulate men at her will, but also other gods. She is so used to this that when Gilgamesh refuses her marriage proposal, she gets angered and convinces the other gods to order the killing of Enkidu. Gilgamesh tells his mother Ninsun of being drawn to a star like a woman, indicating the sexual power that women have over men.

Despite being shown as having sexual appeal, women have also been sexually abused, and thus shown as symbols for pleasing men. Shamhat was a temple prostitute, indicating that prostitution was still present at the time. We are told that Gilgamesh was considered a hero even though he abused different female characters in the narrative (Cuyahoga Community College). Gilgamesh demanded virgins from their husbands on their wedding nights, which portrays the low regard women were held in to be defiled like that. All this happened even though the gods supposed to control human behavior were watching. The society of the time had been socialized to ignore any misdeeds committed against women, showing the gender inequality prevalent at the time.

The role of the woman comes out as that of being a companion to man. Sumerian society at the time was largely patriarchal with men taking up the most important roles, but women also played tangential but rather important roles. The Sumerian goddesses mentioned acted with the confidence and decisiveness of their fellow male gods, and are able to influence major decisions. The females in the epic mostly play the role of companion, as exhibited by women such as Shamhat, Siduri, and Ninsun. Shamhat manages to tame Enkidu while Siduri is a philosophical barmaid who is also wise (Margesson). Ninsun, Gilgamesh’s mother, plays the role of confidant and advisor to her son, a job she performs blissfully. Utnapishtim’s wife is not only a companion to her husband but also manages to intercede on Gilgamesh’s behalf. When confronted by a determined woman, both the male gods and mortal men are able to resist and the women are usually able to get what they want.

The Epic of Gilgamesh is a reflection of the present society and we can draw comparisons between the role of women then and now. Today’s society is still patriarchal with the most important jobs going to the menfolk. Many societies today have deities who are male, and most high offices are occupied by males, with only a few females. The female is still considered the weaker species and many heroes even in present day are male. Sumerian society and present-day society thus have a commonality in that they are patriarchal and treat women as the inferior species.

Women are still considered companions to men, and this is considered their primary role. Sumerian society and present-day society teach women that they are the companions of men. We see that when the men were restless, they always turned to women and their issues were settled. Women come out as wise advisors with immense influence over men. Ultimately, it is evident that women have the power to manipulate the minds of men, and this resonates to the present times.

The utilization of women as sex symbols and tools is common in both the Sumerian and present-day society. We see that both societies have prostitution, where women utilize their sex appeal to manipulate men to get what they want. Then sexual harassment of women is also prevalent in both societies, and perpetrators go largely unpunished. Society has learned to ignore the abuses suffered by females even when they are extreme with perpetrators even being labelled society’s heroes.

In conclusion, the role of women in Sumerian society is relegated to be beneath that of men. The woman is perceived as a companion of man and most of the female characters in the epic play that role. Females are also demeaned by being treated as sex symbols and they suffer abuse which goes unpunished. Despite all these, women have the sexual appeal to manipulate men and they hold considerable power to influence decisions. There is an obvious connection between the society then and today’s society regarding the attitude towards women, with both societies perceiving women as the weaker species. The hypothesis that women are the weaker species is, however, arguable as women are seen to have considerable power over men. In the end, despite women being relegated to the background, they manage to emerge as the stronger species.

Works Cited

Cuyahoga Community College. “Short Forms of The Epic of Gilgamesh.” n.d. Project. 30 May 2016.

Margesson, Brienna. “Matriarchy vs. Patriarchy.” 29 April 2011. 30 May 2016 <>.

Sanders, N. K. “The Epic of Gigamesh.” n.d. Assyrian International News Agency. 30 May 2016 <>.

The Saylor Foundation. “Study Guide for The Epic of Gilgamesh.” n.d. The Saylor Foundation. 30 May 2016.