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Two ∑ Enkidu, an orphan in the wilderness, meets King Gilgamesh

Anu, the king of all gods, wanted to help the people of Uruk. He spoke to Aruru, the goddess of creation: “Please create another person like Gilgamesh, who is as strong and brave and wild. And let them find each other on the earth.” Aruru, the goddess who had made human beings from earth, saw in her mind what she needed to do. Like a skilful baker, she wet her fingers and scooped the best clay from the earth. She kneaded and then shaped the clay into a male figure, to whom she gave a body as strong as Gilgamesh’s, and a mind as brave. She named him Enkidu, and then threw him into the wilderness as an orphan. Thus started Enkidu’s life. Like a wild animal, he had long hair that covered his naked body. He roamed the grassland and shared waterholes with gazelles. He did not know there were other people who lived in cities, people who wore clothes and ate cooked foods. One day, a hunter saw Enkidu by a waterhole and


was scared by his appearance. Over the following days the hunter saw Enkidu again, and went home to his father. “A wild creature,” the hunter said to his father. “A man who is stronger than any man I have seen! He fills in the pits that I dig and untangles animals from my traps. What do I do? He is too strong for me to fight, but without the animals I cannot make a living.” The hunter’s father said, “I’ve heard that Gilgamesh, the King of Uruk, is the strongest man in the world. Why don’t you go to Gilgamesh and report your discovery to him? Tell him you have found a man as strong as he is. See if he can do something to help you.” So the hunter made the journey to Uruk and told Gilgamesh about the wild man who roamed the grassland with the animals. Gilgamesh told the hunter about Ishtar, the goddess of love and birth, and about the group of priestesses who lived in Ishtar’s temple and devoted their lives to her. Among them was a woman named Shamhat, who would be the perfect person to help the hunter tame the wild man. The hunter and Shamhat set out for the wilderness, and for three days they waited by the waterhole for


Enkidu. On the morning of the third day, a wild man appeared with gazelles. When Shamhat saw the man, she could not help admiring his strong muscles and his fierce eyes. Now remember, Enkidu had lived only in the wilderness, and had thought himself a member of the animal kingdom. When he looked at Shamhat, he did not see a woman but a strange and beautiful creature sitting on the grass, and he was startled. He approached the creature cautiously and sniffed, but she seemed harmless, and was tender and gentle with him, so he knew he was not in any danger. When the gazelles finished drinking and roamed away, Enkidu did not follow them. He stayed with Shamhat, and they walked around, hand in hand, and kissed as lovers do. At the end


of the seventh day, Enkidu remembered his animal companions and went to the waterhole; to his surprise, the gazelles looked at him with alarm and ran away from him. Enkidu tried to catch up with his friends, but he could no longer run like a wild animal. Enkidu looked back at Shamhat, who was waiting for him like a lover. He looked at the escaping animals, who no longer trusted him. And at that moment he felt something strange happen: his mind became bigger and clearer than it had ever been before. He knew then that he was not an animal but a human being. Enkidu sat down at Shamhat’s feet. When she spoke, he realized without surprise but with joy that he understood her words just as he had once understood his animal


friends. “Enkidu—” Shamhat said. “Your name is Enkidu, and you are a strong man, created by a goddess. Why do you want to spend your life wandering around with animals? Let me take you to Uruk, a city surrounded by great walls, and show you the temple of Ishtar, where I came from. Let me introduce you to Gilgamesh, the King of Uruk.” The name of Gilgamesh stirred Enkidu’s heart with a new feeling. It was an empty feeling, but not like hunger and thirst, which could be easily satisfied by eating and drinking. Now that he was a human being Enkidu felt an emptiness in his heart, which was not comforted even by Shamhat’s companionship. “Who is Gilgamesh?” he asked. “He is the mightiest man in the world,” replied Shamhat. But how could Gilgamesh be the strongest man in the world, when Enkidu himself felt so strong and indestructible? “Take me to Gilgamesh,” Enkidu said, raising his voice. “I want to challenge him. I want to beat him. I will prove to him that I, Enkidu, am the mightiest man in the world.”


To prepare Enkidu for his journey, Shamhat washed his body, cut his hair and covered him with a clean robe. On the way to Uruk, the two met a shepherd. “What a mighty man,” the shepherd said, offering Enkidu the best bread and beer he had. “You look just like King Gilgamesh.” Enkidu ate the bread and drank the beer. It was the first time he had eaten something that was not grass and drunk something that was not water from a waterhole, and he was amazed by how quickly he had become part of the world he belonged to. On they travelled, and when Enkidu and Shamhat arrived in Uruk many stopped in the street to marvel at the sight of Enkidu. “Look at the mighty man,” people pointed out to one another. “He looks like our King Gilgamesh, but he is just a little shorter than Gilgamesh.” Enkidu heard the words and shouted out in anger. “I am mightier than Gilgamesh! Bring him to me, and I will prove that I am the mightiest man in the world.” Just then someone approached him, and Enkidu did not have to be told to know that the man was Gilgamesh. The two mighty men gazed at each other


and then, without a word, they started to fight, wrestling with their rock-like arms and legs, trying to pin each other down, their staggering bodies intimidating those who were watching the fight, their howling and panting reminding the people of wild bulls. Finally, Gilgamesh threw Enkidu on the ground and pinned him down—yet the victory did not evoke in him any further desire to conquer or hurt Enkidu. Rather, Gilgamesh felt the anger draining away from his body, and something both new and strange to his heart taking its place. He set Enkidu free, and Enkidu looked at him and said, “Gilgamesh, you are the mightiest man in the world.” Gilgamesh gazed at Enkidu and knew that the man had been sent to him by the gods. “I have been waiting for you,” Gilgamesh said, and told Enkidu of his dream of the falling rock, and of what his mother Ninsun had said about friendship. For the first time in both men’s lives, each had found a true friend. They embraced, and believed that with their strengths combined nothing would ever separate them.


The Story of Gilgamesh  

Sample chapter from Yiyun Li's retelling of one of the earliest surviving works of world literature, published by Pushkin Children's Books....

The Story of Gilgamesh  

Sample chapter from Yiyun Li's retelling of one of the earliest surviving works of world literature, published by Pushkin Children's Books....