In episode I of The Epic of Gilgamesh, why does Shamash help the trapper rather than Enkidu, a creation of his peers who was created to help the people oppressed by Gilgamesh?
It is not Shamash the sun god, but rather Shamhat the temple harlot, who (at the direction of King Gilgamesh) helps the "notorious trapper" to protect his livelihood from the wild man Enkidu. She does this by seducing Enkidu, after which he suffers more than ordinary post-coital lethargy.
The why is of course open to interpretation. Mine is that Gilgamesh and Enkidu in some sense represent an antithesis between city life and wild nature, in the context of a myth from a people who pioneered the former. As a partisan of wild nature, Enkidu has been saving his animal friends by springing the trapper's traps. Shamhat is of the city side of that, being a kind of priestess of the Eanna temple, the heart of the city. Her city-ness rubs off on Enkidu, alienating him from his power base in wild nature, as shown by his animal friends' sudden and immediate rejection of him. I like to compare this to the wrestling of Hercules and Antaeus, where Hercules had to win by an overhead bear hug, rather than a fall, since the Earth was Antaeus' mother and gave him power when they were in contact. Shamhat then introduces Enkidu to bread and beer, products that require a more settled way of life than the wild man's, to further the same objective.
I asked Mythos Guide GPT your question. Here is the response:
The Epic of Gilgamesh, an ancient Mesopotamian poem regarded as one of the earliest works of literary fiction, presents a fascinating and complex narrative. In the first episode, we encounter Shamash, the sun god, assisting the trapper against Enkidu, which might initially seem perplexing, especially considering Enkidu's divine creation to balance Gilgamesh's tyrannical rule.
To understand Shamash's action, we must delve into the context and the characters:
Shamash's Role: In Mesopotamian mythology, Shamash is the god of the sun and justice, often seen as a divine arbiter and a guide to heroes. His intervention in human affairs is typically aimed at maintaining balance and order.
Enkidu's Purpose: Enkidu was created by the gods as a counterbalance to Gilgamesh, who was oppressing his people. Enkidu, living among animals and embodying the natural, untamed world, is initially seen as an outsider to human civilization.
The Trapper's Plight: The trapper encounters Enkidu, who is disrupting his livelihood by freeing animals from traps. From the trapper's perspective, and likely from a civilized viewpoint, Enkidu is seen as a problem that needs to be addressed.
When Shamash assists the trapper by suggesting how to tame Enkidu (through the introduction of Shamhat, a temple prostitute), it can be interpreted in several ways:
Maintaining Order: Shamash's guidance could be seen as a way to maintain social order. Enkidu's actions, though innocent, are disrupting the human world. Shamash's intervention aids in integrating Enkidu into human society, which is a necessary step for him to fulfill his destiny.
Destined Encounter: Shamash’s help might also be part of a divine plan to bring Enkidu and Gilgamesh together. Their meeting and subsequent friendship are central to the narrative and to Gilgamesh's development as a character.
Civilization vs. Nature: This episode also symbolizes the tension between civilization and the wild. Shamash, as a deity revered by civilized people, might naturally side with the trapper, representing the human world's efforts to tame or control nature, which Enkidu embodies.
In essence, Shamash's assistance to the trapper can be seen as a catalyst for Enkidu's transformation and the unfolding of the epic’s central themes, including friendship, heroism, and the search for immortality. It's a nuanced moment where divine intervention serves to advance the larger narrative and thematic elements of the epic. How do you interpret the complexities of divine roles and motivations in such ancient myths?