The Foolish Victory Strut

Gilgamesh and Enkidu return to Uruk floating logs from the Cedar Forest and carrying the head of Humbaba. They are greeted like returning heroes.  Gilgamesh bathes and puts on his finest robes, attracting the attention of the goddess Ishtar.  She proposes marriage. Gilgamesh rejects her offer, doing so politely at first, but then heaping one insult after another at her, with each insult becoming progressively more hurtful. Ishtar is humiliated and seeks to assuage her wounded pride by turning loose the Bull of Heaven to wreak havoc on Gilgamesh and his city.

Working together, Gilgamesh and Enkidu kill the Bull of Heaven. It can be argued they acted in self-defense since the Bull had already killed hundreds of Uruk’s warriors before meeting his death. Further, even the god Anu suggests to Ishtar she may be partially to blame for the death of the Bull of Heaven because she provoked Gilgamesh. So killing the Bull of Heaven does not appear to be the issue. The problem arises with what happened after.

 Gilgamesh and the Bull of Heaven by U0045269 (Own work); Royal Museums of Art and History, Brussels; December 10, 2015; via Wikimedia Commons

Gilgamesh and the Bull of Heaven by U0045269 (Own work); Royal Museums of Art and History, Brussels; December 10, 2015; via Wikimedia Commons

Enkidu rips off one of the Bull’s thighs and flings it at Ishtar’s face, threatening to do the same to her body parts if he could. Meanwhile, Gilgamesh does his little victory swagger in the streets of Uruk, challenging the singing girls to praise his looks and bravery while flaunting Ishtar’s defeat in her face. There is no humility in victory here. There is no attempt to conciliate with a defeated enemy or to provide him/her with face-saving measures. There is only overweening arrogance for the victor and crushing humiliation for the loser.

Once again, the law of unintended consequences comes into play. Because of his unjustified killing of Humbaba, because he joins Enkidu in humiliating Ishtar by adding insult to injury, Gilgamesh unleashes a catastrophic event over which he has no control. His foolish behavior incurs the anger of the gods. To exact revenge, they fasten the eye of death on Enkidu.

Gilgamesh’s subsequent despair triggers another quest: to seek Utnapishtim and learn from him his secret of cheating death. It is while he is on this quest he meets Siduri, the winemaker of the gods, the subject of my next post.

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AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar