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(ca. 2500 BC) Iraq


Uruk king


Tales of heroic deeds by Gilgamesh and Enkidu are recounted in the world's earliest known epic poem, Gilgamesh, which survived into our era on some bits of cuneiform that were found in the shattered library of King Ashurbanipal of Assyria.

Gilgamesh is the story of two warriors, superheroes, who meet, wrestle, and become lovers. But their histories are complex, for they represent two opposing principles: city and country.

Gilgamesh, considered two-thirds a god by his subjects, is a mighty warrior who rules a great city. But he's also promiscuous sexually, making love with both youths and maidens, and since no one can refuse his advances, the people of his city appeal to the gods to do something to curb his appetites.

The gods respond by creating a male companion for him, another warrior named Enkidu, who is created by the god Anu (his name means "Ea is creator") to oppose the Uruk king, Gilgamesh, but who becomes his friend and lover.


Let's read here some excerpts from one of the versions:

"... O Enkidu, you who love life, I will show you Gilgamesh, a joyful man. Look at him, behold his face; comely is his manhood, endowed with vigor is he, the whole of his body is adorned with pleasure... Shamash (the great god) has confered a favor upon Gilgamesh... Before you will arrive from the open country, Gilgamesh will behold you in his dreams."

Then Gilgamesh dreams of Enkidu before he meets him, and he relates his dream to his mother, "My mother, last night I saw a dream. There were stars in the heaven; as if it were a host of heaven, (one) fell down to me. I tried to lift it, but it was too heavy (tto strong) for me; I tried to move away, but I could not remove (it)... The men trudged around it... while my fellows kissed its feet; I bent over it as over a woman (and) put put it at your feet..."

His mother responds, "... I myself did put him on a par with you [over whom] you did bend as over a woman... He is a strong companion, one who helps a friend in need; he is the strongest on the steppe; strenght he has, and his strenght is as strong as that of the host of heaven; that you dud bend over him (as over) a woman means that he will never forsake you; this is the meaning of the dream."

Gilgamesh said, "My mother, last night I saw another dream. In the streets of strong-walled Uruk there lay an axe; the shape of it was strange and the people thronged round. I saw it and rejoiced, loving it and bending over it as over a woman; I took it and put it at my side."

His mother answered, "That axe, which you did see, which drew you so powerfully like love of a woman, that is the comrade whom I give you. That you dud bend over him as over a woman means he is a strong companion, one who helps a friend in need."

Gilgamesh by BurnsThe two mighty, god-like warriors, meet and have a titanic wrestling bout all through the city, in which they knock down walls and destroy buildings and in general wreak the sort of havoc that superheroes do when they're battling.

But what happens at the end of the bout is not what we would expect. For Gilgamesh defeats Enkidu, pins him, but instead of humiliating him or imprisoning him or killing him as one would expect, Gilgamesh, in an act of true nobility, allows Enkidu to rise, and they embrace, and kiss, and go off together hand in hand.

And they become constant companions and lovers, recognized as such by Gilgamesh' family, his subjects, and the gods.

There are some extremely interesting puns used in this text. When Gilgamesh dreams of a "falling star" and an "ax", the words used have a double meaning: kisru means "a round object, a meteorite", and kerzru means "a male vith curled hairs" (a male prostitute); the word hassinu "ax" and assinu "male prostitute" make the same point. Despite these puns, which must have delighted ancient readers, the emphasis of the story remains a strong affection between males, rather than homoeroticism.


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