Many people believe that the mortality of the human race is an aspect of life that can be most admirable. All people are born, and after the short experience of living, they pass. The concept of leaving a legacy upon the world that extends through one’s children and their children’s children is something many humans cherish. Although the human experience is a short one in comparison to the boundlessness of time, it is also common to wonder how life would be if all humans were divinely immortal or god-like. It is arguable that to live beyond the amount of time that is “normal” or expected is a lonely and unfulfilling wish. All of the people that are cherished in life will pass, and soon enough one is left alone with almost no tangible memory of having lived a traditional life. In a sense, it is as if being human is divine. It is only imaginable that if one transcends through both godliness and humanity, the experience is a conflicting journey. While the description of Enkidu from The Epic of Gilgamesh is more that he is a man spurned from clay, he is still animalistic and does not inhabit humanly traits other than his appearance. Although he is not a God, he also transitions from a beast-like state to a civilized man who begins to deeply connect with his counterpart, Gilgamesh. He experiences several of the modern descriptions of the stages of death, including wishing he were divine and accepting and embracing that he is human. The experience of truly living and honestly loving another person humbles Enkidu in death, although initially he is angered that he has to die. While the journey enriches his character, it does not retract or add to his betterment as one’s value cannot be assessed through manner, but through heart and soul.
Enkidu is not necessarily “better” for having been civilized. To compare his betterment to civilization would be to compare an apple to an orange. As an undomesticated product of animalistic learning, Enkidu appears to be nothing short of a wild man-beast. However his character is clearly deeper as the reader sees his behavior is somewhat paternal and territorial of the animals being hunted by shepherds, while also shielding the same human shepherds from harms way by mean of the wild animals. His unpolished and boorish manner is overshadowed at times by the nobler intentions that he possesses that are clear by his actions. It is evident that from the beginning of his existence, he had always encompassed some very human emotions such as empathy and sympathy, and that he is not completely as undomesticated on an emotional plane.
Alternatively, when Enkidu is seduced by Shamhat and subsequently befriends Gilgamesh, it is clear that while he was capable of “feeling” like a human yet not fully behaving as such. Only several months ago, President Barack Obama commented on the experience and motivation of Vice President Nominee Governor Sarah Palin. He was quoted as saying: “That’s just calling something the same thing, something different. But you know you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.” While Enkidu was becoming a more civilized man, there were still aspects of his behavior that reflected his longtime nature prior to becoming more learned in the ways of civility. At one point, Gilgamesh is verbally rebuffing Ishtar; Enkidu reverts to what is familiar and physical and tosses food at her head. While Gilgamesh appears to be emotionally and psychologically the equal of Enkidu’s crude physical behavior, he is his foil. The two subconsciously complement each other and compensate for the attributes the other lacks.
To query if civilization made Enkidu better is a question that is likely to be answered differently with each person who is asked. Enkidu was able to experience both the civilized and uncivilized ways of life. As most people do, Enkidu experienced a lot of feelings that a dying person would. He felt anger for having been mortal and unable to survive, and later acceptance when he realized that his fate was to let go and pass with dignity and the gratitude of a dear friend. To ask if he was better one way or the other is complex question. He was no more exceptional as a man than Gilgamesh was, or any other man was. As a roaming wild creature he still embodied compassion and an instinct to protect, and as a man who connected with another man he was just as compassionate and protecting. The only difference between the two faces of Enkidu is that in the end, he was not dying alone and without fulfillment that he otherwise may have missed.
Gavrilovic, Maria. “Obama Says McCain-Palin Proposals Are Like Putting “Lipstick on a Pig”.” CBS News 09/09/2008 09 Feb 2009 .
Lawall, Sarah, Ed. The Norton Anthology of World Literature: Beginnings to 100. 2nd ed.
vol. A. London: W.W. Norton and Company, 2001. Gilgamesh pp. 10-41.