The plot of The Epic of Gilgamesh deals a lot with the world of nature. Considering the fact that Enkidu, the best friend and companion of the main character, was created as a wild man and lived in the forest before encountering Gilgamesh, it seems especially interesting to speculate on the question of how the natural world was presented in this epic poem.
In the beginning of the poem when the reader comes across the first mention of Enkidu, one may notice that the author opposes the ingenuousness of Enkidu to the habits and actions of Gilgamish who belongs to the civilized people. The latter one is described as a tyrannical ruler, who is prone to voluptuousness while he demands the privilege of sleeping with brides of his people. He is a willful despot who can order his people to build walls and then let the walls decay, despite all the hard work which his people put into them. However, the ruler was the ruler and civilized people could only wish for changes and continue to bear their king’s whims. On the contrary, Enkidu was made as an opposition to Gilgamesh. He was supposed to possess something that Gilgamesh lacked but to be equal with him in strength in order to bring into his soul something that would make him better. The following entreaty regarding the creation of Enkidu was made to the goddess Aruru: “Let him be a match for the storm in his heart, let them vie with each other so Uruk may be rested!”(George, 5). Enkidu used to run with the animals that had no fear of him and to free them from traps. While Gilgamesh and Enkidu are contrasted in this part of the poem and the king of Uruk is represented in rather an unfavorable light it feels like the nature to which Enkidu obviously belongs provides freedom of soul which civilized people lack. Therefore the attitude towards the nature is positive from the very beginning of the poem. As soon as one encounters Enkidu on the pages of the book, he or she is immediately left with the impression that Enkidu, despite he is simply a savage who must be infinitely less clever than the king of Uruk, due to his simplicity and closeness to the nature possesses something good that Gilgamesh lacks.
When the prostitute whom Gilgamesh had sent to sleep with Enkidu walked him to Uruk and people first saw Enkidu, no one of them felt despise or superiority towards the savage. It might have happened though if general attitude towards nature in the poem was different. It is impossible to imagine that a man who lived with animals and knows nothing about customs and habits of civilized people would be greeted as equal in the modern world. Of course the society of the times that were described in the poems was way simpler than ours, so Enkidu did not have to know the achievements of science or technological progress to be considered equal by other people. Still, habits and customs are not less important and if natural world was thought to be something simple and a man was referred to in people’s minds as the king of the animals Enkidu would likely receive public scorn due to his way of life. But this did not happen. In fact as he entered Uruk people even compared him to their king, saying that Enkidu looked like Gilgamesh but was shorter and stronger. They decided that “He was born in the uplands, animals’ milk is what he was suckled on” (George, 15). The fact that the way of life Enkidu had led before coming to Uruk was not supposed to be something shameful and did not prevent the people of Uruk to have seen their king’s equal in him proves that the people in this poem felt a lot of regard towards the world of nature.
It was mentioned though that Enkidu and Gilgamesh were killing beasts, bears and tigers through their journey as they faced them. Still in the world of nature animals kill each other as well in order to survive. Therefore the fact that the main characters of the poem were killing some of the nature’s children does not prove that they lived in disharmony with nature or did not respect the wild world. Quite the opposite they acted like those who belonged there, taking a fight in order to defend themselves, not killing for their amusement. In the final speech in honor of his deceased friend Enkidu that Gilgamesh gave in front of the counselors of Uruk, he referred to Enkidu as to the son of the wild ass and the gazelle. It is hardly possible that he would mention that if he thought Enkidu’s origin and the life that he had led in woods before encountering Gilgamesh to be something shameful. A man in his situation, who was weeping for his friend and companion, would say only the best things about the deceased comrade. In this speech Gilgamesh referred to Enkidu as to his brother. If the king names someone like Enkidu to be his brother, it means that he does not mind a consequential relation to the world of animals. Being the “son of wild ass and the gazelle” Enkidu seemed to have been fully acknowledged as someone who was a part of the natural world, not civilized society. Taking into account that Enkidu was supposed to have been created as Gilgamesh’s second self it proves that those who wrote this poem gave a lot of credit to a human’s bond with nature, hinting that everyone should possess a part of Enkidu in his or her heart to become a full human.
Considering all the before mentioned it may be supposed that he poem reflected rather rural values than the urban ones. When Gilgamesh lived in the town and ruled his people he did not show the best qualities of man. He was a despot who was used to comfort which the king naturally received and the obedience of his folk. It was the journey with Enkidu, when he had only his friend by his side while travelling through forests and lands full of wild animals that finally made him human. Therefore the safe civilized town is contraposed to the experiences provided by the life in the wild that man should live through.
The Epic of Gilgamesh referred to the natural world with high regard and respect and it is no wonder that it was so, taking into account the time when it was created. The first version of it dates to the 18th century BC. People of that time must have had much stronger a bond with nature than modern people. A part of wild which Enkidu possessed was destined to complete Gilgamesh, to teach him how to feel what a human must feel and to develop worthy values in his soul.
George, Andrew. The Epic of Gilgamesh. London: Penguin Books Ltd., 2000. Print